View Full Version : Is America's best high school soft on math?

02-28-2011, 12:23 PM
This from the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/27/AR2011022704827.html?nav=mbot) by Jay Mathews:
By all accounts, he is one of the best math teachers in the country. The Mathematics Association of America has given him two national awards. He was appointed by the Bush administration to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. For 25 years he has prepared middle-schoolers for the tough admissions standards at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the most selective high school in America.

Yet this year, when Vern Williams looked at the Jefferson application, he felt not the usual urge to get his kids in, but a dull depression. On the first page of Jefferson's letter to teachers writing recommendations, in boldface type, was the school board's new focus: It wanted to prepare "future leaders in mathematics, science, and technology to address future complex societal and ethical issues." It sought diversity, "broadly defined to include a wide variety of factors, such as race, ethnicity, gender, English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), geography, poverty, prior school and cultural experiences, and other unique skills and experiences." The same language was on the last page of the application.

"This is just one example of why I have lost all faith in the TJ admissions process," Williams said. "In fact, I'm pretty embarrassed that the process seems no more effective than flipping coins."

Last year, he said, Jefferson rejected one of only two eighth-graders in Virginia who qualified to take the USA Junior Math Olympiad test, six scary problems to be done in nine hours. At the same time, "students who had very little interest [or] motivation in math and science were admitted," he said. "Some admitted students had even struggled with math while in middle school."

Williams knows that the school board is concerned that less than 4 percent of Jefferson students are black or Hispanic. He is black himself and was born in the District. He is familiar with the failings of math education for low-income minorities, but he doesn't think rejecting top math students is the best way to make the school more diverse.

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