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Article on looming NY geometry teacher problem

April 11, 2008 pm30 3:32 pm

From “Math in the News” at gogeometry.com, this article by A. Posamentier originally appeared in the Buffalo News, February 23, 2008:

As if mathematics teachers did not have enough to worry about with the constant focus on student performance, beginning September 2008, New York State high schools will be introducing a new geometry course that is part of the new New York State mathematics standards initiative.

Instituting a new geometry course would not be a problem in any of the other 49 states, where geometry has been taught consistently for the past century. However, more than two decades ago New York dropped the tenthyear mathematics course (as the geometry course was then called) in favor of a sequential mathematics course, which was a rough attempt to integrate the previous high school courses of algebra I and II, geometry and trigonometry.

Couple this with the fact that the large number of math teachers in New York have less than four years of teaching experience and you find that there will be many relatively inexperienced teachers faced with teaching a course — geometry — that they have not even studied as a high school student. Further exacerbating the lack of preparation to teach geometry is the fact that most math majors do not take a course in Euclidean geometry.

It was bad enough in the “good-old days” when most math teachers — even the better ones — did not study geometry beyond the course that they were teaching. (Imagine teaching Shakespeare, having read none of Shakespeare’s works beyond Julius Caesar.)

The problem New York schools will face is not only providing teachers of the new geometry course with the content that they will be teaching and supporting material, but also making them aware of some of the subtle differences between the new geometry standards and the geometry topics they taught as part of the sequential-math sequence.

Even teachers who recall the tenthyear mathematics course will notice differences in emphasis on such things as the forms of writing geometric proofs and the enhancement of topics such as transformations in geometry and three-dimensional geometry.

Having served on the New York State Math Standards Commission, which prepared the new standards, I am particularly sensitive to the need to prepare teachers appropriately.

These are not overwhelming challenges for any properly prepared math teacher, yet they deserve special attention well before the fall 2008 school-year begins. Take this as a wake-up call to begin intensive in-service training throughout the state, so that teachers can gear up gradually, appropriately and in a meaningful manner.

I hope other schools of education as well as the Department of Education will support other such efforts. School districts would be wise to secure in-service training for math teachers slated to teach geometry in the fall to make a smooth transition to this new course, thereby preserving the excellent teaching of this most important subject.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2008 pm30 9:44 pm 9:44 pm

    wow … *this* oughta be an interesting trainwreck …

  2. April 12, 2008 am30 7:54 am 7:54 am

    The trian was wrecked quite a few years ago. Trust me it is not interesting. The insanity is that NYS doesn’t clear the wreck from the tracks, redesigns its train and sends it down the same track!

    But don’t worry NYC DOE will purchase another multimillion dollar software package that will be able to tell you right now that it will be the UFT’s defense of tenure and fair labor practices that’s the problem. It couldn’t possibly be the DOE’s lack of meaningful professional support and development for its faculty. The concern is in pushing students through school to on time graduation not in truly educating students and really providing them with opportunities to become well rounded, contributing members of their communities.

    This trainwreck is just another in a long line……and interesting it is not…Sigh

  3. April 14, 2008 am30 7:22 am 7:22 am

    For once the problem is not the DoE. It is New York State that got math badly wrong, and can’t or won’t undo the damage they have done.

  4. April 14, 2008 am30 7:55 am 7:55 am

    True; my one reference in the first paragraph. But the NYC DOE doesn’t have to blindly follow suit and then blame teachers, UFT, unions for lack of results for a math curriculum, program, whatever…that is badly wrong.

  5. RLD permalink
    May 4, 2008 pm31 10:04 pm 10:04 pm

    For the new Geometry curriculum, does anyone know if we have to teach the longer truth tables? Like the ones from the old Course II curriculum?

  6. Deanna T permalink
    May 20, 2009 pm31 8:12 pm 8:12 pm

    My daughter will be taking the Geometry Regents…….what a night mare….I started a study group last week and it has started out well….I am still nervous because my daughter has been doing poorly since the course started. Even if she passes the Regents, I still fear she will fail the course. If they have no summer school…..what is going to happen when they don’t meet the requirements of the New York State Board of Education?
    Then the 8th graders that are coming into the freshman class?
    I greatly desire that the powers that be just stick to basic geometry and devise a separate course that is tailored more to a student who would want to pursue careers that would need this type of knowledge!

  7. Mark permalink
    May 25, 2009 pm31 6:21 pm 6:21 pm

    I’d be more than able to teach geometry or any mathematics course in the curriculum. I have an engineering PhD with my bachelors from Auburn, masters from UC Berkeley, and PhD from Vanderbilt, where I am now an assistant professor. I’d be able to handle anything- Algebra I/II, Geometry, Trig, Calculus AB, Calculus BC, ODE (I hear it is taught at Stuy and a few others). I kept a 3.92 in Civil Engineering at Auburn and always better than a 3.6 in grad school at both UCB and Vanderbilt. I’m published in top mechanical engineering journals. I do cutting edge research in optimization and probabilistic methods. I’d love to teach mathematics in NYC. I am a 6’4 male, 27 years old, large frame and reasonably muscular, with a good sense of humor and a respect for where the urban kids are coming from, and that helps with classroom mnagement. I’m a musician, and I have taught high school students music lessons for years. I have taught two all-state brass players, one who placed first in the state on his instrument.

    I won many statewide contests in Geometry in high school. I placed second in the Alabama State Mathematics Contest as a senior in high school, and made a perfect 800 on the quantitative sections of both the SAT and the GRE, but in looking for a job in teaching in the NYC schools, where good, dedicated, competent teachers are needed, apparently credentials and fifty cents will but a cup of coffee.

    Apparently Bloom/Klein would rather have a lazy, uninspired moron who has sat on his or her butt collecting a salary for doing next to nothing all day and hasn’t looked for a job, who doesn’t know half the mathematics I know or how it’s connected to the real world, and who NEVER had a geometry course.

    Brilliant, Chancellor Klein. Brilliant. Way to get talent to the kids. That’s really putting the kids first.

  8. pbpcbs permalink
    May 25, 2009 pm31 9:42 pm 9:42 pm

    Admirable pedigree.

    There is a world of difference between the University and HS classroom, as well as between individual and classroom HS settings. That’s not to say those differences cannot be overcome, but it isn’t a small step from one world to the other. (In my limited experience, 2 out of the 3 former University-level faculty couldn’t make the transistion.)

    As the original article and your rant implies, there are indeed NYC math teachers whose content knowledge, especially in geometry, is unsatisfactory…probably too many. (If you think HS geometry content knowledge is bad, weak content knowledge is a *major* problem at the middle-school level.) Nonetheless, while deep content knowledge is a good thing, many other factors matter. Especially as the student mix moves from mostly level 4s (above grade level) to mostly level 2s (below grade level) and level 1s (way below grade level).

    You don’t explicitly describe the motivation for your rant, so I can’t address your situation. From my personal experience, “putting kids first” is simply a corporate slogan, nothing more. To the extent the system under them represents their thinking, I would say Bloomberg and Klien’s central goal is a frightened, compliant teacher workforce. Unfortunately, people who are highly competent and motivated are rarely compliant and often hard to frighten. So it doesn’t make sense to hire them.

    As to your specific situation, there are many paths to teaching in NYC schools. A few of them respect and value content knowledge, though they can be difficult to enter. If this is your goal, ask the blog for alternatives…one may fit your needs well.

  9. May 25, 2009 pm31 9:58 pm 9:58 pm

    This comment is for Mark: Stop being so angry and bitter:If you are truly meant to teach in the NYCDOE, it will happen. However, it must be said that a little less arrogance and more humility might bring you much further along in your quest for a teaching position in the NYCDOE. Remember, that pride always cometh before the fall.

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