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Why are public schools teaching algebra to 4th, 5th &6th graders?

early algebra

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#1 Kfamily

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 03:33 PM

I'm really asking out of geniune curiosity. I have looked at the FCAT for 5th and 6th grade and noticed an alarming number of math problems which involved algebra and lots of graphs and interpreting them and very few ordinary problems in division, fractions and decimals. I was really caught off guard. Also, a mom at ballet class has a son in 4th who was sharing his algebra work in his 4th grade textbook.
One of the main reasons I grew increasingly frustrated with public school approaches was the daily contradictions in what is developmentally appropriate and what they actuallly required to be taught (my degree is in elem. educ. and I taught before having children for a little while). What is the reason for this?
Dd in 6th is using R&S and I love its focus on understanding and using fractions, decimals, etc. They introduce a tiny bit of pre-algebra this year and I know we will cover it well next year. Isn't this a good choice for an average math student?
If anyone knows more, could you share with me? We add Singapore on the side to work on thinking skills and how to set up problems so I thought this would be enough. I know she doesn't have to take the FCAT but still I keep wondering why they are teaching this so early.

Thanks!

#2 bookmomma

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 03:38 PM

I wonder the same thing. Just as K is now more like 1st and 1st is more like 2nd. Kids are being pushed to learn complex material before they are developmentally ready--in math and reading. IMO this only causes frustration and negative feelings about themselves and schooling. I would continue working along as you have been (that's what I do).

#3 Blue Hen

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 03:50 PM

I cannot answer WHY the schools are doing this, because I cannot get inside their heads to know their reason for doing this.

I really think you are asking as to whether 'we' feel it is developmentally appropriate to be teaching Algebra to 4th, 5th, 6th graders. I would answer Yes, and No. I use Singapore Math, started using it back in '99 or early 2000, so I've been with 'the program' for many years. I do remember though that when my DS started Singapore with 4A I shook my head at the word problems.

How could they be expecting a 4th grader, average in math, to be doing Algebra problems? I had no clue how to do their word problems using bars and rods but had to turn to my Algebra skills to set the problem up. Once I had figured out the problem with Algebra I could then guide my son through the problem using bars and rods.... Time passed, DS began Algebra in 7th grade and he remarked when asked to set up a problem with x's and y's --- why do I have to use Algebra when I can do this problem with bars and rods?

Singapore words problems do teach Algebra skills which is one thing I love about their program. But x's and y's, solving for an unknown variable is absent and that I feel is developmentally appropriate. To keep it developmentally appropriate Singapore uses rods and bars in the lower grades, saving x's and y's for the Middle School kids who move into their NEM program.

Algebra at an early age, sure. But not at the sacrifice of learning math facts.

#4 TKDmom

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 03:53 PM

The FCAT is one of the big reasons I pulled my dd out of school. They are pushing EVERYTHING way early for the sake of the test, but not teaching the kinds of things young children are ready to be learning. dd wasn't scheduled to even start FCATs for another year and a half, but she had an FCAT practice worksheet every week. And she would be in tears when the worksheet told her to "analyze" and "draw conclusions". TWTM really resonated with me when I read that children her age should be absorbing info, and not analyzing it until they are older and better equipped to analyze. I can't say what the reason is for teaching algebra so young, but I think it's a misguided attempt to give kids a head start. Maybe if we introduce it to them early and keep pounding it in, they will get it. IMO, it just leads to frustration and makes kids hate the subjects that they can't understand b/c they're not developmentally ready for them. I do agree with the above post that algebra can be taught earlier in a more concrete way, but I worry that kids aren't getting a good base when things are pushed on them at younger and younger ages. Ok, I'll get off my soapbox now. :)

Edited by bonniebeth4, 13 January 2009 - 04:18 PM.


#5 dragons in the flower bed

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 04:01 PM

I could be completely wrong here, but I suspect this was one of the changes that came in with the NCTM standards. They overhauled mathematics education. Here's the page that explains the algebra standards.

http://standards.nct...hapter3/alg.htm

My eight-year-old did a unit on algebra last week, just solving for unknowns in simple four processes problems, and found it at least as relevant to real life as fractions and much easier to understand. I guess I'd flip the question on it's head. Why shouldn't children get an introduction to algebra? It really doesn't take all of 4th, 5th & 6th grade to master decimals, fractions & percents.

#6 Kfamily

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 04:16 PM

I'm still weighing this out...still considering this which is why I asked.

I do see how some introductory work in 5th and 6th in algebra might be helpful but not at the risk of sacrificing division, fractions, etc. I also prefer Singapore's approach and I think it builds these skills without being developmentally inappropriate.

I also think all students vary of course and I know my dd (and she is bright but more average in math) has needed every bit of 4th, 5th and 6th to really get fractions, decimals and percents. Don't forget I only listed these three, but obviously they are also working on much more than that.

I certainly don't begrudge public schools from teaching algebra but I guess I was alarmed at how much of a focus it has become in grades where I really think they should be concentrating on other objectives in math. Teaching these concepts is one thing but testing so heavily on them is another. Testing denotes some level of mastery (at least in fairness it should) and this is too early to me.
Just my humble opinion and my still gathering information before making blanket statements state of mind.:001_smile:

#7 Deece in MN

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 04:47 PM

I don't think it is wrong necessarily, but I would be interested to know exactly what types of Algebra problems they are teaching to 4th-6th graders so I can give a better answer.
I don't think graphs or charts are a big deal to teach to these grades. I do agree that a solid foundation in the basics is important, but I also think there is room to introduce some higher level math if it is done in a way that is accessible to the students and will help them build a foundation for advanced math later on.

#8 Penny

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 05:35 PM

I could be completely wrong here, but I suspect this was one of the changes that came in with the NCTM standards. They overhauled mathematics education. Here's the page that explains the algebra standards.

http://standards.nct...hapter3/alg.htm

My eight-year-old did a unit on algebra last week, just solving for unknowns in simple four processes problems, and found it at least as relevant to real life as fractions and much easier to understand. I guess I'd flip the question on it's head. Why shouldn't children get an introduction to algebra? It really doesn't take all of 4th, 5th & 6th grade to master decimals, fractions & percents.



Those types of algebra problems, such as n + 3 = 10 are very easy for kids to intuit. However I believe many math programs push down advanced concepts on elementary grades. A very bright, very math minded child might be OK with this, but most are not. Even if they can fight through the problem, they have no understanding. The problem is that it comes at a price, maybe putting off another subject to fit in longer math days, maybe the child not learning the basics well enough before learning the advanced concepts, maybe in making the child think they are just not good at math.

I just ordered R&S 6 and was having a panic time thinking my kids might be getting behind in math verses some of the other programs. I went to the Highlands Latin School website, read their math curricula section and the reasoning behind their choice of R&S, and I am comforted. It is a great program that really drills the important concepts for the early years.

#9 Cadam

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 05:37 PM

I think they are panicked. Compare us kids to Asian kids in math and we are pathetic. They look at successful programs like Singapore and see "algebra is taught early". The how and the why end up by the wayside due to not noticing or more likely the ill effects of "design by committee" that plague so many things in bureaucracies of any kind.

They over generalize and grasp things like the fact that Singapore teaches algebra early and decide that if they include that in US text books our kids will magically become better at math.

I frequently see the ps push things that are not developmentally appropriate on children. (Math, writing exc.) The deficits are seen in the higher levels of the education system so they focus on those skills but leave out the foundation for the skills that should be the focus of the lower grades.

I think it is also a bragging point. They can assure concerned parents that little Johnny is learning Algebra in 5th grade and then make the leap that he will be well prepared for upper level math. If little Suzy is writing reports in second grade then she will be an amazing writer by the time she gets to those SAT essays right? The sad thing is that with all of the emphasis on these upper level things we leave out the basics like math facts and writing a complete sentance that would actually prepare our students to take on the higher level reading, writing and math.

#10 MIch elle

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 05:43 PM

My older ds used R&S math 3-6, 8. Then in prep for high school timed test, I had him take IOWA in grade 7. In gr. 8, he took the Catholic High School Placement Exam. I was SHOCKED by how much of the math he had never seen with R&S math. He did well on the math portion (and over all). He was always a strong math student and felt that he could have done better with a more advanced math program.

I bought CLE math 5,6 & 7 to look over before I switched younger ds to it from R&S math 4. CLE math is very good on the basics (like R&S) but slowly introduces higher math MUCH earlier than R&S math (union sets, integers, sequencial math problems, graphs, etc.).

R&S math in grades 5-8 moves too slowly and reviews too much for the average to above average math student.

Look at CLE's scope & sequence here to see what covered when:
http://www.clp.org/s..._scope_sequence

#11 Kfamily

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 05:54 PM

though it tends to get pushed out when we are crunched for time.

This is where I get sooo confused. Highlands Latin School uses R&S through book 8 (although I'm sure they have an accelerated path for Algebra in 8th) and so I feel good about our choice. I also know dd and she is doing well with R&S but....

I also want to prepare her well. We hope to start Algebra in 8th too. I am leaning towards Chalkdust but keep Jacobs in mind too. With this in mind would I be better off finishing R&S 6th and focusing in 7th with Singapore only (We would have to do level 5 and 6)?

CLE looks interesting too. Would you be able to transfer over without getting behind? How could we do 7th and 8th in one year?

:lol:

This is me now!:001_smile:

My original plan was R&S 6 then 8 (skipping 7) as well as supplementing with Singapore.

#12 Janet in Toronto

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 06:10 PM

This reminds me of my experience with my third grade son's suburban Atlanta gifted program (public school). They were teaching the kids Bloom's Taxonomy. They actually brought home a worksheet to complete with information similar to the link above. Of all the things you could do with gifted third graders, this one was beyond belief.

#13 MIch elle

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 06:33 PM

This is where I get sooo confused. Highlands Latin School uses R&S through book 8 (although I'm sure they have an accelerated path for Algebra in 8th) and so I feel good about our choice. I also know dd and she is doing well with R&S but....

I also want to prepare her well. We hope to start Algebra in 8th too. I am leaning towards Chalkdust but keep Jacobs in mind too. With this in mind would I be better off finishing R&S 6th and focusing in 7th with Singapore only (We would have to do level 5 and 6)?

CLE looks interesting too. Would you be able to transfer over without getting behind? How could we do 7th and 8th in one year?

This is me now!:001_smile:

My original plan was R&S 6 then 8 (skipping 7) as well as supplementing with Singapore.


Using CLE math 7 may not be possible because of all the algebra & geometry in it that a R&S math user may have a hard time with (never having used it before).

My plan was to use CLE math 7 and then go to algebra (skipping CLE math 8 which has some consumer math in it). I have CLE math 7, and it has enough algebra to easily go to an algebra I program after completing it.

I suggest you go to another math program after R&S math 6. But it's HARD to find a nice easy program like R&S! BJU and Saxon are good to transfer to because they teach everything again before they expect dc to do the problems.

I suggest you invest some money and buy several math programs to review. That's what I wish I did with my older ds. Time is more important than money. You could buy a couple used and then sell them for almost what you bought them for after you have a good look to see if they fit for your math program.

CLE yahoo group has samples in the photos section of the group. Call CLE math; they will mail you one free lightunit. Ask for CLE math 702 unit (701 will be all review).

Singapore has a great reputation here on the boards. That may be your best bet. Then go to algebra after that.

I'm telling you what I WISH someone told ME! It may confuse you more and I'm sorry but I'm just trying to help you. :grouphug:

My older ds is really bright and NOW he wishes that he was taking algebra II instead of alg. I in grade 9. It's due to my ignorance about math programs and fumbling around in his grade 8 trying to find an algebra program that worked for us. (Chalkdust was a bomb for us.)

Live & LEARN!

#14 Ali in OR

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 06:54 PM

Our public schools are also pushing algebra into younger years, and it puzzles me. To what end?

In the early 90's, I taught math in an excellent public high school in the shadow of a top university (i.e. lots of brilliant kids, professors' kids, tons of AP classes, etc.). The top math track was Algebra I in 8th grade, Honors Geometry in 9th, Alg. II and I think trig in 10th, Math Analysis in 11th, and BC Calculus in 12th. If you push everything younger, what do you do with your high school years? Maybe you want to be like the young 8th graders in our town who took a special calculus class in 8th grade, and then never took any more math in high school. What is the purpose of pushing it earlier--to get done with it all earlier??? Wouldn't you get more out of it by studying it at a more developmentally appropriate age?

There are a few (very few) whiz kids in math who if they finish Calculus early will then spend their remaining high school years taking more advanced math at a college. But in my experience, most kids aren't usually looking to take ever harder math classes. Many (most?) kids who take Calculus in high school still opt to take it again in college (otherwise you have to take something harder to fulfill your math requirement). Math majors aside, most people do not need to be pushing the harder classes to a younger age.

That said, if you want to give kids a glimpse of algebraic thinking earlier, that's fine. But you can probably do a more rigorous and thorough job of teaching Algebra when they are in 8th grade than when they are in 6th.

#15 C_l_e_0..Q_c

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 09:22 PM

Our local math program starts with the X and Y in grade 1. It's very gentle, and the kids do get it.
The guy who wrote the program has the following philosophy: math is taught too slowly, with too small incremental steps. And to prove it, he goes invited in various schools, pick the kids that are failing in math, in grade 3 and up. He tells them they'll be doing high school math with him. And you know what? They all can.
His work is very interesting to read, unfortunately for you all, it's in French :tongue_smilie:

#16 Tabrett

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 09:27 PM

I think they are panicked. Compare us kids to Asian kids in math and we are pathetic. They look at successful programs like Singapore and see "algebra is taught early". The how and the why end up by the wayside due to not noticing or more likely the ill effects of "design by committee" that plague so many things in bureaucracies of any kind.

They over generalize and grasp things like the fact that Singapore teaches algebra early and decide that if they include that in US text books our kids will magically become better at math.


Don't student in Singapore start 1st grade at age 7? If so, doesn't that mean they are doing SP 1 one year later than 6 year old American 1st graders? It would make more sense to introduce algebra in 4th grade if you were 10 and not 9.

I think we push concepts earlier that other countries. We can't compare 6 yo first graders to 7 yo first graders or 9 yo 4th graders to 10 yo 4th graders. Of course they are going to score better that we do. One year older makes a big difference.

If you look at the linked page you will also see that student who don't pass the PSLE don't continue to 7th grade, therefore would not be tested in subjects like Algebra. Remember we test all kids, not just kids who are able to pass a test and continue on.

For some reason, we, in the USA, are always comparing ALL our students to the top students in other countries. WHY?

#17 Cadam

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:14 PM


For some reason, we, in the USA, are always comparing ALL our students to the top students in other countries. WHY?


Because to admit that not all students are equally qualified is elitist don't you know. :glare: You are correct that we are comparing apples to oranges but that just supports the notion that our system is flawed.

There have been studies pitting our best and brightest against their best and brightest and they still tend to blow us away. I watched a compelling news piece (20/20 or something like that) that gave the same test to a top US ps and a Swedish school with students that had been tracked for University. The US students sweated over the test and scored poorly. The Swedes said it was pretty easy.

I think the European system allow teens to grow up earlier (tracking to university, trade school or internships) instead of this protracted adolescence that we endure. It is more realistic than our "equal education for all, even if that means an equally poor education for all" situation. I understand that there are exceptions but I am making system wide generalities here. It is the basic system that I see as flawed, but this is a conversation for another thread.

#18 Melmc

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:21 PM

I read an article on line in the last couple of weeks. There is a public school in a small town in Oregon that has started teaching Algebra as early as first grades. Their math test scores have soared when before they were pathetic. And the kids are really enjoying the new math curriculum they implemented.

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:42 PM

Well, I'm interested in when everyone here first took Algebra as a stand alone course. I took it in the 6th grade in 1983-4 and before this thread I thought that was the norm.

#20 Tabrett

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:55 PM

I think the European system allow teens to grow up earlier (tracking to university, trade school or internships) instead of this protracted adolescence that we endure. It is more realistic than our "equal education for all, even if that means an equally poor education for all" situation. I understand that there are exceptions but I am making system wide generalities here. It is the basic system that I see as flawed, but this is a conversation for another thread.


I agree with you. I think allowing students to "grow up" earlier would make them care more about learning. I think most students who want to go to college are just 'biding their time' until they graduate. I felt this way in high school. I would like to see the USA try the European school model. I would also like for the USA to stop acting as if 17 and 18 yo's are children.

It drives me crazy that 19 yo's are included in teen pregnancies. Many people are married at 19.

#21 Catherine

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 10:55 PM

kids in this age group doing algebra? If the child is ready, seems to be the thought, why not?

#22 Alessandra

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 11:57 PM

I'm agreeing with dragons in the flower bed -- algebra (or algebraic thinking) is part of the current NCTM standards. Here is a link to the Standards as a whole;
http://standards.nct...ument/index.htm

But algebra in this case is not exactly the same as what most of us probably learned in middle/high school. For example, the Standards for algebra in Pre K-2 includes this: "sort, classify, and order objects by size, number, and other properties." Sounds a lot like attribute blocks or critical thinking. In grades 3-5, "represent the idea of a variable..." A typical problem might be:
4 + ? = 12
Not too frightening!

There is some talk of making the standards less broad (there is a lot to cover), but IMHO, the basic idea of exposing children to many types of mathematical thinking is very sound. Children who don't get math by one method may get it another way.

My only complaint is that NCTM does not offer a discounted rate for parents -- their magazine & newsletter actually have a lot of good ideas that parents can use. We learned a lot about probability by doing a Parcheesi unit they published; we used the Mayan number system to learn about different bases -- things like that.

Edited by Alessandra, 14 January 2009 - 12:05 AM.


#23 cathmom

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Posted 13 January 2009 - 11:59 PM

I would also like for the USA to stop acting as if 17 and 18 yo's are children.

It drives me crazy that 19 yo's are included in teen pregnancies. Many people are married at 19.


Finally! I found someone who agrees with me! Except I would not include 18 yos, because they are after all, LEGAL ADULTS! But if they didn't include 18 and 19 yos, the statistics wouldn't be as alarming.

To answer Alte Veste Academy, I took Algebra 1 in 8th grade, the earliest possible. And I got gypped, because even though it was a high school level course, it didn't count for high school, so I still had to take 3 years of high school math. Yeah, let's penalize people for being smart.

#24 katemary63

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 12:24 AM

I haven't read every post and I don't really have an opinion on this per say except to say that my 7 year old is doing Abeka Arithmetic 3 in which she is taught to do problems like this: m-3=3x3. She gets m=12 and then must check her answer by inserting the 12 into the original problem in place of the m. She absolutely loves doing these problems and has no dificulty understanding what's going on. It has actually increased her enthusiasm for math.

Edited by katemary63, 14 January 2009 - 12:28 AM.


#25 Melmc

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 10:41 AM

The article someone posted about US and Sweden is interesting. I just spoke to my oldest dd's godmother who is an expat in Sweden. Her kids are enrolled in Swedish school. She was telling me out real education doesn't start until around age 8, that includes teaching reading. The kids start in state funded daycare (dagas sp?) when they are little though. Until age 8, the school day is more like preschool. She was just a little worried since she and her husband were both schooled so differently growing up in Texas. I'm going to tell her about that study.

And I really think people need to look at what they mean by Algebra. The problems people have posted like X + 3 = 7 or 3x=21 are all over Saxon.

#26 nmoira

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 10:59 AM

Don't student in Singapore start 1st grade at age 7? If so, doesn't that mean they are doing SP 1 one year later than 6 year old American 1st graders? It would make more sense to introduce algebra in 4th grade if you were 10 and not 9.

IIRC, they start first grade they year they turn 7, not after they turn 7. This is in line with many school districts in the US.

For some reason, we, in the USA, are always comparing ALL our students to the top students in other countries. WHY?

This isn't true of TIMSS tests. One of the conditions of participating is that the test has all students have an equal likelihood of taking the test. There are very few exceptions (such as very remote locations). The testing scope and methodology as well as sample tests are available to read online.

#27 nmoira

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 11:02 AM

This isn't a topic I know much about, but here's a recent article from our local paper about 3rd graders in Lebanon, OR using algebra.

#28 MrsMe

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Posted 14 January 2009 - 11:09 AM

I wonder the same thing. Just as K is now more like 1st and 1st is more like 2nd. Kids are being pushed to learn complex material before they are developmentally ready--in math and reading. IMO this only causes frustration and negative feelings about themselves and schooling. I would continue working along as you have been (that's what I do).


Yes! So I figure if I'm the "public schooled grade level" behind, then I'm right on track!:tongue_smilie: They're shoving concepts down their throats that they're not only not ready for, but don't necessarily have the processing skills to think it through. Also, what's the rush? They still come out not knowing a hole slew of things. They're actually coming out dumber now ( except in sex) than 20 years ago! I guess their not hip on learning the basics well before moving on. Like doing multiplication in 2nd grade. Why? There's no purpose to this whatsoever.

#29 FlockOfSillies

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 04:21 AM

Many public school districts only want to have the appearance of rigor, so they'll show that they're teaching certain things at earlier and earlier levels, but they never actually expect the kids to master anything. "It'll be covered again next year," doncha know.

FWIW, Singapore Math does lots of "algebra" in its upper levels of PM. There's really no reason for a kid to be sheltered from using x as a variable until the ripe old age of 13.

#30 angela in ohio

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Posted 30 May 2009 - 08:18 AM

(steps up on soapbox)

For the same reason they have second graders writing endless reports but aren't teaching them to spell: They are throwing any new fad they can find at their problems to avoid dealing with the real issues. We had known for many, many years how to teach children well, but it has all been thrown out, because it required effort (on the part of the teacher, parent, and child) and wasnt very romantic. What's left is a constant grasp at any new, unproven idea in an attempt to get back the results without all that nasty effort.