Downside of Acceleration Posted: Jan 23, 1999 12:43 PM
Recently, I read a draft of a manuscript dealing with various mathematics education issues. One issue concerned the grave damage that is being done by pushing good students to accelerate when it is not in their best interest. These pressures are coming from parents, who in turn are responding to policy makers and college admissions offices. The manuscript quotes a mathematics professor, from a large university, who has been examining the impact of acceleration. According to this professor:
"One father told me that his daughter was in this great math program which started with 48 sixth-graders taking algebra, 34 taking geometry in seventh grade and 23 taking algebra 2 in eighth grade. When I asked why it was good, it was because it was rigorous enough to be sure that only the best would profit. My view is that we have already lost half of a very strong cohort. ... I attended a meeting called by parents of gifted children to find out what the best follow-up options were for children taking calculus in 10th or 11th grade. In the meeting, however, it quickly became clear that there were FOUR times as many students who started algebra in 7th grade and got "C's" or below in algebra 2 in 9th grade.
Policy makers tend to believe that a really good teacher can bring all students along, and I agree. There just are not that many really good teachers; most cannot. Parents believe that if their child is just pushed hard enough he or she will rise to the challenge. Too many cannot. I would like to see the policy questions reframed in the light of reality:
How many high-ability students are we willing to hold back to teach to everyone?
How many fairly high ability students are we willing to discourage in order to produce a few very able students?"
I share this professor's concerns. It seems to me that the above programs are designed to chew up and spit out students who would excel if they took algebra I in 8th or 9th grade.
The author of the manuscript and the person quoted have given me permission to use the above material.