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Topic: Transiency
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Chih-Han sah

Posts: 75
Registered: 12/3/04
Posted: Mar 18, 1995 9:45 PM
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NYTimes 3/16/95 Metro section has a timely article.

PS 8 in Jersey City, NJ, according to State Dept of Edu. had
a 'mobility rate' of 89%, meaning that 89% of the children spent part
of the year elsewhere. PS 8 is not alone. Throughout the country,
especially in poor areas, schools are struggling with turnover rates
of 70, 80, 90% A 1994 GAO report found that, nationwide, 17% of the
third graders had attended three or more schools since first grade.
At many urban schools, that third grade percentage if often double.
For some families, moving means enhanced fortunes. But among
the nation's most transient families, it is often poverty and its
complications that lead to a change in address. For example, moving
may be a means of trying to escape the past.

Joann Kirby's 32 schools must hold some kind of records.
She and her family obviously managed to cope. It would be very
helpful if she would be willing to tell us her experience.
For example, were her classes more or less stable while she was among
the exceptional cases in her class; how did her teachers or schools
handled her case, (good and bad methods are both important).

As long as the placement of students in a class is based
on something like "age", or "previous grade level" as recorded
on a piece of paper rather then some sort of test plus flexibitlity,
the transient students will remain to be a serious problem
all around.

In many universities, the problem has been tackled in the
form of "placement tests" plus extended add/drop periods. In some
cases, the placement test scores are taken very seriously, in other
cases, they are viewed as advisory. It is not perfect, but it has
cut down the number of mis-placed students. Such solutions may not be
feasible in public schools.
In the case of more advanced transfer students, we have a
faculty member in the math dept in charge of transfer credits.
Over the years, I had been assigned the chore of evaluating the
oriental students. The procedure I follow has been:

Step 1. Scan the transcript to get a rough idea what
the students had studied (not just in mathematics,
but overall).
Step 2. Find out from the student what her/his future
plans are.
Step 3. Ask the students to show me the textbook, or
syllabus, or notebooks for the course(s) in question.

[Observation: Over the years, my experience was that most
oriental students were able to produce brown paperback
texts which are about 150 pages in length. There were
no glossy pictures. Many notes were scribbled into
the margins and between the lines by students. These
contrasted sharply with the U.S. students. The latter
typically were not able to produce used texts--they
have sold them back to the bookstores. As a result,
most U.S. students were not able to describe what
they had learned.]

If the students were not able to produce any kind of
documentation, I give them an impromptu exam on the
blackboard. Some oriental students have tried to
begin the interview with the request that it be conducted
in Chinese. I would immediately put a stop to this
request by saying quite firmly that part of the
evaluation process consisted of finding out just how
good is their mastery of the English language. Namely,
when their language skills are not adequate, I would
recommend a math class where the contents are mostly
known to the student and then tell the student that
the purpose of the class was to provide them a chance
to improve their language skill through their knowledge
of mathematics. It was imperative that they obtain
a reasonable degree of fluency in English as fast as
possible because the classes will be conducted in
English, the texts will be written in English, most of
their classmates speak some form of English, their
future employment will most likely require them to
know English, etc.

Step 4. Make my recommendation known to the student. A
written memo is given to the student to be submitted
to the colleague for final disposition.

On the average, the entire process takes about 15 minutes.
On the few occasions when I pitched in with U.S. students,
the process often takes twice as long. In a few cases,
I agreed to put the student in a more advanced class but
withheld recommendation for credit in an earlier course.
The student would be told that if s/he passes the more
advanced course, then I would recommend granting credit
for the earlier course. A written note would be given to
the student to be brought back to me at the end of the
term. (I tell the student that I will not keep a record
of the understanding. It is her/his job to keep track of
that piece of paper if s/he wants credit. The double
whammy usually worked.)

As for the problem where parents from lower socio-economic families
not attending parent information nights, I would like to recall an item I
read a few years ago.

In a number of places, low cost pre-natal clinics were established.
(Something like $5 per visit regardless of whether the visiting mother has
insurance coverage or not.) It did not work as expected. One administrator
got a grant to try out the idea of *giving* each visiting mother $10 for
each visit. This was a great success. However, there were many detractors
making the claim: Common sense says that pre-natal care will lead to
healthier children later on. We should not have to pay the mothers to do
something that is clearly to their benefit. The administrator pointed out
that their survey showed that many of the mothers could not visit the
clinic because:

a) they could not afford the transportation cost.
b) they could not afford the baby sitter.

In other words: "whose common senses are we talking about"?

Han Sah, sah@math.sunysb.edu

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