Maintaining the status quo

Lois Schafer was the ninth through twelfth grade honors math teacher at Rosemont, where her brand of teaching weeded out all but the most earnest students. Even with private tutors helping many students two-thirds of the students who had been selected for the honors programs based on high levels of math achievement in middle school ended up dropping out of the honors math program and many completely dropped out of math.

The other math teachers would have loved to have a shot at teaching honors math, but Lois was tight with Superintendent Galvin, and the schedule left her with half as many students as the regular math teachers and no discipline problem students and no special education students.

The plan devised by Debbie and the math department chair was to mix the accelerated honors students into each of the regular math classes with between two and five high achieving ninth graders with 20 to 25 tenth grade students who were performing at average levels.

Honors would become a choice for all the students in the class whether they were in ninth or tenth grade. If you do the extra homework and special weekly math challenge assignments for honors and complete the honors questions on each test and quiz, you’re designated honors, with honors designated on your report card and on your high school transcript.

Schools using this approach report that many good math students who were overlooked when the decision of who to accelerate was made (usually in sixth grade or even earlier) take on the honors challenge and become great math students.

Even if they don’t have time to take calculus as seniors at Rosemont, these late bloomers are well prepared for calculus at college.

Also, many more students who would have dropped out of the honors program in separate classes with Lois Schafer stay with it in regular classes, and the grading system is not designed to weed them out by being unnecessarily competitive.

They continue to feel like they’re math stars rather than math failures. Any system that convinces over half of the best math students in the district that they are not good at math is a program in need of change.

In the end, the math and social studies departments decided to move forward with this honors change, while the other departments decided to wait and see how it played out.