K-12 Momentum: March 2022

Dear Friends, 

I’m learning a lot about math lately, something my 4th grade teacher would be amused by!  That year I was 110 pages behind by December break. And today, more than fifty years later, I still can feel anxious or behind when I look at the typical 9th grade textbook.  

Ironically, my insecurities notwithstanding, I use math everyday.  I love reading about science, following polls, thinking about statistics, playing cards, and tracking sports teams. Even if I can never solve the Saturday math puzzle in the paper, I constantly use math to solve complicated problems and watch foundation grantees do the same. This seems very different from the math instruction found in most textbooks or school classrooms.

Are we teaching math in the best way possible to empower students through math, rather than alienating them from it?  One of the most provocative things I’ve read of late is Conrad Wolfram’s call to reconsider our extensive dependence on hand calculation in math instruction.  Can we succeed with technology instruction from the procedural to the conceptual, at a quicker rate, that is both rigorous and sticks with students over time?  In a classic TED Talk, and in a recent book, The Math(s) Fix: An Education Blueprint for the AI Age, Wolfram notes that we spend 80% of time-hand working problems. Yet that’s one step computers can do better than any human after years of practice!  Can we do more to move from calculation to math-based problem-solving via technology?

Of course, the state standards’ focus on key issues such as fluency for all students, particularly younger students, is critical.  So is high school calculus for architects and engineers.  But what about the math skills most of us need after 4th grade?  I suspect we need to build on the Common Core and introduce problem solving and computation literacy much earlier–in math and other subjects like science and social studies. In my adult experience, with a smart device in hand, math is about quick simple calculations, estimation, using statistics, data science, and computers–all in an effort to solve simple and complex problems.  When should we teach those same skills in schools?   I think Wolfram’s challenge is part of a broader set of questions worth grappling with.

Ultimately, math is a key to the future for us as individuals and for us collectively as a nation. More students need the skills, intuition, and experience to not only pass basic requirements, but to remain engaged in rigorous math throughout their lives, to play with math, interact with it, and use it to decipher the complexities of this world, now as never before. How do we ensure that math instruction fulfills each student’s potential, aligned with their highest ambitions?  That is what I’m excited to hear from you about.

We all have a math story…in 4th grade and beyond.  What is yours? 

In Partnership,


Quick Takes

Supporting Students with Disabilities

How have students with disabilities—and the adults around them—experienced the pandemic, and what can be done to make improvements? Since fall 2020, the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for Learner Equity have gathered perspectives and shared recommendations for how to better support students with disabilities in the long term. Their report, All Together Now: Getting Students with Disabilities What They Need During the Pandemic, emphasizes the importance of collective responsibility for students with disabilities and includes recommendations for allocating federal funds to support this. In addition to this report, CRPE’s Pandemic Learning website includes blogs that address interrupted learning and bring in student voice to further illustrate challenges and opportunities faced by this population of students.

Actively Recruiting Partners

The GRAD Partnership is a national effort to spread next generation early-warning/on-track systems that engage and support all students to graduate on a pathway to postsecondary success. They are looking to work with schools and districts that are interested in adopting and adapting high quality student success systems, community organizations interested in training to work with schools on the implementation of these systems, and organizations that are interested in advising the initiative or helping to raise awareness. More information about the partnership in general, and how to get involved is available on their website.

Schools Face Potential Exodus

Results from a NEA poll of teachers show that more than half (55%) plan to leave education sooner than planned because of the pandemic. This is even higher among Black (62%) and Latino (59%) educators, who are already underrepresented in the teaching profession. Ninety percent of those surveyed say that feeling burned out is a serious problem. And 80% report that unfilled job openings have led to more work obligations for the educators who remain.

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