I received this email from a teacher I know and with their permission, I am posting it and my response here. Identifying information has been redacted from these emails.

So I tutor this Junior from Stuyvesant in Algebra 2. But her text book is College Algebra & Trigonometry.

Her parents feel the materials I bring are entry level or at level at best, but fall short of the Sty expectation. I mentioned to you before she’s doing limits & pre-cal/cal topics as an 11th grader & not honors. She got a 60 on the last exam because she miscalculated a few limits & recurring series.

When I asked the parents what can I do if they feel my supplements are minimal skills at best, they told me the teacher said they are getting their juniors college ready, not only in practices but content. By the end of the Junior year, they should be proficient in material covered in the SATs, which includes some Cal & Discrete Math.

When I said but she’s rocking all the Regents material, her father replied, that’s one test, what about what comes after?

So are we short changing our kids at [school redacted]? Have we lowered the bar/expectation from being jaded by the system & have given up on the challenge of keep them learning? In my own practice, I have strong students & I felt like this semester I may have served them a disservice by not teaching basic limits & next level mathematics as an extension.

I don’t need a response, just venting on a reflection. But to have that face to face with a parent who has specifically asked me to raise my level of academic material sucked some life out of me. Are these conversations lost in our own population with parents who struggle to get their kids to 1) show up then 2) complete the minimum assignments & work.

I’m not sure where to go from here…..

For reference, Stuyvesant is one of the highly selective public schools of New York City which currently selects students based on academic achievement on an entrance exam. The school my friend works at is not one of the selective schools.

Here is my response:

Hi [Redacted],

This is a powerful and tough reflection on your practice.

One of the reasons we started the a2i project was to improve mathematics instruction in NYC and one element of mathematics we hoped to improve was the quality of the mathematics content to which students were exposed. That’s likely part of the reason we used the SVMI materials as a starting place and why we are in the middle of writing our own curriculum; because we aren’t super happy with what’s out there and available for our schools.

On the other hand, it seems clear that if you have a bunch of kids who are already struggling, it is counter-intuitive that what you want to do is raise the bar, so we introduced instructional routines with the goal of supporting classroom instruction, and in particular, teaching teachers instructional components they can include in their teaching which increase access to rigorous and challenging mathematics for all students, consequently allowing teachers to raise the bar.

In your situation, you’ve noticed the contrast between two Algebra II courses from two different schools. This contrast is part of the reason that parents and students work so hard to get into the selective schools. However, this contrast is a result of the system in which you work and not so much because of your own personal fault.

Kids select Sty because they want to be challenged. Kids choose a neighborhood school sometimes because they don’t want school to take up too much of their time. At Sty, kids are engaged in academic discourse and push and support each other to handle content that might otherwise be too challenging for them. At your school, much of this peer support may not be in place, and so as a community, your learners are not as able to handle more challenging materials.

Of course, this inequity of experience isn’t really fair. How can we help all schools develop the kind of academic community that Sty and the other selective schools have that push kids to be better than they are?

I wrote this post a while back and it may be relevant. Basically it can be summarized to, kids are more likely to have higher expectations for themselves and meet those expectations when the adults that work with them have high expectations. But expectations are part of a system-wide bias that exists that is hard to look outside of and even harder to change. Even if you turn around tomorrow and start trying to tackle more challenging material with your students, they’ll still be students who spent the previous 10 years not having to work or think as hard.

David

Here is their response to my email.

I appreciate the response. As I explained the situation & context to my [partner], I’m still torn & feel responsible for “creating” a finite course that terminates with a Regents rather than raise the bar & teach “mathematics” to where the regents is absorbed along the way. With 32 instructional days left, I’m curious to see how I can elevate my current practices to which I can start higher next September.

What other advice or support would you offer this teacher?