Should students be able to choose the kind of math they want in middle and high school?
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Should students be able to choose the kind of math they want in middle and high school?

Elk Grove : CA : USA | Jul 29, 2010 at 2:00 PM PDT
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Maybe virtual K-12 schools can help students who want to study a specific type of math or English or any other core courses. For others, virtual schools mean less time to be bullied by kids with emotional instablities. But when it comes to what math to study in middle school and beyond, students should have the right to choose and receive credit for business math, accounting, four years of bookkeeping, record keeping, inventory, budget planning, managing a small business, computers that do accounting operations, and other math-related subjects related to real jobs that students can get right out of high school.

At the same time, the same students could be taking other courses in preparation for college, such as four years of English, technical writing, and any other courses that can help them work their way through college in jobs other than flipping burgers or sweeping cafeterias at college. Basically, students should be able to operate business machines such as computers, handle full-charge bookkeeping and office administration duties, do budget planning, and serve each summer in an internship for at least a few weeks in a real job that uses hands-on office skills, computers, or mechanics.

For those interested in health care professions, health care curriculums in high school should give those students four years of science and math courses as well as training in various health-related technician jobs or nursing, assisting in physical therapy, home-health aide training, or dental assisting.

The student then can go on to a two-year college to finish technical training in a specific health care field such as nursing or biotechnology. After that, the student is set for being able to live independently, put himself/herself through college, and hold a job in case college doesn't work out.

Otherwise you have a large number of drop outs with not enough job skills to maintain financial independence, and parents downsizing from middle-class to poverty level at a time when students are growing up without direction or employment and grandparents are becoming dependent.

That's what the sandwich generation has to face. What could help? More vocational math and technical writing courses in high school along with mechanical training and computer operations.

It's buyer beware when you have to choose what courses to take in elementary or high school. And it's buyer beware also if you want to enroll in a virtual school in Sacramento. See the July 26, 2010 Sacramento Bee article by Melody Gutierrez, Online K-12 education surging, but official says 'it's buyer beware'. According to the article, most students are in K-12 virtual schools online for credit recovery programs that help students meet graduation requirements.

Notice that there are no K-12 courses in creativity enhancement given in public and in most private schools, except the high schools of performing arts or high schools of art and design in various parts of the nation. If you want such courses, you might find them online. But you have to do your own research on the quality.

High-achieving students enroll in online programs that offer more flexibility, personalized instruction, and accelerated courses. What Sacramento needs is for media to cover in depth what is taught in various online courses.

For example, take algebra. Do you need algebra to get a job out of high school in Sacramento? Or would you be better off following a series of core math courses in business math, accounting/bookkeeping, figuring interest rates, planning budgets, learning office administration, working at computer operations, learning to be a legal or medical office assistant, learning entry level jobs in healthcare, and working with business machines? What kind of job can you get if you consistently fail algebra and geometry, but want to teach English?

Since algebra and geometry is on the C-Best that teachers must take, why is math such as algebra and geometry on an exam given to potential English, history, and journalism teachers? What if those teachers took bookkeeping and accounting in high school instead of algebra and geometry? Then with their M.A. in English, they still can't teach even as a substitute in high school. The closest they could come to teaching would be as an assistant or aide. But their M.A. in English might qualify them for careers in technical writing, journalism, or publishing.

Every student in Sacramento could do better with 12 years of English courses that emphasize how to understand what you read and interpret the material in plain language to others. That will help students in the long run write clearer, concise material when they have to write instructions on the job for others to follow. That means short sentences and short paragraphs. English courses might focus on technical writing instead of reading 'Ivanhoe' in the 7th grade. How about teaching kids how to read a computer manual and how to write one that is readable and that beginning consumers can follow? Kids need to learn how to write instructions that readers can easily follow, step-by-step. Other kinds of writing belong in a creative writing class.

Sooner or later, the media will have to emphasize writing workshops for students to express themselves. No one should feel he or she is above learning to 'type' on a computer keyboard. But when it comes to learning math in Sacramento, the media covered the subject well in a July 28, 2010 Sacramento Bee article, "Should state join others in OK'ing core standards for English, math?"

The July 28, 2010 article gave equal opinions of Pia Lopez (yes) and Ben Boychuk (no). The viewpoint section called "Head to Head," examined the issue in the media, and covered it well. Basically, the media issue is that the California State Board of Education votes Monday August 2, 2010. You have English and math standards adopted by California back in the 1990s. And you have 48 other states joined to draw up Common Core academic standards. It's the state's choice. Any state may choose to adopt those standards. But what's wrong with the subjects?

First of all, algebra as taught in the 8th grade, is not being taught properly. You have students coming from private schools or other areas who have taken 12 years of math from first grade or even kindergarten through 12th grade, the last year of high school. And they also have taken 12 years of English where they have read a wide variety of books, not just the classics of novels written in the 19th century or early 20th century.

In Sacramento, those students are competing against local students who take Algebra 1, but only 44% become proficient in it. Why do 60% of 8th graders enroll in Algebra 1, but only 44% can pass the proficiency exam in that subject? The answer is because they don't have the solid math knowledge that prepares them to understand algebra. And algebra competes with video games, computers, TV, socializing, and other subjects students take because they like that particular subject.

The reason so few students are passing algebra is because they can't link the subject to real life problem solving and real life jobs. If students had summer jobs where they'd have to use algebra every day, they would become so familiar with it, that they'd begin to understand connections how algebra links to a real job, perhaps an internship or part time paid work that connections to a future career where algebra is used. Give students summer jobs or part-time work that uses statistics every day, perhaps connected with using a database or computer as well in a real-life job.

The students might choose how they will apply the algebra, to an internship in economics, mechanics, computer science, biology and health care, or statistics and informatics using a database in a real job. One example might be working for a DNA testing firm in biotechnology as an intern, using algebra daily to figure out some type of statistics work.

Another avenue is sociology and psychology-related statistics. It might get kids interested in applying algebra to real careers. And if those careers are within reach, say with community college courses after high school, it will become reality instead of a dream they could never afford.

Students also should have a choice. If they don't want to learn algebra because they are not going onto college to prepare for a career, they should learn business math, how to compute interest, how to plan a budget, pay a mortgage, figure out how much it cost to raise a baby from cradle to college, pay for a car, write a check, or do any other computation that people do every day from giving change to record keeping. Students should be given the choice to take four years of bookkeeping and accounting courses from the 8th grade through the 12th grade. Give students a course in how to do their income taxes.

That way, when they graduate high school, they will be trained as a full-charge bookkeeper, office administrator, tax preparer, and in the operation of computers using business math and accounting such as payroll, accounts receivable, interest rate computation, and any other type of business math used in the real world. There's all types of applications of math for plumbers, mechanics, computer operators, bookkeepers, tax preparers, cashiers, and other real-world applications of math in careers that don't necessarily require a college degree.

When students combine real job skills with their training in core subjects such as math and English, they'll be prepared vocationally for a job and also to enter college if they so choose. Students also should learn to type in the 7th grade, using a computer.

The digital divide must go, and students should have a choice in the type of math and English core courses they want to take. Some will take creative writing in English courses. Others will select literature and a specialty within literature such as science fiction or a series of Jane Austen novels. Others will want to learn how to write novels.

Kids in Sacramento are built with any one or two of seven intelligences, kinesthetic, for sports, athletics, and dance, musical, verbal, mathematical, spatial for film production careers or art, mechanical, and social intelligence for careers working with people, such as teaching, social work, psychology, party planning, narrating, public speaking, or clergy.

It's time the core courses were sculpted and molded around the several different intelligences of kids that are as individual as each child is different in abilities. Anyone can learn algebra if the person is capable of abstract intelligence. If not, the abstract algebra 'X' can be substituted with a concrete question mark (?) to represent the unknown. That way kids who panic at the site of an 'x' in an equation can remain calm and concrete by looking at the 'x' or unknown as simply a question mark (?).

Then all the kid has to do is say, 2 + ?=5. It's the same as saying in a more abstract way, 2+x=5. The kid can be taught to subtract the 2 from the 5 to get the answer to the question mark, which is 3. That's just one way to make the abstract concrete and practical. A lot of kids don't "get it" when it comes to handling the unknown represented by the letter 'x.' Some people get anxious when they just don't get it.

Or kids can skip algebra and take four years in high school of bookkeeping and accounting, including the use of computers for keeping those records. That way they can go to a real job in a busy office. High schools in the 1950s used to give the academic commercial course, the commercial course, the academic course, or the general course. In each choice, the kids were prepared for a real job when they graduated from the 12th grade.

The most practical course for those headed to college was the commercial-academic course where students took everything required for college entrance as well as four years of job training in bookkeeping, accounting, business machines, business math, office administration techniques, and shorthand. Although today shorthand went the way of the button-hook shoe, the four years of accounting/bookkeeping courses came in handy when finding work as well as the courses in business machine operations. Today that would be computers and web design.

The point is students have been reported in the media as having far fewer choices in Sacramento, even with the many articles on the magnet schools, the performing arts high schools, the science and health care high schools, and the sports careers high schools. The schools are there, but where are the students? If the media would cover more of what choices in courses are available to students K-12, there would be more information available to the public.

Today, you have virtual K-12 schools online touted in the media. That's a great start for media coverage of what's available. Students in Sacramento so far are not overwhelmed by too many choices of career preparation starting in the 8th grade.

All you have to do to organize a virtual school from kindergarten through high school is to band together with a group of teachers and parents whose children wish to attend school at home. It's a lot like homeschooling, only it's a virtual school in the Sacramento area run by your local school district. Kids attend school full time at home.

Sacramento needs more K-12 courses emphasizing the human genome and careers that can result for the study of genetics, such as informatics, biotechnology, and DNA testing work. Students can study this field at American River College and be prepared for an entry-level job in biotechnology. More courses like this are needed starting in high school. The big problem is to find good math courses to teach between the 5th grade and the 9th grade. By good it's meant practical with applications to real careers that are affordable.

That means internships where students can work, hands-on with math and science. Here's where Sacramento's many museums might lend a hand to create internships for school credit. One area might be gardening and raising vegetables and fruits with an emphasis on teaching nutrition as a science in K-12 courses.

In Sacramento and surrounding regional areas there already is the first virtual public school--free--in the county. And enrollment is open. Check out the Sacramento Bee, May 10, 2010 article, under "Region in Brief--Elk Grove," Students from region can enroll in virtual school.

Did you know that enrolled families get a stipend if they have Internet access? The entire curriculum and a loaner computer and printer are provided at no cost, and enrolled families receive a stipend for Internet access.That means you don't have to shell out more than a thousand dollars to buy a computer. A computer can be loaned to the enrolled student.

In Sacramento, the Elk Grove Unified School District has done just that--opened enrollment for the first virtual school in this area. It's different from home schooling in the sense that it's public school--free public school. All other virtual schools you probably have to pay for or buy supplies. But this one is free because it's run by the Elk Grove Unified School District. What a blessing to parents who aren't able to chauffeur their kids to school on a daily basis.

Students who wish to attend have all their supplies needed to complete a school year delivered to their homes. They will learn their lessons at home whether their parents can afford to buy a computer or not. But tests will be taken at a campus. There will be meetings once in a while with a teacher. The important point is that learning materials will be delivered to the front door. The school is virtual.

How this differs from home schooling is that in home schooling, parents have to buy the supplies in most cases or pay a fee to school their children at home, for example, if the home schooling supplies are given by various associations or religious groups. But the Sacramento virtual school in Elk Grove is free.

That means, whatever your income, you can afford to go to school free and stay at home while taking classes. Think of all the opportunities this creates for kids to be free from hassles, peer bullies, and safety problems associated with commuting to school, let alone the cost of food.

Because the Elk Grove Unified School District has opened enrollment, the school is free and open to any student in grades kindergarten through grade 12 of high school, living anywhere in Sacramento County. That means you don't have to live in Elk Grove. Also, the school is open to kids living not only in Sacramento County but in Amador, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Placer, San Joaquin, Solano, Sutter, and Yolo Counties.

Visit the academy for informational meetings at Cosumnes Oaks High School, 8350 Lotz Parkway, El Grove at 9:00 am Friday. Or Pleasant Grove Elementary School, 10160 Pleasant Grove School Road, Elk Grove, at noon, May 17th; Elk Grove Adult and Community Education, 8401 Gerber Road, Sacramento, at 4:30 pm. May 25; Los Flores High School, 5900 Bamford Drive, Sacramento, at 5:00 pm on June 3; C.W. Dillard Elementary School, 9721 Dillard Road, Wilton, at 3:00 pm, June 8th; and Cosumnes Oaks High at 9:00 am on June 16th.

For further information, email EGVirtual@egusd.net. Or phone (916) 686-7747 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting (916) 686-7747 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or visit Elk Grove.

The Elk Grove area school isn't the first virtual school in California, though. Check out the California Virtual Academies website. According to its website, California Virtual Academies — the only K¹² Certified Schools in the state—combine visionary leadership and the highest-quality distance-learning curriculum available today to provide an innovative, highly effective education for California students.

The California Virtual Academies (CAVA) are WASC-accredited, state-approved public charter schools. The curriculum is provided by K¹², and is accessed via an Online School (OLS) as well as through more traditional methods, with materials—including books, CDs, and even bags of rocks and dirt—delivered right to your family's doorstep.

Parents and students are assigned their own California-credentialed teacher to help guide and track their progress through the curriculum. There are regular, face-to-face meetings as well.

Student/student interaction is actively encouraged, so CAVA students are always well-educated and well-socialized. Who is this intended for? California Virtual Academies serves students in grades K-12 across the state. What are the costs? Because they are part of the public school system, the California Virtual Academies are tuition free.

AnneHart is based in Sacramento, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor for Allvoices.
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