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S3 Ep4: Overcoming the Tracking Hurdle in High School Mathematics with Steve Leinwand

Steve Leinwand is a principal researcher at the American Institute for Research, a renowned math education change agent, and the 2021 National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (NCTM) Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient. He joins us for an informative and powerful discussion around rethinking the traditional math trajectory of our high schools. Steve discusses the focus of his and Eric Milou’s new book, Invigorating High School Math: Practical Guidance for Long Overdue Transformation, which provides a guide for ‘detracking’ math education in order to provide more opportunities and relevant course pathways for all students.

Steve wrote the book during the pandemic. He shares with us how this work is a response to the constrained amount of support and guidance for transforming high school mathematics. In this episode, we discuss the current state of high school mathematics education and its limitations, both for students and teachers.

The guidance that is provided in the book is geared to help school districts, school administrations, and teachers to work together to create a joint vision of what mathematics should look like. By providing practical advice on how to approach change and facilitate hard conversations, Steve's lifetime of knowledge and passion for math education centers around fostering a paradigm shift in mathematics education.

In our conversation, we look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Common Core Mathematics Standards. Steve is a strong proponent of the Common Core and agrees its strengths are at the K-8 level, where students are able to build a strong foundation of mathematical thinking, particularly once they reach the middle school levels.

We also spend some time contrasting the progress of standards at the college level compared with those at the high school level. While there has been a clear evolution of standards in higher education, they are not mirrored at the secondary level. Without a clear focus on the building and suggestions on how and when to teach specific topics, we remain locked in a tracking system. As a result, in high school mathematics, what courses to teach, when to teach them, and how to teach, is falling behind the real-world insights we now have on how to teach math. Until we shift the paradigm math class will continue to operate as a big filter, weeding students out, rather than opening the door for more students.

Steve shares his vision for what should matter in mathematics, such as humanizing mathematics, detracking, technology, and equity. He gives his opinion on why high schools havn’t changed and offers some powerful ideas, suggestions, and reasonings for why high school mathematics reform and detracking is crucial.

When you finish this episode you will walk away with new insights into why sorting students in mathematics is NOT a good thing and needs to change. You will have a new appreciation for the ways in which mathematics in high school can change to benefit all students and make a difference. Steves enthusiasm about what IS possible in mathematics is contagious!

Questions and topics explored in this episode:

  1. How does educational transformation and reform come about, what gets in the way of change?

  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Common Core Mathematical Standards as they relate to high school mathematics?

  3. What does it mean to humanize mathematics?

  4. What is tracking and detracking in mathematics?

  5. Is there a math gene?

  6. What math course options should be in high schools, and what does their curriculum look like?

  7. What math knowledge is needed for society?

  8. Change takes time - how do we battle for that and make the time needed for teachers in both professional learning and practice?

  9. How should assessment metrics change to target student thinking and reasoning?

  10. Is content knowledge of math teachers an issue in mathematics education remodeling?

  11. How can Chapter 3 (14 domains) support conducting an analysis of your math department and where can you start to implement change?

Links to resources mentioned in the episode:


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