Regarding Jay Mathews’s Sept. 18 Education column, “Calculus for eighth-graders? It’s the differential in one school system.”:
The rush to calculus in high schools while superficially covering or just bypassing so much interesting and essential mathematics that is not calculus continues to hinder the future success of many students who will go to college with an impressive-sounding list of high school classes yet are unprepared in the fundamentals. Worse, some, after experiencing a pre-college class emphasizing skills suited to a multiple-choice test, are discouraged from further study in an exciting discipline they have now identified as lifeless and tedious.
At most Virginia universities, an Advanced Placement Calculus AB score of 4 is deemed suitable for progression to Calculus II. None of the students in the middle school Math Academy class mentioned in the column achieved this level of success, and a majority were not even close. At my university, a Calculus I class in which none of the students emerged prepared for Calculus II would be viewed as an intolerable situation. I cannot imagine a piano recital with 12-year-olds playing very badly on advanced pieces being praised for the musical selection of their teachers. Far too many students with shallow understanding of geometry, algebra and other topics are enrolled in AP Calculus classes. Pushing these courses to middle school will only make a bad situation worse.
David Carothers, Harrisonburg, Va.
The writer is head of the
mathematics and statistics department
at James Madison University.