[Bob Willard sent the note below to the School Committee (with copies to Claudia Bach and the MS Principals) on 10 April 2007.]
I applaud your desire to use educational data to drive educational policy. However, when it comes to the two contentious issues of MS math (CMP and ability-based grouping), I believe that you are looking at the wrong data.
The data that should be your guide is the number of MS students that are bored with MS math; or, the number that have settled for the inevitable by cruising through CMP in a heterogeneous class; or, the number that receive supplemental extra-curricular instruction; or, the number that need remedial assistance in secondary schools that are more demanding than AHS. Instead, you are using data that "proves" the success of MS math in APS by counting the number of students who score mediocre or better in our mediocre MS math program.
I strongly believe that we should be using ability-based grouping in MS math. I do not believe and I do not argue that we should be using ability-based grouping in all MS subjects, but I am sure that if our brighter students are to succeed in high-tech careers, they will need to have been challenged in math, starting in MS.
I do not accept the notion that differentiated instruction (DI) within a heterogeneous classroom is a viable alternative to ability-based grouping for MS math. DI might work, if all teachers were incredibly outstanding and if class sizes were a dozen or less. But, with teachers who are merely great and class sizes of two dozen, the resources are inadequate for the
task of making DI replace ability-based grouping in MS math. (I have focused more on ability-based grouping than on CMP because I fully expect that any class for high-ability MS math students would heavily supplement CMP; enough to compensate for that program's shortcomings.)
Thanks for listening.