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Neighborhood-Based Math Competitions May Be One Solution to Achievement Gaps, APS Probation

Neighborhood Mathematica, and programs like it, could help improve the quality of Atlanta's public schools

As the Atlanta Public Schools forge a new path towards academic improvement under its new probation status, the focus on Monday's Martin Luther King celebration shifts. Instead of viewing MLK day solely as a celebration of one mighty man's achievement, we should also consider it as a reminder of what remains undone in manifesting the dream of true equality for all.

Called, by some, "The Last Civil Rights Frontier," the academic achievement gap is the next big generator of inequality to bump off our collective to-do list. But much like the original U.S. Civil Rights Movement, this challenge will require people from all walks of life to get out and change a fundamental aspect of society, for the achievement gap is mean and stubborn.

Despite streams of federal funding to address achievement gap disparities since 1965, it is yet a regrettable reality that in 2010 only 12 percent of 8th grade African-American boys were proficient in math compared to 44 percent of their Caucasian counterparts in the same grade, according to a 2010 report compiled by the Council of the Great City Schools. Money alone is clearly not the answer. Furthermore, Dr. Vivienne Annetta of Capella University writes in her dissertation that the trend line which represents the achievement gap between African-American and Caucasian students in Georgia shows no definitive increase or decrease.

The simple and not-so-novel conclusion that I dare draw--given the 36-year history of an elusive solution--is that we need something drastically different from the status-quo.

We need a paradigm shift. In fact, our paradigm shift needs a paradigm shift.

Perhaps we should go from school reform to cultural revolution. Perhaps there should be a shift from sole focus on schools and money to more collaboration with community and development of an education culture.

Neighborhood Mathematica—a neighborhood math competition--is a new Atlanta tradition that could help develop a new education culture in local communities such as ours right here in Cascade Patch.

While the compeition itself cannot promise to close the achievement gap in math, Neighborhood Mathematica is designed to involve the entire Atlanta community—professionals, parents, businesses, local government and volunteers—in an unprecedented initiative to enagage students in what could be comparable to free supplmental math education.

How does it work? Mathematica will deploy volunteer math coaches to local neighborhood recreation centers (a.k.a. “Centers of Hope”), where students in grades 3-8 from recreation center afterschool programs review various grade-level concepts through math games and drills for at least two months. After coaching, the students come together for a week of competitions and a finals event, which is open to the public.

But the fun is not limited to these select students; any students who live in close proximity to participating recreation centers are invited to participate in the Math Problems Completion Challenge. In this challenge, students complete problems for points, which are redeemable for cool prizes at the competition finals event. (Stay tuned to Patch Cascade for challenge start and end dates). Neighborhood Mathematica is sure to be the summer kick-off event for students and for the community at-large.

Math coaches are still being recruited for the Adamsville, Ben Hill, Bessie Branham, Grove Park, Morningside, Oakland City, Peachtree Hills, Pittman, and Rosel Fann Recreation Centers.

While the culminating event for this math education initiative is in May, I challenge you, Cascade Patch readers, to think of how to create a culture of education today!

There's always an opportunity to make a contribution. Encourage the next student you meet to do their very best in school, review multiplication tables while with your niece or nephew, or, become a mentor.

Remember: It's Manifest Destiny for this last frontier. There are so many ways to contribute, and we owe it to Dr. Martin Luther King, our children, and our own future to do so.

-- Kwanza Fisher is a Cascade Heights native and graduate of the 2005 class of North Atlanta High School. She went on to obtain a degree in East Asian Studies from Wellesley College and teach English in Beijing and Hangzhou, China. Fisher is fluent in Mandarin, Spanish, and speaks some Cantonese.

Yolande M. Minor January 19, 2011 at 02:37 PM
Hi Kwannza, I agree there should be more focus on the educational gaps of African-American children among other races. I think the idea of community involvement is great, as well. As a whole, I think the educational system needs a revamp in the area of mathematics. Being an educator, I found that there was a misstep in teaching our children algebra principles when there was a basic need for teaching of multiplication and division. Also, the neglect of teaching consumer math is a horrible realization when a young cashier can not count change back from their register if it malfunctions. The ideas you share are great.
Kwanza Fisher January 21, 2011 at 08:45 PM
Thank you, Yolande. You're right; Students can't be expected to do well in algebra if they don't know the basics. I really believe we should focus more on rigor in math at earlier ages. My nephew can't call his 6 and up time tables and he's in his second semester of 4th grade...and he doesn't really care to change that. While I can't blame a child for not understanding why this is so important yet, I still see this as a very serious problem. And no one is alarmed enough. The focus on the APS brawl is a distraction of the real problem--a cultural one. When I was in China I was a part-time English teacher. I witnessed that many students as young as 4 yrs were able to do their time tables. If we want a fighting chance for the next generation, we're going to have to change our values and focus more on rigor. By rigor I mean working extra math problems every single day (Maybe in the 25-50 range). In order for the average person to get good at math practice is essential. That is the purpose for Neighborhood Mathematica, which needs sponsors and volunteers. Inquire at cultureofeducation@gmail.com if interested as serving as either!

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