The Secrets of America’s Greatest High School Math Team: A teacher obsessed with identifying talent, maximizing potential and optimizing education has turned a Florida public high school into a dynasty
By Ben Cohen
Wall Street Journal
July 14, 2022 5:30 am ET
archived

Quote:
With the backing of his school principal and the cooperation of his superintendents, he set about overhauling the Buchholz math department, implementing his own curriculum and hunting for talent at younger ages.
He believes the pipeline for the high school’s math team must begin long before students reach high school, so Mr. Frazer searches for prospects in elementary school and steers them to accelerated math classes in middle school.
“You wouldn’t grab a kid in ninth grade who’s never played football and expect him to be a great high-school football player,” he said. “For most of these kids, this is their football.”
Mr. Frazer’s insight was to connect four levels of education: The kids he scouts in elementary school develop in middle school, compete in high school and take specialized classes from college professors that he brings to Buchholz’s campus. As soon as the system was in place, the team started winning and never stopped.
It turned out there was value in putting a bunch of smart kids in the same room: They feel empowered to make each other smarter.
Many of the gifted kids in his program have parents who work at the nearby University of Florida and push to get on Mr. Frazer’s radar. Others he finds on his own. He tracks down test scores of students in his district, follows the data and recruits high achievers. Some who were discovered by his spreadsheets have since graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with math degrees and landed on Wall Street themselves.

The mathletes who try out for the team and make the cut are combined into one class section and fly through competitive algebra, geometry and calculus during the school day. Mr. Frazer essentially bends the rules to move faster through harder material and pack more than two years of math into one school year. “I cover everything the state wants me to cover,” he said. “But there is no restriction on covering extra material.”

The big difference between a traditional honors class and Mr. Frazer’s class is the way students learn to approach tricky problems. He teaches accuracy, but he also teaches speed, since competitive tests are timed. He believes that pattern recognition is a more useful skill—in math, and in life—than cloning questions his students might have seen on their homework the night before.


The Bucholz Math Team of Gainesville, Florida has a site.


Edited by Bostonian (07/14/22 09:22 AM)