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    #243595 - 08/20/18 05:43 AM Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement?
    Bostonian Offline

    Registered: 02/14/10
    Posts: 2612
    Loc: MA
    Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement?: Evidence from the American Mathematics Competitions
    By Glenn Ellison and Ashley Swanson
    American Economic Review, 106(6), 1244-1277, 2016
    Abstract: This paper uses data from the American Mathematics Competitions to examine the rates at which different high schools produce high-achieving math students. There are large differences in the frequency with which students from seemingly similar schools reach high achievement levels. The distribution of unexplained school effects includes a thick tail of schools that produce many more high-achieving students than is typical. Several additional analyses suggest that the differences are not primarily due to unobserved differences in student characteristics. The differences are persistent across time, suggesting that differences in the effectiveness of educational programs are not primarily due to direct peer effects. (JEL H75, I21, I24, I28, R23)


    I think section C on "Informal Evidence on High-Achieving Schools" is especially interesting:

    Comparing the summary statistics we note several differences between the high-achieving schools and the matched comparison group. One clear difference is that the high-achieving schools were much more likely to have “star” math teachers. In some cases star teachers seem extremely important (and impressive).


    There also appear to be differences in the curricular offerings. In looking at the most standard high school courses, geometry and algebra II, we found that the high-achieving schools tend to stratify their math offerings more finely: they typically offer three levels of these classes whereas the comparison schools usually offer two. They are also more likely to offer multivariable calculus: we found such courses at five of the high-achieving schools and just two of the comparison schools. The final column records observations of additional special curricular offerings. The “−1” notation marks five schools which offer some type of additional math course which includes problem solving and/or math competition in its description. Often the descriptions indicate that the classes offer a variety of types of enrichment. The most striking example is that of the top ranked school, Vestavia Hills HS, at which students may in addition to their regular math course enroll each year in an extra one-half or full-credit “Honors Math Theory” class that meets every day before school and/or during lunch. The “−2” notation marks schools that offer classes to prepare students for research competitions, which is something we found at two high-achieving and one comparison school.

    #245060 - 03/17/19 06:05 PM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: Bostonian]
    Cranberry Offline

    Registered: 05/29/13
    Posts: 153
    My observations concur that it's driven by the interest the school places on math achievement, and math competitions specifically.

    My DD15 participates on a math team at a local university, and has students from a school just a few miles down the road. Their school has had an AMC12 Club for several years, and has regularly placed students at the top performance levels of Mathcounts, AMC8, AMC10, etc. over the last 3-4 years that I've been involved.

    My duaghter's school seems to have no interest in the subject. There is one other student from her school in the university math program, and he tried to start a math club at school. I even went in and met with the head of the HS math department to volunteer and help out however I could. He said there were challenges finding a teacher to sponsor the club. That would pretty much consist of signing a sponsorship form and staying with the club for a 2 hour meeting once a week.

    My daughter and the other student said they would create and teach the material, and I would help them.

    It went nowhere. Not a single math teacher among 15+ in IHS/SHS would spare 2 hours a week to support students who wanted to run a math club. After all the of the "STEM is so important" hype, this was quite disappointing.

    My pestering at least got them to sponsor the AMC tests for the first time. 70+ kids took the test and, not surprisingly based on the lack of supplemental work, scored mostly around average. My daughter qualified for AIME, her classmate came just short, and they were way ahead of everyone else.

    I exchanged messages with the head of the HS gifted program to schedule the AIME, and thanked him for offering it. He said he sponsored it for this year as a trial, but wasn't convinced of the value of it.

    So our school seems to have math teachers with no interest in supporting a math club, and a gifted teacher who doesn't value advanced math competition.

    The school down the road has at least 6-8 AIME qualifiers. Their team of 4 at Mathcounts state finals finished 1,2,10, and 18. My daughter at 15 was the only one from our team to place in the top 30 (they only publish the top 1/3). Our team "coach" didn't even make the trip - she left if up to parents to get the kids there to compete.

    On an SAT and other measures, the schools are quite comparable. But achievement is different than talent. I don't doubt many in our school could advance quickly given the opportunity. But when math teachers don't support advanced math achievement, it's hard for parents to do it on their own.

    I'm fortunate to have been an AHSME award winner and have some background and passion in the area, so we've lived on AoPS for the last couple of years. But it's hard to do without school support for most kids.

    #245062 - 03/18/19 04:24 AM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: Bostonian]
    ruazkaz Offline

    Registered: 08/23/12
    Posts: 128
    In our experience, success of math programs at schools are highly dependent on having an enthusiastic math teacher that supports the kids.

    We had never heard of the AMC's, etc but son's middle school (which was about an hour commute away) participated and he qualified for AIME in 6th. The middle school had a great teacher that really encouraged the kids and was excited about math.

    When our son returned to our local public high school last year for 9th, his Calc BC teacher kindly agreed to proctor the AMC's. My son could not find more than 3-4 kids to take the AMC 12/10. He spoke to several teachers and they would give him names but were not interested at all. (The high school has 2000 kids.) We live in a relatively high-income area, the kids are just not interested.

    Seeing this, son tried to find a group of middle school kids to teach and posted fliers at schools, spoke to teachers, posted fliers at a local Indian market and really searched but no one was very interested. He finally has a group of 3 middle school kids that he teaches number theory and combinatorics each weekend.

    Last year he was probably the first kid from our county to qualify for ARML, yet no one around here has any idea what it is or means to qualify.

    An enthusiastic teacher makes a huge difference.

    #245188 - 04/05/19 12:34 AM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: ruazkaz]
    Appleton Offline

    Registered: 11/02/14
    Posts: 107
    Off topic, but do you have any books that you would recommend for the AMC test? My 7th grader participates in UIL math and number sense here in Texas, but I've seen that he can also take the AMC tests at a nearby university. He did really well on the math SAT this year and that has me thinking that he needs something more than what the school offers.

    #245206 - 04/05/19 05:48 PM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: Bostonian]
    ruazkaz Offline

    Registered: 08/23/12
    Posts: 128
    The best resource for math competitions is the AOPS website. They offer great courses, Alcumus, MathCounts Trainer, their Community Forum, etc.

    It is an incredible resource for all things math!

    #245214 - 04/07/19 02:57 PM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: Bostonian]
    Cranberry Offline

    Registered: 05/29/13
    Posts: 153
    Yes, AoPS is the place to be. There are many courses, each with textbooks. But for just general study, start with The Art of Problem Solving: Volume 1. It’s well-known in math circles to the point that you only need to refer to “Vol 1” and everyone knows what you mean.

    There are also decades of old AMC tests with solutions/explanations. The courses are great - I’d recommend the beginning Number Theory and Counting courses, but for test prep, Vol 1 and old tests are best.

    There is a Vol 2 to cover advanced material for AMC12 and AIME.

    #247022 - 04/07/20 03:45 PM Re: Do Schools Matter for High Math Achievement? [Re: Cranberry]
    Eagle Mum Offline

    Registered: 02/24/20
    Posts: 91
    Loc: Australia
    If the talented student has the support of parents and teachers, the school itself doesn’t matter in this digital age. Here in the Oz state with the highest number of selective schools and private schools, DS (15) attends a public high school in a non affluent area, where many of the students are aiming to be tradespersons and have little or no interest in academia. However, like Cranberry, I was very good at maths in my youth (sadly, hardly utilised in my profession) & had been invited to sit the AMO twice. All three of my kids have an aptitude for maths and DS shares my passion for the subject. The Maths HoD had also previously taught at our state’s top selective school, so she brought great knowledge & experience to our school. She purchased Maths Pathway software which enables all students to work at their individual pace. Hence DS, who had already taught himself a large portion of junior high maths in primary, was able to formally complete the Yr 7-10 maths curriculum in six months. She then purchased Maths Online for him to complete the rest of the high school curriculum over the next 18 months, sitting alongside his age peers in a regular classroom. Last year, he achieved 98 in the HSC maths exam which is usually sat in Yr 12, so now he has plenty of time to pursue extracurricular maths. He became the first student at his school to win AMT prizes, came third in the AIMO last year (AIME equivalent) and is awaiting AMO results. He was recently invited to the AMT Selection School (cancelled due to COVID-19) and has already met many students from the top schools nationally, at last year’s AMT School of Excellence, who were surprised he attended a school with no academic reputation.

    He has been incredibly fortunate that the school’s maths HoD has the expertise and enthusiasm to enable him (so these are as much her achievements as they are his) and I think all this would have been very difficult before digital technology, but they’ve demonstrated that it is possible to achieve in maths in a ‘non-academic’ school as long as both the student(s) & teacher(s) have the ability & motivation.


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