Wealth influences success in advanced math



Despite the current advanced math curriculum not requiring students to have outside of school participation in math programs, many students have said outside help has benefitted them.

Two hundred and eighty dollars a month. Two thousand, five hundred and twenty dollars a year. For over six years. That adds up. While not all students in advanced math pay for an outside math program or have a private tutor, over 50 percent do.

The Sagamore sent a survey to six Advanced Math teachers and received 181 responses from 9th, 10th and 11th-grade students. It reported 27 percent of students who take an outside math class or have an outside tutor feel very confident in their Advanced Math class, compared to the 4.5 percent of students feeling confident who don’t do any outside math. It also revealed cost was a barrier for 18 percent of Advanced Math students when considering whether or not to take an outside math program.

Advanced math is the highest level math course at the high school, with 600 students currently enrolled. In Advanced Geometry, Advanced Algebra 2 and Advanced Pre-Calculus, students move at a faster pace compared to honors and standard level classes. They dive deeper into topics and have more independent work expectations.

Sophia Henrich, a freshman in Advanced Geometry, said there was an adjustment from the non-leveled 8th grade math class to the high school’s Advanced class.

“At the beginning of the year, the workload was a lot. Since I’m in 9th grade, Advanced Geometry is the first hard math class I’ve ever taken. The adjustment was really hard at first, but now looking back on it, I’m learning a lot more than I was before. I can go back to old math problems and solve them a lot faster,” Heinrich said.

Heinrich never took an outside-of-school math program, such as the Russian School of Mathematics (RSM), which includes at least two and a half hours of live math instruction per week in addition to homework assignments to complete. Heinrich said she often felt behind the kids who took RSM.

“Kids who have taken outside math classes come into class already knowing concepts that we spend a day learning, and then they can build on it really easily while people who haven’t learned the concept before are trying to grasp onto that concept and expand,” Heinrich said.

Junior Hannah Lee who is in Advanced Pre-Calculus reflected on her experience throughout her three years of Advanced Math, having done RSM for five years.

“RSM has helped a lot, but there’s a lot more that you learn in Advanced Math in high school than you do just in RSM. In RSM, you learn how to apply concepts and formulas, but Advanced Math in high school teaches you how these concepts were made and why you use them,” Lee said.

According to Heinrich, it makes sense that the more math a person does deepens their understanding of math concepts, but not that those who don’t do an outside math program are at a disadvantage.

“I usually have to spend time on my own relearning concepts that I never was taught. We never learned radicals, so I had to teach myself radicals which took a little bit,” Heinrich said.

Ayanna Rohil, a freshman in Advanced Geometry and six-year RSM student, says she’s able to get through the problems quickly because she’s already done them before.

“RSM has literally been one of the only reasons why I’m able to get through all of the work quickly and actually understand it,” Rohil said.

David Knott, Pre-Calculus Honors and AP Calculus AB teacher, explains all the Advanced Math courses are specifically designed to be self-contained.

“We write the curriculum in such a way that you are not expected to know anything outside of what we teach you in the ordinary curriculum. It’s definitely not true that we expect students in the Advanced Classes to have learned a bunch of stuff outside of the public school system,” Knott said.

Knott explained the rationale behind creating equity in the Advanced Math classes.

“​​Public education is an education that is available to everybody; you don’t buy an education. If we don’t follow that, then we’re basically undermining the principle of public education which is that everybody gets the same, excellent, very high quality education, regardless of your income.” Knott said.

Heinrich said she wanted to do an outside math class in previous years.

“My parents are very adamant that schools should teach us all the math we need to know, and they don’t really want to pay for a program that costs $1,000 or more,” Heinrich said.

Knott said there shouldn’t be an ability gap between those who can afford an outside math program and those who can’t. He also said that the math department does not want that to be the case.

“I think the issue is that some of the most skilled, most experienced students are skilled and experienced precisely because they’ve been the beneficiaries of these programs,” Knott said. “They’ve only been able to receive those services because their families have the income necessary to do so, whereas lots of other people don’t.”