Singapore Maths

It was with some reluctance that I sent Neil back to the institution that is public school this year, but we were lucky enough to get the one good teacher that was willing to challenge him. Unfortunately, I underestimated the influence of the great schools bureaucracy.

In short, when it became clear Neil was quickly blowing through the homeschool geometry course I had for him, it became clear his teacher and I had to find the next step for him. I had a variety of ideas, but his teacher had one even more intriguing. He’s had to forego any formal teaching (other than from me) in math, but she thought she could get him a place in a 9th grade math course, even though it would mean getting up an hour earlier than normal and taking the class at the local middle school.

Even getting that far was a hassle. His teacher had to put in a request with the school principal, who had to contact the principal at the middle school, who had to contact the math teacher, who had to find a test Neil could take. Neil took the test and it slowly routed its way back. It took over two weeks for us to get the result. Neil had gotten 100% on the test and started middle school math the next week.

However, Peter thought it was curious Neil was taking a course in which he apparently already knew all the material. He reviewed the scope of the class with the teacher and quickly figured out Neil knew all the concepts already. So now he’s trying to get Neil into the next level, which means a high school class.

And this is when the huge bureaucratic machine got into full learning-obstruction mode. Peter had to contact the math liaison at the school district, a woman who’s never in, and whom it took a week of phone calls to reach. She, as nearly everyone in the system does, refused to believe Neil was at the level we said he was. Finally, reluctantly, she agreed Neil might have a test which she may or may not accept, if Peter got the explicit permission of the two relevant math teachers, three principals, and managed to get each of them to contact her. She actually told Peter the algebra course Neil finished, which had been given to him by his own school, was inadequate. So why the f–k did you let him waste a year doing it, instead of giving him the material you consider worthy? Fairy tale heroes on an impossible quest for the princess’ hand have an easier time of this.

Peter revels in the possibility of beating the system; personally, I think the struggle is a waste of time that could be better used in, say, actually educating my son. This is one of the many reasons homeschooling appeals to me. I took an alternate tack and downloaded a placement test for Singapore Maths. It’s the curriculum used in Singapore schools, modified to American English and adapted for homeschool use. If I had my druthers, I’d buy it for Neil and let him work on it in class time. Given that Neil was clearly capable of 10th grade San Jose Unified math work, and that Singapore Maths is considered fairly rigorous, I gave Neil the test for New Elementary Mathematics 1, which correlates to 7th grade math.

Neil, who’s blown through every math test he’s ever taken before this, took hours to complete the test, and even then he was thoroughly stumped. I have the 6th grade tests, and I have to think I’d be doing well enough by Neil giving him the 6th grade course. The 6th grade course includes finding the area of irregular shapes, logic puzzles, real world algebra, calculating angles in bisected triangeles, and ratio problems. I have to think that if Neil were going to school in Singapore, he’d probably only be somewhat above average in his class, at most one grade advanced, and not the freak our school system seems to think he is. It shocks me, because I would like to think Singaporean children aren’t inherently smarter than American children: their school system just has higher expectations of them. And our school system apparently has such low expectations that you have to fight several levels of bureaucracy to get up to your level.

1 Comment

  1. Chris

    I really, really hope you do not try and beat the system and bus Neil to a high school math class. He is such a gentle soul, and the possibility that he would be ‘eaten alive’ by high school bullies gives me the willies. I know he does karate and could probably defend himself physically, but psychological bullying can be just as bad.

    I’ve read both positive and negative reviews of the Singapore Math homeschooling program; I got the impression that it is well suited to kids who don’t require manipulatives to understand advanced concepts. There were a lot of complaints about the amount of drill and rote repetition and not enough hands-on examples, but I think that was at the lower grades and I didn’t understand why parents wouldn’t want their kids to drill basic math facts. Actually I think a lot of complaints were from parents who weren’t any good at math themselves, who were looking for a totally self-teaching course where they wouldn’t have to try and explain and provide additional examples themselves (ugh)


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