Tuesday, August 24, 2010

MathCounts won't count home schoolers

Bill Bumpas - OneNewsNow - 8/23/2010 4:30:00 AM

Home schoolers are expressing disappointment over a decision that will no longer allow them to form teams and compete together in a national math contest.

MathCounts, which is comparable to the National Spelling Bee, has decided to ban home schoolers from team competition in an attempt to curb cheating. However, most, if not all, of the cheating was committed by non-home school kids, according to the understanding of Penny Nance, CEO for Concerned Women for America (CWA).

MathCounts officials counter that students will still be allowed to participate individually, but that decision does not please Nance.

"The problem is about 60 percent of the slots in the competition are only open for group competition," she explains. "So now you have a whole group of home school children who would have been able to compete but now will not be able to compete because MathCounts doesn't want to do the extra work to check their paper work and to make sure that the kids who say they're home schoolers really are home schoolers."

Jeanne Reppert, a home school mom in North Carolina and a big fan of MathCounts, describes that this ban will communicate to her children "that that aspect of the program is no longer valued when it comes to them as participants. So they could get the paper test and answer the questions as an individual, but the dynamic that occurs between the students on a team just won't be there anymore."

Small schools and virtual schools are also prohibited from participating in the team competition.


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Penny Nance, CEO of CWA talks home schoolers on Fox today

MATHCOUNTS Decision Does Not Compute

A group of middle school students gather around a dining room table after a day of school work discussing the question, “How many integers between 500 and 1000 contain both the digits 3 and 4?” While some are busily writing out notes on scratch paper and consulting their TI-84 graphing calculators, one student picks up a marker on to a white board propped in the corner. “Here, let me show you …..,” he says.

These are not your average students. They are homeschoolers who have a passion for math and spend their free time investigating math problems that extend far beyond the typical curriculum. They solve problems involving number theory, counting, probability, algebra and advanced geometry concepts – subjects not usually taught in the middle school classroom.

Some students will even take online courses to hone their skills. Others will compete and practice their skills online with students throughout the country on a website called the Art of Problem Solving, where they will play a game called “For the Win.” They will expand their math know how by watching math tutorial videos on AOPS’ Alcumus page.

All this training will culminate in a competition with some of the country’s most talented middle school math students. These competitions are held throughout the country in January and February and are sponsored by the Mathcounts Foundation and local members of the National Society of Professional Engineers. These engineers volunteer their time to administer and financially support the competition. In most regions (called chapters) more than 100 students from surrounding counties will come to test their math skills by taking a 30 question individual test, then a series of short “target round” test with more complex problems, followed by a team round of 10 questions where students will collaborate to produce their answers.

Students compete with one another to select four members who will be designated to participate in the team round of the Mathcounts competition. Six additional students are permitted to attend with the team and take the first two individual tests. This “second string” team of students may try the team round questions but the results will not contribute to the team’s standing. Many teams design t-shirts to show their school pride and the younger students who are often part of the “second string” watch their older team members and aspire to reach the top four in their school so that they too will be able to participate in the spoils of a successful competition.

The top two or three of the school teams will advance to Mathcounts’ statewide competitions in March. In addition to these 8-12 team members (who don’t necessarily finish among the top of the competition), any student who places in the top 3 - 4 scorers in the individual event will be invited to compete as an individual at the state level. During this “March Madness of Math,” the top four students from the state competition will form a team which is funded by the NSPE and will be sent to the annual Raytheon Mathcounts National Competition. Winners at the state level and at the national level receive monetary prizes, scholarships and the top scorers at the national level may even get to visit the White House. There is a lot at stake.

The competition is stiff. Students will compete with county magnet schools and schools for the gifted who are often formed by consolidating students who test in the top 3-5% in their school districts. Many teams will be coached not only by school teachers, but parents with a background in mathematics or engineering or by local professors. The homeschoolers will also compete with students from private schools and charter schools that specialize in math and science studies. Nonetheless, with hours of extra study, additional classes and the collaborative efforts of the team, these students will be able to compete with some of the most talented students in the country.

Unfortunately, this year, these homeschoolers, some of whom have worked for years to participate on a team as an eighth grader, will not be able to compete as teams at the Mathcounts chapter and state competitions. Although they may enter the competitions as individuals, there will be no opportunities to collaborate with the friends they have worked so hard with. In addition, these students’ odds of being able to advance to the Mathcounts state and national competitions will be significantly reduced in comparison to their public and private school counterparts. They will have to place among the top 3 - 4 students (among the team members and individuals) to be considered for further competition. If they do in fact accomplish this feat, they will not attend the state and national competition with their friends, but will do so alone. They will not enjoy the collaborative study and preparation as a team but will be subject to watching their public and private school counterparts enjoy and celebrate their team achievements.

The recent decision made by the board members of the national Mathcounts Foundation, who are comprised of engineers from major U.S. companies like Raytheon, Texas Instruments, 3M, GM, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Conoco Phillips, CNA Insurance and others, has banished homeschool teams from the benefits their competition has to offer. According to a recent letter, posted on the Mathcounts website, board members made this decision unanimously for a number of reasons. According to some, teams who were not truly homeschoolers were registering as homeschoolers in order to participate in the competition without going through the school they attend. In addition, Mathcounts claims that homeschoolers somehow form “super teams” made up of only the best students in their areas to compete with their public and private school counterparts. Since Mathcounts board members do not feel they can accurately discern which teams are homeschoolers and which are masquerading as homeschoolers, they felt it was most prudent to simply ban homeschoolers from the team competition altogether. Local homeschooling associations have offered to certify their teams and produce state documents to prove their homeschooling status, but to no avail.Hence, after many years of homeschool teams enjoying the challenge and rigor of this national math bee, no homeschool teams will be present at local, state or national competitions this year.

The claims of the Mathcounts board don’t quite add up. According to Mathcounts, between 1- 2% of their participants of their contest participants are homeschoolers. This is fairly consistent with roughly 2% of the overall student population that are now homeschooled. Nonetheless, according to Chris Bright, Program Manager for the MATHCOUNTS Foundation, in a recent letter to homeschool parents, since the amount of homeschool students is relatively small in the competition, it is more efficient to dispense with the homeschoolers than to ferret out the alleged cheaters.

While there are certainly many capable and talented homeschooled middle school students, only a few will place among the top 3 - 4 scorers of chapter and state competition. Likewise, although many homeschool teams have enjoyed the excitement of the preparation and collaboration it takes to compete as a team in these competitions, few teams actually dominate chapter or state competitions. More often than not, homeschool teams and mainstream public middle schools are handily beaten by the local chapter’s and state’s gifted and talented magnet schools.
Homeschoolers don’t really mind this inequity and the parents and coaches don’t really mind either. Despite the recent Mathcounts explanation for the ban, these activities are not primarily about winning or being the top team. Instead, parents and coaches of these middle schoolers simply want to expand and encourage their student’s passion and excitement for mathematics and problem solving. They wish to provide an opportunity and environment where their students can expand and enhance their communication and collaborative skills with other students who share their interests. They simply want their students to have the same opportunity to participate as a team as any other school in their region, without being discriminated against.

Without the opportunity of team participation in Mathcounts, this contagious enthusiasm for computation and problem solving will be severely diminished. In the eyes of both homeschoolers, their public school friends and even the engineers who host the local chapter and state competitions, the decision of the Raytheon Mathcounts Foundation board members simply does not compute.

Jeanne Reppert
August 18, 2010

MathCounts bans homeschool teams

MathCounts bans homeschool teams

August 14th, 2010 12:31 pmParents of middle school aged children may want to be aware that the national MathCounts Foundation has changed the rules for homeschoolers this year. MathCounts provides an opportunity for 6th through 8th grade students to compete in academic problem solving and mathematical competitions which may be of particular interest to gifted middle schoolers. more...