Mr. White’s email and my reply to Mr. White

Harry, I read your blog where you reported that I had students in his trigonometry class who didn’t know their multiplication tables.

I never said that.

Trigonometry is first introduced in our Intermediate Algebra class and dealt with in greater detail in our geometry classes. My trigonometry classes have exceptional students who could compete with the best at East High School. (100% of them scored high on the accuplacer to earn the college credit.

Please understand there are also great students and great things happening at Denfeld. We do have more than our fair share of underachievers but it is possible to get a great education here. Last year 75% of my AP Calculus test earned passing grades on the AP test. That was 20 points higher than the national average and 15 points higher than the state average.

I feel you are using this issue to have another way to stir up controversy to serve your own ends. This is not about the red plan. This is about state standards that are unrealistically high and the way districts all across the state are being forced to try and achieve them. We are not the only district to move kids through a curriculum without passing grades. The problem comes from the fact that if you don’t, they won’t be able to get those credits in order to graduate.

I received an e-mail from a teacher for Mankato who when he found out our situation felt compelled to write:

Mr. White,

I am a math teacher at Mankato East High School and I read the article in the Duluth paper about Denfeld’s MCA tests where you were quoted.

On Tuesday, Denfeld math teacher Tim White said retention isn’t the opposite of intervention.

Having a student repeat a class, he said, “is an intervention. Maybe it’s the last intervention you can play … We’re trying to teach trigonometry to kids who can’t add or multiply … you need to pass the prerequisites.”

I totally agree with you! One thing the stats about retention and how it does not increase graduation does not include is that when a student actually needs to pay attention and do their work to pass a course to move up to next level. It does make a difference to those students who are on the edge as they decide to work or follow the direction of the hard core “I cannot be made to do anything student”. How can an intervention make up for an entire year? What are the stats on the students from your school, middle school who have been retained and do they graduate? We do not retain students in 7th and 8th grade and some learn they do not have to do anything to pass to the next level and that is not what we should be teaching. Also, if your school district does not retain students then the stats for retained students has nothing to do with your situation and what stats are they using, from where, from when?

STATS? Why do we do IEPs for SPED kids but lump all others into racial groups where decisions are made for the entire group by stats.

The NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND should have stayed what it was with not graduating if not have passed the MCA and that would have had the teeth to make students and parents take responsibility and get to serious work. Instead the politicians make the MCA meaningless to the student and they graduate no matter what, just like graduating from middle school to high school to out of high school, social advancement. Their solution is to blame teachers as we are their employees and they control us.

Administration is under pressure to have students graduate on time so they are pressed to retain no one or drop a non performing (a student has a right to sit in class and do nothing I have been told many times) student from class as that will in itself get the student behind schedule.

Now with algebra being taught as a middle school class where one does not need to do any learning to advance to high school geometry, we are teach them geometry with insufficient algebra knowledge. All this pressure on MCA subject teachers with the same pay as teachers with no MCA expectations in their subjects.

Good luck to us all.

There was no red plan at Mankato and they are experiencing the same frustrations that we are. I have colleagues in Minneapolis and St. Paul who also have these frustrations. For you to insinuate otherwise is inappropriate and will not help us. I feel that you will drive a wedge between us and the administration when you use this very serious issue as a way means to further whip and humiliate the district you claim to represent. As Mike Mernicki clearly stated, this is happening all over the country. We are not alone.

Tim White

My Reply:

Mr. White,

I thank you for your thoughts. I do not envy you and I do not wish to use the questions of inadequate resources at Denfeld or the state’s unreasonable expectations for student math progress to make your life harder or damage the reputation of the very fine Denfeld tradition.

Perhaps I should have stuck to one particular complaint in the referred to blog post – that our School Board did not set aside sufficient time for us to discuss an issue which twenty some Denfeld teachers have tried to place before our school board for nearly two months. When we finally got to speak to you it was at the tail end of fifteen minutes set aside to talk about the subject. I was and am still outraged by that slap in the face of Denfeld.

I do not doubt that the issue you are addressing is nationwide in scope and I take heart at the tremendous achievement of 75 percent of your AP calculus students. This information needs to take center stage in our discussion of conditions at Denfeld. No parent need fear that students attending Denfeld will necessarily be left behind. And still, things have changed at Denfeld. I attended seven straight Denfeld Gradations as a school board member from 1997 to 2003. Unlike those days we now have two high schools with a lopsided boundary between them and changing demographics. I do not need to remind you how this came about.

Of more pressing concern is the looming likelihood of something I struggled to fix in my previous tenure on the Board one too many public high schools. It appears that we soon will have a new public high school which will draw off up to 600 students from our high schools. I imagine the entire Denfeld staff is watching that situation very closely. For my part I have advocated going into talks with the Edison schools to find out what might make their parents more receptive to keeping their students in our high schools. My suggestion to do this has fallen off deaf ears because we have other political issues that are consuming all the oxygen in the board room.

My real concern is that the Denfeld faculty may come to regard me as something other than the ally that I believe myself to be. For that I am truly sorry. Politics is the scourge of this district. Note that member Miernicki has just circulated your letter to all board members as well as my self criticism from the aforementioned blog post. I also note the quote from the News Tribune story that your supporter in Mankato quoted back to you. “We’re trying to teach trigonometry to kids who can’t add or multiply.” Apparently I did not mishear you.

Again, I blame our Board’s unwillingness to give you the time to explain yourself. Had we devoted half an hour or forty-five minutes to talking with you, I have no doubt I would have picked up the subtleties of your message rather than latch on to a throw-away comment based on the limited time you were given to speak to us.


Harry Welty