Friday, August 20, 2010

Banning homeschool teams - update

UPDATE: MathCounts has reconsidered its policy in regards to homeschoolers thanks to Home School Legal Defense Association.

Update to Eligibility Guidelines for Homeschools and Virtual Schools; 09-10 Participants will be Grandfathered into 10-11 Program Year

After taking all concerns into account, a compromise was crafted that would grandfather in homeschools and virtual schools that participated in the 2009-2010 program year to allow them to participate on teams in this year’s Competition Program. All new homeschool and virtual school participants must abide by the new eligibility rules that require those participants to register only as individuals.

This compromise was brought to the MATHCOUNTS Board of Directors and approved unanimously. Therefore, for the 2010-2011 school year, all homeschool and virtual school groups that registered for the MATHCOUNTS Competition Program either as teams OR individuals during the 2009-2010 program year will be allowed to register teams or as individuals for the upcoming 2010-2011 program year, following all of the 2009-2010 requirements for participation.

On the MathCounts website there's a letter which claims that homeschoolers were never really banned in the first place. However, their eligibility rules currently on the website (posted below) still states that "Students taking middle school mathematics classes who are not full‑time sixth, seventh or eighth graders are not eligible."

Either way, I'm glad to hear that homeschoolers can participate in most venues.


This is a real nonsensical solution to a problem.

National Math Competition Bans Homeschoolers

WASHINGTON -- Concerned Women for America has confirmed that MathCounts, a national math competition for teams and individual students in grades 6-8, will not allow homeschoolers to form teams and compete in the 2010-2011 school year. The MathCounts board unanimously decided to exclude homeschoolers in response to a few situations in which "super teams" were formed by pulling certain gifted students from public schools and labeling them as homeschool teams. MathCounts has provided unique opportunities for gifted students to compete and to shine. The program is comparable to the National Spelling Bee. Winners on a national level are rewarded and meet the president at the White House. These examples of cheating obviously mar the competition, but homeschoolers as a whole should not be completely wiped from the competition.

Penny Nance, CEO for Concerned Women for America, said, "It appears that the objectionable behavior was committed mostly, if not wholly, by non-homeschool kids, yet the MathCounts board chose to punish homeschoolers. Homeschoolers have excelled in the competition. Is this another example of punishing those who excel so that others can feel good about themselves? These students should not be punished for the misdeeds of a few cheaters. Homeschoolers may still be permitted to compete as individuals, but the reality is that far fewer students will be able to participate if homeschool teams are banned from involvement."

So, let me see if I understand this. Parents with children from various PUBLIC SCHOOLS were combining their children into teams and calling themselves homeschoolers. In essences, they stacked the deck for their team. The board responded by banning homeschoolers who have done nothing inappropriate.

It would have been very easy to require that homeschool teams only allow children to participate who had not been enrolled in a public or private school during the previous calendar year, except for homeschool satellite or homeschool charter programs. That would have taken care of the cheaters.

From MATHCOUNTS Competition Program Frequently Asked Questions

Who can compete?

Students enrolled in the sixth, seventh or eighth grade are eligible to participate in MATHCOUNTS competitions. Students taking middle school mathematics classes who are not full‑time sixth, seventh or eighth graders are not eligible. Participation in MATHCOUNTS competitions is limited to three years for each student though there is no limit to the number of years a student may participate in the school‑based coaching phase.

If you would like to share your thoughts about this decision, here's the link to Math Counts.

Here's the names of the board members.

Better yet, here's a list of sponsors who you may want to contact.

Personally, I would contact all the sponsors and encourage them to remove their support from the MathCounts organization and point out how much bad publicity could be directed at their organization for supporting such unfair practices.

National Society of Profession Engineers

National Council of Teachers of Math

CNA Financial Corporation

Raytheon Company

The National Defense Education Program (NDEP)

Northrop Grumman Foundation


Texas Instruments


General Motors Foundation


National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)

Wolfram Research

Tyco Electronics Foundation

Caserve Foundation

Rockwell Collins

The Actuarial Foundation

Fluor Foundation

American Public Works Association (APWA)

This reminds me of when Arizona banned homeschool chess teams from the state competition.


Jean said...

Well, that's just lovely!

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Sad. Thanks for the contact information. What do the Math Counts people contend is the problem anyway? Do they intend Math Counts to recognize individual students or to recognize schools? Martial artists fight for their gyms but compete as individuals.

Sebastian said...

Speaking only as an outsider without actual Mathcounts competition experience, I think that part of the issue is that a fair amount of the program has as its goal reforming or inspiring math instruction and thinking within classrooms and schools.
So from that perspective, the participation of a few individuals pales beside the changes made in a district or a school.
I really do find it a shame that when school children and their adults find ways of subverting a system that the people who end up restricted are actual homeschoolers, who weren't gaming the system in the first place.

Denise said...

Please do not start a campaign against MathCounts, unless your family is actually involved in the program. These people are all volunteers and are doing a good work to help kids learn math, and they just don't understand homeschoolers. (We're used to that, right?) We need to encourage them to listen to us, not make their lives so miserable that they turn us off.

There are homeschool math coaches working with MathCounts to straighten out this situation. For now, the "grandfather clause" is progress. We hope that over the next month or so, a better solution will emerge, but (to mash metaphors) let's not throw too much fuel on the fire or we may end up burning bridges.

Janine Cate said...

As long as MathCounts is working out a resolution and is having an open dialogue with homeschool community representatives, I'm not going to war.

I still think they handled it badly.

Denise said...

I definitely agree. It was handled very poorly. I hope it will all work out in the end, but it's a mess right now.

Jehu said...

I didn't do Mathcounts when I was in grade school, but I did compete in Mu Alpha Theta's competitions at the county, state, and national level. I gather that Mathcounts has a similar format. The way things worked in was you fielded a team of 4 people in each subject area from Algebra I up through Calculus. Each person took the individual test and participated in the team round. Your team's score was the sum of your 4 individual tests plus your team group round score. Your second and third stringers could take the individual test also, and even place and take individual honors (usually resulting in a promotion to the 1st string for the next competition).
One of the big issues back then really was the size (or effective size) of schools. The high school I went to was truly huge, and because of that, generally competed on a fairly even footing with the college prep academies (which drew normally from a pretty huge potential pool of students). Like any competition, there was a fair bit of gaming of the rules for eligibility. For instance, a friend of mine took Russian solely because it was offered only at our school and the need to take the 2nd year of it was usable as a justification for a special assignment to our school. Otherwise he'd have had to go to another school that was a much lower tier in such competitions.
So for homeschoolers, how does one determine a 'school' for the purpose of constructing a team? Would it be fair to allow all the kids in a county who are homeschooled to aggregate into a single team or several teams (subject to the 4 per team rule?)? Probably not, as that'd be a larger effective size than even the college prep academies. IMO, the solution is to either draw a set of virtual districts or allow teams to draw from a geographic radius (e.g., all members must have an address within a circle no more than 10 miles in diameter, with the circle being larger or smaller based on the population density). The other question that is slippery for homeschoolers is what subject they're enrolled in and can compete in. Homeschoolers are generally not wedded to the notion that in this year you take Algebra I, next year you take Geometry, etc. I'd suggest applying age bracket rules and a 'you can't compete at the same level 2 years in a row' rule for homeschoolers.

Denise said...

The density of homeschoolers varies tremendously across the country, as does the number who are interested in math. In my area of Illinois (a small city and its surrounding towns), I struggled most years to find enough homeschooled students to make a single team. But the kids who did come and work together learned a lot, and I hate to see their younger siblings lose that opportunity.