I don't know about you, but I keep hearing on radio talk shows and in the media all about "the state of public education." I've been hearing about this for years, probably ever since I was a kid. I personally went to seven elementary schools in five states, and I could attest to the fact that there was a difference in the quality of education at each place. Sometimes I would find myself moving to a place where I was ahead of the apprpriate grade, and sometimes I'd find myself behind. The similarities between the different schools, though, were greater than the differences, and I always seemed to get along.

Now my kids attend a high school and an elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District. I've never had a complaint about their education. As a matter of fact, I'm pretty amazed sometimes by the high quality of the teachers and their dedication to teaching. The people on the radio talk shows who are complaining clearly aren't going to my kids' schools!

My fifth grade daughter just had to turn in a research paper on the Civil War. This paper was so extensive and so full of detail that it was easily one to two years ahead of anything I had to do in fifth grade. Following the outline given by the teacher, her paper came to two and a half single-spaced typewritten pages, not including the bibliography. Yes, they actually had to include a bibliography.

One thing that I always enjoy doing is helping the kids out with math. For some reason, I was always particularly good at math. It's funny, because I was good at other subjects too, but for some reason I can remember Reimann Sums from Calculus like it was yesterday, but I couldn't for the life of me remember the date of the Civil War (okay, I can remember it NOW, after reading Marlo's report, but I couldn't before).

So Darby is taking Advanced Algebra II. How hard could that be, right? After all, it's pre-pre-Calculus, and I still remember Calculus. And any issues I had with Darby's Geometry class last year really had more to do with the stupid book than my own lack of memory of it -- her book would have theorems and leave out the last word that turned out to be really important. Some dufus at BVSD thought it would be cute to use this book that left out all of this important information, presumably because that way the kids would have to pay attention and fill in the blanks. But it also had the problem of not allowing a parent to flip through the book to find a pertinent theorem to help figure out her homework.

But anyway, back to Advanced Algebra II. I've been trying for the life of me to figure out why this subject is so much harder than any of my math classes were at the time, because, believe me, it is! Darby just got done with Quadratic and Other Polynomial Functions, and I'm like, cool! Completing the square! Quadratic function! How hard is that? Uhhh, pretty hard. Here's the Rational Root Theorem from her textbook: "If the polynomial equation P(x) = 0 has rational roots, they are of the form p/q, where p is a factor of the constant term and q is a factor of the leading coefficient." Isn't that funny? I was just thinking that exact same thing while I was driving Marlo to soccer.

Uhhh, okay, at least they didn't leave out any essential word, like they did in her Geometry book.

I asked myself, is it that I'm so far removed from math anymore? Or am I just a little dumber now? Or is her math really a lot harder? My answer came in going through the sample problem. In the solution to finding the roots of a polynomial equation, the first step was to first graph the function (and it includes a little picture of the screen of their graphing calculator), to see if there are any identifiable x-intercepts. Ahhh. You see? Because these kids can now use their graphing calculator the way that we used to use the NASA Supercomputer, they can do so much more. Now, asking the kids to do the simple problems that we used to do would result in their simply plugging equations into their calculators and getting the correct information every time. Math has actually evolved from the simple math that I learned, to allowing students to use graphing calculators, to publishers of textbooks realizing that kids are using the calculators, and now integrating the calculators into the curriculum. They've taken math to the next level, allowing the kids to solve what used to be really very difficult problems back in the stone age when I was in school.

Fifth graders are writing research papers at a much higher level than I would ever imagine, math homework problems include questions that I only learned how to solve in my high school physics class, and I would conclude that the quality of public education seems to be just fine, at least here in Boulder.

And see? I've proven it now. School *is* harder than when I was a kid. It's not that I'm just a little dumber. Maybe.