April 18, 2006

Let's Cut to the Chase

Here's yet another article in the Seattle PI about the math wars. It raises the same old questions, gets the same old responses from the players, and finishes up with the same lack of answers. What's the point?

Isn't it about time for some real investigative journalism?

Intead of churning out the same hackneyed stories, why can't our intrepid journalist attempt to get some real answers?

Let's see how it might play out. I'll play the intrepid journalist who wants to write a piece on the elementary mathematics war.

Both sides claim to teach math better. But, who's right? Talk is cheap.

One way to find out would be to test the outputs -- the fifth or sixth grade students who just finished the elementary math programs. The good thing about elementary math is that it's cumulative and its main purpose (besides learning basic math skills) is to prepare kids to take algebra. Certain basic math skills--manipulation of fractions, understaning of decimals and place value, problem solving skills, and the like--need to be mastered by students and are indisputable prerequisites to algebra. We just need a quick and easy exam that tests these skills.

According to international tests, Singapore has the best prepared students in math. We could just use one of their readily available placement tests, fifth or sixth grade (take your pick), and use it as a guide to what good students need to have learned in elementary math.

Another option would be the sixth grade posttest in Connecting Math concepts--another good measure of what kids need to know at the end of elementary math.

Personally, I'd go with the CMC posttest with a sprinkling of problems from the Singapore Math tests to round out the skill set.

With my customized test in hand I'd go out to interview teachers from both sides of the debate. Let them blather on about why they think what they do is best. Let them talk all they want. Then I'd spring the trap.

Show me all the fifth or sixth graders that went through your program from start to end, and who didn't get any outside tutoring or help, we're going to test them and see what they really learned. What they learned is a reflection of what you taught and how well you did it.

That puts the end to the debate right there. We'd have a winner and a loser.

Actually, it probably wouldn't. This is education, so the loser wouldn't just admit defeat and grudging adopt the winner's program. There'd be talk about integrating the features of both programs because you "need both." Then the loser would continue what he was doing all along with a few minor adjustments and call it a "balanced" program.

Too bad for kids.

1 comment:

KDeRosa said...


I sent you an email but it got bounced. Feel free to cross-post anything you want whenever you want.