March 15, 2008

You can lead a horse to water ...

A presidential panel said yesterday that America's math education system was "broken," and it called on schools to ensure children from preschool to middle school master key skills.


F. Joseph Merlino, project director for the Math Science Partnership of Greater Philadelphia, which runs a research program involving 125 schools in 46 school districts, said that while he agreed with the finding that "you can't teach so many topics that you aren't able to get into depth," he disagreed with the report's focus on improving algebra instruction as central to better math education for all students.

He said he favored tailoring math instruction to the learning styles of students more than the report does. (emphasis added)

Philadelphia Inquirer, Panel: Math education is 'broken' The presidential panel called for ways to improve teaching and fight "math anxiety."

Bear in mind that in 2005, only 15.8% of black 11th graders in Philadelphia performed at the proficient level or above on the state math test. This placed them 2.61 standard deviations below the mean pass rate of 52.8% in Pennsylvania. This places these students below the first percentile.

See here.

I guess they haven't found the right learning style for these students yet.


CrypticLife said...

Given that the panel's focus appeared to be on reducing "math anxiety", I don't know they've exactly been led to water, either. Not unless they can show that anxiety is actually the problem.

CrypticLife said...

"Kids were prompted to think in the "fuzzy math" days; the math skills were embedded in rich problems [not on drills and work sheets]. Whole language sought to offer children the rewards of rich literature -- public confusion about imaginary battles between phonics and sight-word advocates aside. There is a difference between authentic reform efforts and the so-called reforms that NCLB has wrought [or is it rot?]. "

You might consider making a response to this person. Apparently, before NCLB education was doing swimmingly.

Anonymous said...

Hm. Last I heard, educating someone a little bit beyond where they happen to be -- not where their age says they should be, not where the teacher wishes they were, but where they themselves ARE works pretty darn well.

Silly me, though!

Anonymous said...

Learning styles, another pseudoscientific belief, is about the best that we can expect from the education field. Nonsense and more nonsense brought to us by teacher ed schools.

Anonymous said...

"The curricula of most high-achieving nations in the TIMSS study do not follow the single-subject sequence of Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II, but they
also differ from the approach used in most U.S. integrated curricula. Instead, Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry are divided into blocks. The teaching of each block typically extends over several months and aims for mathematical
closure. As a result, these curricula avoid the need to revisit essentially the same
material over several years, often referred to as “spiraling.”

"A search of the literature did not produce studies that clearly examined whether an integrated approach or a single-subject sequence is more effective for
algebra and more advanced mathematics course work. The Panel finds no basis in research for preferring one or the other."

I've worked in a few districts over the last few years that all use the "spiraling" Everyday Math. I'm not a big fan of EM, but god bless all the teachers I've worked with for supplementing EM with drills in multiplication, division, fractions, etc.

I'd rather our district go with a program like Singapore Math, but I have a feeling most will stick with EM or Terc and continue to supplement...

Anonymous said...

I'm a math coach in a spiraling (Invstigations/CMP) district. The spiral (like a lot of 'great' ideas) is a pendulum swung too far. Some things are FACTS (add/sub/mult/div at the digits level)and do not lend themselves to discovery. The spiral often cuts coherent content, that belongs together, into unrecognizable slices for the sake of the spiral meme, not the math.

As a result I have kids in 5th grade that can't do single digit addition or multiply by 10.

LynnG said...

Not to worry -- Pennsylvania is right on track. According to PA's education secretary, Gerald L. Zahorchak, the math panel affirms Penn's method of math instruction.

And then Zahorchak goes on to say:

"The findings also support the Pennsylvania Department of Education's commitment to promote research validated instructional practices such as cooperative learning -- an approach in which students work collaboratively
to evaluate, analyze and problem-solve."

I don't recall seeing that in the report. But I do recall a recommendation to teach basic skills to mastery. Also something about authentic algebra in the 8th grade. I wonder why Zahorchak was a little quiet on that point?

Mr. McNamar said...

I wish people had cared about my learning style.
The question I have been asking myself after 3/4 of a year in a low performing school in CT is:
What exactly do my students need to know?
Do all students need to know how to analyze a poem? A novel?
And I wonder the same about other subjects. Did I really need to learn the Pythagorean Theorum? I really haven't done much work with triangles since the 1992-1993 school year.

Anonymous said...

Mr. McNamar,

Just as you probably didn't need to learn the Pythagorean Theorem, I didn't really need to learn about alliteration and iambic pentameter. Nevertheless, as a society, we have decided to offer a broad-based education to our children because they simply do not know what they really need to know later in life. Some will be engineers; pi will be very important to them. Others will be writers; they need to analyze novels and learn precise grammar and pi may never mean anything to them.

The alternative is to have young children decide their vocation early on and ignore everything that isn't relevant to it.

Mr. McNamar said...

iambic pentameter--definitely not. Alliteration actually alleviates an ample amount of aggression.
Truthfully, there is much of what I am asked to teach that might not be necessary to teach at the high school level.

Anonymous said...

Alliteration actually alleviates an ample amount of aggression

So does algebra.

Tracy W said...

The question I have been asking myself after 3/4 of a year in a low performing school in CT is:
What exactly do my students need to know?
Do all students need to know how to analyze a poem? A novel?

It would be an awfully depressing life if we only ever did things that we needed to do. Or only knew things that we need to know.

Certainly, reading and writing and enough maths to manage finacial questions should be taught before analysing poems and novels, and if the primary schools are so incompetent that the high schools get students who don't know those basics then the high school needs to focus on teaching the basics (or getting the primary schools into shape). But, once the basics are out of the way, why restrict yourself to merely what is necessary?