kitchen table math, the sequel: The State of Math Standards

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The State of Math Standards

newsflash: I've just learned that Ed Week has scheduled an online chat re: math standards for July 25.

Which, I see, turns out to have been today.

Who knew?

So I've missed the Ed Week chat. Lucky for me, they've posted the transcript.

Good to be reading Tom Loveless again:

Question from Leslie Skantz-Hodgson, Director of Curriculum and Media Instruction, Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School:

Just what exactly are other countries doing, that we are not, to get high performance in math?

Tom Loveless:

No one knows for sure, but I'll give you my best guess. High achieving nations value mathematics, stress its importance starting even before a child enters school, have high expectations for mathematical learning in the elementary grades, and put most students through a rigorous set of high school math courses. Elementary and middle school teachers have taken mathematics courses offered by college math departments. In addition, the curriculum is focused on only essential topics; textbooks are lean and concentrate on a few key ideas.

Lots of K-12 defenders of the faith:

Question from Jeanne Cerniglia, mathematics teacher, JRL Middle School, Southeast Local District, Wayne County, Ohio:

There seems to be a move to go "back to the basics" (skills). While skill mastery may be lagging, my concern is in the area of critical applications - especially in the area of data analysis as it applies to functioning as a responsible citizen nationally and globally. Where can I find research that explores how to connect mathematics and general critical thinking strategies?

I know the answer to that!

There is no research to be found, because general critical thinking strategies are a myth. General critical thinking strategies are an urban legend; general critical thinking strategies do not exist. [see e.g.: Inflexible Knowledge: The First Step to Expertise; Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?; The Mind's Journey from Novice to Expert]

That is, general critical thinking strategies do not exist unless you happen to have a Ph.D. like me:

Although this is not highly relevant for K-12 teachers, it is important to note that for people with extensive training, such as Ph.D.-level scientists, critical thinking does have some skill-like characteristics. In particular, they are better able to deploy critical reasoning with a wide variety of content, even that with which they are not very familiar. But, of course, this does not mean that they will never make mistakes.
Critical Thinking: Why Is It So Hard to Teach?
by Daniel Willingham

I am praying I do possess a general critical thinking skill or two, because otherwise I am not going to be able to wrestle CHAPTER ONE to the ground.



Anonymous said...

I'm probably a biased, unfair knucklehead, but I worry about teachers that want to teach kids math so that they can be "responsible citizens." Don't get me wrong, I want an educated electorate. Still, I think teachers with this priority might want their students to do the math to, for example, see that G. W. Bush's pledge to cut the deficit in half is just mathematically impossible without tax increases. Of course, this year's deficit is on target to be about one half of what it was when Bush made the pledge. In other words, simplistic application of math will guide your politics, and a simplistic teacher will think you're right, but simplistic math isn't the whole story.

I know I'm jumping far to a conclusion, and I know nothing about this particular teacher. I have no reason to suspect her motives, but the phrasing reminds me of motives that I do find suspect.

Dan K.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Dan!

Of course, I laughed when I read this because I feel exactly the same way this teacher does, except I want my kid to know statistics so he can spot bad ed research!

Catherine Johnson said...

In other words, I'm with you: this sounds like a political agenda.

Catherine Johnson said...

Now, if she'd mention knowledge of statistics as self defense, I might feel differently...

Catherine Johnson said...

There's just gotten to be too much talk about "responsible citizens" and "good character" and the like altogether for my taste.

concernedCTparent said...

There's just gotten to be too much talk about "responsible citizens" and "good character" and the like altogether for my taste.

Back in my day we called that "Civics" and it had little if anything to do with math.

Catherine Johnson said...

What did civics used to entail?

Does anyone know?

Does anyone remember?

I have a vague idea that it meant learning things like how a bill was passed into law....

concernedCTparent said...

Civics... yes, Constitution, Congress, Presidency, how laws are made, political parties. Building skills necessary to develop

It was supposed to develop skills necessary for responsible participation in civic and political life. Responsible citizens (not necessarily "good character" though).

Is it still part of the curriculum in high school? At any point?

Catherine Johnson said...


I don't think so.

At least, I don't hear about it very often.