kitchen table math, the sequel: Proposed math standards unteachable

Monday, July 26, 2010

Proposed math standards unteachable

Sacramento Bee
Viewpoints: Proposed math standards unteachable

Algebra I is taught in eighth grade in high-performing foreign countries, and this is also recommended by America's 2008 National Math Panel. California has made immense progress in this direction in the past decade, and we now lead the nation in the percentage of algebra-takers in eighth grade. Regrettably, all these gains are in danger of being reversed because of these ill-advised standards recommendations.

Bill Evers is a research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and member of the institution's Koret Task Force on K-12 Education. He was formerly U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education. Ze'ev Wurman is an executive at a Silicon Valley high-technology company. He was formerly a senior adviser in the U.S. Department of Education.


Catherine Johnson said...

I saw this article, too.

Is he talking about the Common Core standards?

Allison said...

The issue in CA is slightly more complicated. He's talking about the Common Core being adopted, but because CA already has this algebra-1-for-8th-grade program, the "solution" for CA that is proposed is to adopt a modified common core that had all of the Common Core, plus whatever the state already had that led to Algebra 1 in 8th.

There are real issues here that are confusing. Evers cites the NMAP claiming we should get everyone to algebra 1 in 8th grade, but that's not what NMAP says. Evers says other countries do algebra 1 in 8th grade, but that's not true, either, as most of those countries begin to do algebra 1 in 8th grade, but don't do all of it by the end of 8th grade.

And of course, while CA is supposedly making strides getting everyone into algebra 1 in 8th grade, guess how many are proficient at it?

The larger and important issue is this:

Is acceleration the way to achieve more in K-12 mathematics? Or is it more important to stop the acceleration bandwagon and instead revamp the K-7 curricula to make there be a better foundation for attacking algebra 1 and above? People who want to say "do both" are asking for too much.

concerned said...

Post on CA Algebra Proficiency vs. NAEP

Erin Johnson said...

Allison,Singapore starts Algebra in 6th grade, does quite a bit of Algebra in 7th grade and gets to the more complex ideas in Algebra in 8th.

Acceleration and getting more students prepared for Algebra are not incompatible as Singapore math readily does both using their bar methods for modeling word problems in a manner that make the transition to symbolic algebra significantly easier than traditional US programs.

I don't think that accelerating our conventional approach to teaching math would be a good idea. But if we used the Singapore type approach, we could do both: accelerate and prepare more students for Algebra sooner rather than later.

One of the benefits of learning Algebra sooner, is that most science is predicated upon math skills. The earlier students can master Algebra, the more science they can learn in high school, giving them a better foundation for being successful in a technical field in college.

Allison said...

--Acceleration and getting more students prepared for Algebra are not incompatible.

Sorry if I'm unclear. I'm not talking about doing for a student. I'm not talking about doing it for a single school with a lot of resources. You can't say "Singapore does it right now" and suggest that somehow *starting from where we are at* that the US can do it right now.

I think Singapore Math primary core is great. But math difference in Singapore isn't just about curriculum. Singapore succeeds because of a completely different manner of educating teachers than we do here, a completely different manner of handling students inside classrooms than we have here, and seemingly a completely different way of handling power and money than we have here in our public schools vis a vis unions. And if I recall correctly, Singapore *doesn't* teach everyone algebra. They bin people after the primary grades end, and you don't get to move between those bins. So it's not solving this algebra-for-everyone-in8th-grade problem either.

so when I say that acceleration and reordering the groundwork aren't both capable of happening now, I'm saying that it can't be done in the whole of the US, or in a state like CA, or any other huge target population with interest groups that contain bureaucracies like our public unions, not to mention our currently un-educated math teachers. It *is* incompatible with what we've got for resources right now, and the monetary resources are going to be gone very very quickly in that decade too.

What it will take to prepare even one large urban school district for a core middle school math on par with Singapore's is years of work. It will require changing pre and in service teaching dramatically, and for years. It will require removing teachers who did not have an interest in improving their skills. It will require changing how districts dictate content and pedagogy in the classroom. It will require changing standards and assessments.

All of that, and acceleration too? for the whole of our population?

How about we focus on getting
K-6 fixed, and then 1/2 a year of algebra early or late won't make anywhere near as much difference in science courses as the debacle we've got now. If instead you insist on focusing on both, you will find that the almost sisyphean task already in front of us is really just beyond any shred of possible.

concerned said...

Adelman, C. 1999. Answers in the Tool Box: Academic Intensity, Attendance Patterns, and Bachelor's Degree Attainment. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

In the "selected findings" section, you'll see this:
"Of all pre-college curricula, the highest level of mathematics one studies in secondary school has the strongest continuing influence on bachelor's degree completion. Finishing a course beyond the level of Algebra 2 (for example, trigonometry or pre-calculus) more than doubles the odds that a student who enters postsecondary education will complete a bachelor's degree. [pp. 16-18]"

concerned said...

Cato@Liberty - Who Said That about National Standards and Tests!?

Erin Johnson said...

Allison, You make good points. But I don't think that we can fix K-6 (or later) without addressing that whole laundry list of things that you stated plus more. If the school organization is set up to maintain the status quo, how will we ever enact reforms that improve student learning? Certainly, the multitude of reforms over the last 50+ years have yielded little to no improvements.

And frankly, it is difficult to start Singapore mid-stream. There is too much learning done in the early years that is essential for transitioning to Algebra.

As for Singapore, they do stream their kids after 6th grade but even the lower streams make it through Algebra, just at a slower pace. And they do this with substantially lower high school drop out rate.