Education Next has made the Jacob Vigdor article (released online in October 2012) the lead story in the current Winter 2013 issue.I remember one day back in middle school, when C. had done well on one of his death-march-to-algebra math tests, we were taking a walk & discussing his triumph. At some point we got to talking about where he would now rank in Singapore terms. We figured probably on par with Singapore kids who have developmental disabilities.
He argues that the achievement gap and generally dwindling math performance of US students has been addressed by making the math curriculum "more accessible" (i.e., it has been dumbed down). He then argues that it need not be dumbed down if the curriculum were differentiated between low and high performing students.
In fact, this is pretty much how it was in the 50's and 60's. Students did not need the 3 or 4 years of math in high school to get admitted into colleges. What he leaves out, however, is the quality of math education in the lower grades and how this has affected the number of students who might otherwise be high performing students.
There’s no disagreement that some kids are smarter than others. Most people know that you can’t just set a standard (like algebra in 8th grade) and do nothing else. But Vigdor overlooks overlooks that issue and then claims that the failed initiative defines some IQ/algebra correlation. There are many other variables to consider–which he doesn’t.
The “Math Wars” are about curriculum and teaching methods, but this article skips over that analysis. Most schools separate kids starting in 7th grade. In affluent areas, since “enough” students get onto the top math track in high school, (often due to tutors, learning centers, or help from parents), educators will not look for any fundamental issues in K-6. They only assume that it’s a relative problem.
Why not interview parents to see what is done (or not) at home and try to find out how the best students got there? There may see an IQ connection, but it’s not that simple. There are things one can do to separate the variables. But too many authors of the recent spate of articles about math, algebra and its need, either can’t or won’t.
In his report, he pooh poohs the idea of introducing Singapore Math into classrooms, citing the usual cultural differences argument which is specious. (Teachers in Singapore have better math background; students go to school all year round, so there’s no forgetting concepts during the summer; the culture promotes education and hard work, etc). He neglects the fact that Singapore’s texts present the material clearly and succinctly and that there have been successes in schools in the US that have used it.
I'm (half) serious.
Remember the Singapore Math pilot project in New Milford, Connecticut?
The SPED kids were ahead of the general ed kids.