kitchen table math, the sequel: Wonderful letter to the editor re: U.S. math performance

Monday, May 4, 2015

Wonderful letter to the editor re: U.S. math performance

Peter Meyer just sent me the link:
Re “Are You Smarter Than an 8th Grader?,” by Nicholas Kristof (column, April 26):

American kids aren’t inherently less intelligent than kids in Singapore, or so one hopes. That’s the good news. The explanation for the Americans’ continued dismal performance in math therefore lies elsewhere.

Having watched my kids navigate the local public schools for the past 11 years, I know that one of the problems is that educators still seem to be trying to figure out how to teach math. My daughters have been through the Singapore approach, with its traditional emphasis on mastery of number facts and arithmetic procedures; the reform approach, with its confusing inquiry-based philosophy; and now the “can’t we all just agree” Common Core standards approach. Why are we still trying to figure this out?

Math has been taught to children at least since ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, and those kids grew up to use their mathematical skills to build the Parthenon, aqueducts and pyramids, which are still standing. The math taught in K-12 hasn’t really changed much since Gottfried Leibniz and Isaac Newton invented calculus in the 1600s, so one would think that educators have had enough time to figure out how to teach it.

How about if educators stop experimenting with our kids, adopt whatever approach the Finnish or Singapore schools use, and get on with it?



The writer is a professor of psychology and biology at the University of Washington.

Our Students' Below-Average Math Abilities | New York Times | May 4, 2015
A say: go with Singapore.

Not Finland.


Anonymous said...

I've been wondering why the US has been trying to reinvent the wheel regarding elementary math education for years. One of the best programs on the planet is readily available in English. Adopt Primary Mathematics (the original US version) and be done with it.

Then spend the left over time and money on educating teachers so that they can actually teach it properly. This will require them to take two years of math education courses (one year of elementary math, one semester of Algebra I and one semester of geometry) that teach math content and skills alongside the "how to teach math" stuff. In order to pass, they will need to demonstrate profound understanding (to use Liping Ma's term) of the material.

We can't have math phobic teachers teaching math. Period.

momof4 said...

The US edworld is fixated on the idea that all kids (including many who are highly unlikely ever to attend a "regular" school in most countries) can learn the same material, in the same amount of time, in the same classroom, and have equality of results. Hence the frantic and futile chase for the next magical solution (aka defining mastery down to the level of breathing &/or using group work to pretend "all" are learning) We'd do better if (1) have all math taught by math teachers, (2) a good curriculum (SPM would be great), (3) leveled classes combined with the recognition that some kids won't ever get to "higher level thinking" and their being able to do basic k-8 math is OK. However, unacceptable demographic realities mean it won't happen.

Hainish said...

"The US edworld is fixated on the idea that all kids (including many who are highly unlikely ever to attend a "regular" school in most countries) can learn the same material, in the same amount of time, in the same classroom, and have equality of results."

momof4, I agree that the edworld is fixated on some ideas, but I'm not sure those are the particular ideas they're fixated on (they'd be an improvement!). It's more that they think learning happens via some sort of magic that doesn't involve teachers explaining things and students adding skills and knowledge to long-term memory.

momof4 said...

It also doesn't involve actual cognitive ability, or lack thereof. It's universally admitted that, in the arts and athletics, talent matters. Even with max effort, talent matters and the arts and athletics sort kids/people accordingly. In academics, any mention of talent, or lack thereof, is usually verboten. (aside from the insistence that everyone is talented in something; no, some are dim bulbs across the board and the talents necessary for academic success are intercorrelated). Sigh

SteveH said...

All schools and teachers know that there are differences in student abilities. Differentiated instruction (learning) is supposed to deal with that. It does not and many teachers know that. Even if they select Singapore Math, nothing will change unless they value mastery of skills, push, and set higher expectations. The highest level of CCSS does not teach to a STEM level no matter what the IQ is of the student. What and how they teach is a failure even for many far below the STEM level. This is not about getting K-6 schools and teachers to value the differences between students. It's an issue of ignorance and incompetence in math. This is not about how the brain works or an argument over understanding or pedagogy. It's about ignorance and incompetence in math. This affects all kids at all IQ levels. Nobody thinks that all kids are equal.

lgm said...

I am seeing expertise here, but since the start of nclb the admin is prohibiting teachers from teaching all learners. Its grade level and core basic only in the classroom, and rTi for remedial in the elementary. No honors in middle or high school. Doesnt work for the population mix we have, and its bordering on racism.