Thursday, March 13, 2008

National Mathmatics Advisory Panel

I know, I know, I talk about math curriculum too much. I can't help it, I am genuinely worried about our country's declining competitiveness in the math and science arenas and wonder if perhaps our country's divergence from the basics is a (or the?!) factor. The countries that continue to churn out scientists and mathematicians aren't using the same types of programs so many of our public schools are using.

Anyway, if anyone is interested, The U.S. Department of Education recently published a report from a National Mathematics Advisory Panel composed of some pretty impressive mathematicians. The report can be found here and here you can find a brief NPR story covering the report.

Clearly, in the competitive global economy we are now living in, something needs to be done to raise our country's declining math proficiency. But what?

3 comments:

sixty-five said...

Interesting. I have long maintained that the MAIN problem is related to the quality of the teachers, not the curriculum. The report you link to addresses that as well. Did you notice in the NYT a few days ago the most-linked-to article described a new school where teachers were going to be paid $125K, principal would get $90K and there would be zero "assistant principals", and such. The only problem I foresee is that the school begins with fifth grade, which might not be soon enough. Until the smartest young people begin to choose teaching as a career I don't see much hope.

nina said...

It's a tricky thing. Do we want to educate as many as possible to an acceptable level of proficiency? Or, do we want to cultivate talent? It seems to me that until high school, we focus on the first and at the high school level we suddenly get all concerned about not doing enough to stimulate talent.

I don't know if you can maintain an egalitarian approach to education and still inspire young people to great challenges. My personal compromise is that I opt for egalitarianism but coupled with support for kids who want to move beyond. But it's hard and I can waste countless pages spelling out what goes wrong along the way.

And yet, it's the only credible path. Otherwise, we'll force talented kids to stay in bored environments and/or we'll confuse kids who are just never going to feel comfortable with math. No matter how hands-on we make it.

SuperMom said...

I have long maintained that the MAIN problem is related to the quality of the teachers, not the curriculum. The report you link to addresses that as well.

I do agree with you about the need to attract the brightest of the bright to the field of education. Unfortunately though, I don’t think paying more is enough on its own. It may help attract more smart people, but how many highly intelligent linguists or mathematicians are going to stay and feel challenged and happy in a field where they’re told what to teach, how to teach it and when to teach it? Or, with those constraints, how effective will they be? It seems to me that it we really want to overhaul and change things teachers need to have more freedom and be treated as professionals, not just in what we pay them, but, more importantly in my eyes, in how we treat them (i.e. more professional freedom, less intervention, less restraints) and how they’re educated.

Still though, it appears we do have a problem, good or bad teachers aside, in how we’re teaching our children math. Even a great teacher won’t be able to be effective if the curriculum he or she is required to teach won’t prepare the majority of his or her students for algebra, which the report talked about in great detail. (That said though, I know a few teachers in our district that are so disgusted with our curriculum that they’re supplementing on their own, at their own expense and time.)

I know there are many math programs out there but, since it’s the one I’m most familiar with, take Everyday Math, for example. It has been developed and advocated by teachers, not mathematicians, and I think there’s a huge problem when highly respected mathematicians are telling our country that our children need the fundamentals of math, not just a conceptual understanding of how it should function. They need both, to be sure, and when a curriculum focuses on one to the detriment of another, it really shouldn’t surprise us that our students continue to fall behind globally when the world leaders are not teaching math this way.

And yet, it's the only credible path. Otherwise, we'll force talented kids to stay in bored environments and/or we'll confuse kids who are just never going to feel comfortable with math. No matter how hands-on we make it.

Absolutely. And here is where excellent teachers come into play, because they can do this for their class, and often catch the kids falling behind and motivate the gifted at the same time. But at the same time, teachers need the tools to teach their students effectively and it’s my hope many school districts will read this new report and at least incorporate some of its ideas or, at the very least, discuss these ideas in an open setting with parents, teachers, etc.