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I’ve been studying the overview of the new math standards proposed by the American Conference of Governors.  I know there is a big push to get more kids prepared in K-12 school to enter academic programs in college toward careers in the hard sciences, but I don’t think requiring all kids to follow these guidelines is the right way to do it.  Being more of a left-libertarian, particularly when it comes to education, I don’t like the idea of "high stakes" standards that require (rather than recommend) what you learn and when, backing it up with coercion and serious consequences (like failure to graduate) if you don’t.  

Practically speaking, there are so many wide-ranging disciplines and associated bodies of knowledge these days that you have to allow kids to be able to explore areas of interest (prior to going to college), rather than fill their class schedule with required classes that may not be consistent with their own educational or career trajectory.  But I suppose that these proposed national standards are no more directive of kid’s school curriculum than the current voluminous state standards they are intended to influence and even replace.

I suspect I am in a minority of parents and other adults that that are opposed to "standardized" education, particularly when those standards are applied (enforced rather than recommended) as "OSFA" (one size fits all).  Most adults that I know accept the conventional wisdom that all kids should learn pretty much the same thing and that the state and its experts should be able to dictate the bulk of what kids will learn in school.

So why am I so concerned on this to join a currently small number of people opposed to this OSFA standardization of school curricula?  

Well first, to confess my bias (always a good thing to do, particularly when discussing controversial issues), both my kids eventually found conventional public school to be an inappropriate educational environment for them (and their parents reluctantly agreed).  The most dramatic issues seemed to be with math classes.  (See my earlier pieces on "F**k Math" and "Tutoring Geometry" chronicling both my kids hitting the wall with mathematics and subsequently transitioning to homeschooling, with their parent’s trepidation but assent.

Now I was a kid who always enjoyed mathematics, including my high school algebra, geometry and analysis classes, and later college calculus, linear algebra, Boolean algebra and the rest.  So in trying to help both my kids get excited about their more abstract math classes, I brought all my knowledge and enthusiasm to bear in that effort, including tutoring my daughter for an hour most every school night in ninth grade to help her get a "C" in geometry.  But both of them (so passionate about so much else out there in the big world) could find no interest and had no patience for abstract math.

Beyond this personal experience I have heard and read anecdotes of other kids who do okay in their other classes but fail their high school math, putting themselves in jeopardy of not graduating.  Kids in this situation with parents with enough resources can get tutors to get them through it somehow, like I tutored my daughter in geometry.  For other kids, algebra or geometry is the straw that breaks the camels back and can lead to their dropping out of school.  (I confess I have not seen statistics on this, I have only anecdotes.)

So in response to my thinking, people I know say, "Kids should know some basic algebra and geometry!  Even if they don’t go into careers in science or math they will need it."  I am not convinced of this.  Between high school and college, I took nine higher/abstract math classes, virtually none of which I have used in my life, including my 24 years of work as a computer programmer, systems analyst and business analyst.  

I never had a math class where I learned how to create and manage a budget... now that would be pretty universally useful!

If I had gone the path of working in the aerospace industry (and maybe helped program guidance systems for our new generation of "smart" weapons) then that entire body of math knowledge would have come into play.  But I chose not to (for ethical and career reasons).  Ironically, the one area of math that proved most useful in my data analysis work was what was called at the time "set theory", that I happened to learn in middle school.

Getting back to the standards, this whole push for more math, is in my opinion another round of the "Sputnik Syndrome" of the late 1950s when the Soviet Union managed to "beat us" in getting the first satellite up and in orbit around the earth.  Today, once again our country’s leaders are feeling anxiety that we will "lose the competition" with other countries to America’s detriment if we don’t produce more highly skilled mathematicians and scientists.

Accepting for now the efficacy of this goal (which could and is argued elsewhere) I don’t think mandatory OSFA math standards is the way to achieve it!  There are at least three key reasons:

  1. You frustrate otherwise inquisitive students (like my two kids) and can drive them away from school and put up barriers to their graduation.
  1. You can waste the learning time of other kids (like me) who might even like the abstract math but are not interested in careers in math or science and could better spend their time "deep learning" in areas of keen interest.  
  1. For the kids that are really into math and/or see themselves on a math/science career trajectory, you probably end up "dumbing down" their math classes, to accommodate all the other kids who can’t do it and/or don’t want to be there but are regardless required to do so.

I know we have gotten into trouble in our schools before trying to "track" kids into "college prep" or "vocational" paths.  Stereotypes around gender, race and socio-economic status have managed to come inappropriately into play in this tracking.  

But I think as a society, if we really want to produce more truly skilled science and math "geeks", we need to figure out a way to let kids and their parents, with the advice of school counselors and other mentors, choose educational paths with much fewer mandatory OSFA requirements.  That fraction of kids really into math and science can go to special "science academies" where they can plunge into these bodies of knowledge in an environment of like-minded enthusiasm and deep learning.

Young people like my own two kids can choose other paths for say their high school years where they can focus on game design, business, or journalism, or whatever; where they don’t have to spend their time taking algebra, geometry and other abstract math classes.

In business and industry, gone are the days of selling everybody a different color Model "A" Ford, as long its black.  Mass production has been replaced by niche marketing.  "Push" production has been replaced by Lean manufacturing which builds what is asked for by consumers rather than a generic OSFA product that the advertising department attempts to convince everyone they just have to have it.

Why can’t we bring this more customer focus to our educational institutions and make them more "learner focused"?

I think this is a recipe for developing and leveraging more of the talents of the next generation, including identifying and optimally training our best young mathematicians and scientists.  There are so many career and knowledge paths in our complex and multi-faceted contemporary society.  

I say let’s lose this whole Henry Ford assembly line approach to national educational standards in favor of perhaps national recommendations for many optimal paths of learning, depending on the interests and abilities of our individual young people.  That way maybe we can stop endlessly "reforming" and start profoundly "transforming" our approach to education.

Originally posted to leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:25 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

    by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:25:18 AM PDT

  •  You seem to be saying: (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp, kyril, citicenx, James Robinson

    So in response to my thinking, people I know say, "Kids should know some basic algebra and geometry!  Even if they don’t go into careers in science or math they will need it."  I am not convinced of this.  Between high school and college, I took nine higher/abstract math classes, virtually none of which I have used in my life, including my 24 years of work as a computer programmer, systems analyst and business analyst.

    that some math classes are useless.

    I never had a math class where I learned how to create and manage a budget... now that would be pretty universally useful!

    I did--and it was a higher/abstract math class. Hmm...also, we're building a deck. Kinda need both algebra and geometry to do it.

    I somewhat understand how national standards (although in math, it's just math---it can't be freelearned or freebased or whatever it's called. it's just math) can be bad, but some of the diary seems to be a bit off.

    BlackKos Tu/Fri. (better not discuss GLBT issues with 4th graders on dkos!) eggs, brd, milk.

    by terrypinder on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:37:20 AM PDT

    •  Algebra & Geometry are taught... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Robinson

      completely out of any real world context for the purpose of being a basis for further abstract math studies leading to a career in those areas.  The kind of practical algebra and geometry could be taught much more quickly in a completely different practical context to a different set of students.

      I hear your concern... but in my opinion context is very important.  Let people learn things when they see a need or have a desire to know rather than on a standardized national OSFA assembly line that is often forced to substitute coercion for a lack of interest.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:43:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Given that so many kids and adults (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        lgmcp, Geek of all trades, kyril, citicenx

        are just not interested in learning anything at all I think national standards would aid us. After all, all the nations beating us in test scores have national standards.

        I think letting people "do what they want" will result in a much dumber nation, which we're well on our way there. I do agree, algebra/geometry/calculus do need to be taught in a fashion that aids both the science oriented and the nonscience oriented (my calc classes in college were titled "calc for poets") but I can't agree with doing away with even minimal national standards. Instead they need to be geared in a different direction.

        I don't care if History/English/etc are left up to their own. Math is something that is the basis of critical thinking, IMO, and needs some kind of minimal national standard at the least. Also, better teachers who know what the hell they're talking about. I failed trig in high school because my teacher couldn't make it interesting. The next teacher I had for trig did (he was in the airforce, and trig applies a great deal in the air force) and I passed it with an A+.

        BlackKos Tu/Fri. (better not discuss GLBT issues with 4th graders on dkos!) eggs, brd, milk.

        by terrypinder on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:15:42 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Er, what? (0+ / 0-)

          English requires reading comprehension, which is impossible at any nontrivial level without critical thinking and analysis skills.

          Critical thought is a discipline that works in pretty much any discipline you can think of. It can't be binned in math, or science, or anywhere else.

          I can't imagine how you could even learn history without critical thinking skills. You'd end up absorbing propaganda, perhaps, but you couldn't learn history.

          Government is not instituted for the good of the governor, but of the governed; and power is not an advantage, but a burden. -Algernon Sidney

          by James Robinson on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 01:12:40 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree in the importance of critical thinking... (0+ / 0-)

            skills which in fact can be learned more easily outside of most school environments rather than inside, particularly when the school is so regimented and externally directed.  I believe kids learn critical thinking by being in situations where they participate in critical decisions.  Most contemporary schools do not give kids a venue for significant decision making, and pre-programmed pre-packaged learning does not allow for it.

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 02:37:24 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  I disagree that some kids want to learn nothing.. (0+ / 0-)

          I have never met such a human that did not have desires and interests that they wanted to pursue.  I have met many kids who have been beaten down by coercive schools and parents telling them what they must do to the point that they long to at least do nothing.

          When we pulled our son out of school in the middle of eighth grade, it took him about a year of "doing nothing" and deprogram before he truly understood that he was going to be responsible for setting his own course.  Once assured by waiting his parents out, he proceeded to pursue with great vigor the things he was interested in.

          I also disagree that people "doing what they want" will make us a dumber nation.  Our country was born and developed on principles of freedom and liberty and individual initiative.  I think that entrepreneurial spirit is being severely damped down by all this external "you must do this" that our youth face in standardized regimented learning OSFA in most schools.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 02:34:03 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  What we need is not math geniuses or more (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bluesheep, James Robinson

    engineers. We need people who can solve problems with creative insight.  We need people with imagination and the ability to see the glass not as half full nor as half empty but to see is as too big.

    And if I had to design a system that ensured that was discouraged, mocked, and denigrated, I'd build a system like the one we have.

    •  Agreed!... OSFA does not work! (0+ / 0-)

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:45:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Solving problems with creative insight (4+ / 0-)

      is exactly what real math education encourages.

      Unfortunately, the current curriculum is hopeless in that department, because of people who believe that math is only useful when the applications are obvious.

      Every horror committed by man begins with the lie that some man is not a man. - Jyrinx

      by kyril on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:04:39 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  kyril... don't quite get what you are saying... (0+ / 0-)

        please elaborate if you would.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:09:08 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  By real math education (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          lotlizard, lgmcp, James Robinson

          I mean courses that emphasize students' ability to reason logically, solve novel problems, and write logically-coherent proofs independently. Not classes that consist of an interminable list of algorithms, "tricks," and methods that students are to memorize and apply.

          A formal philosophical logic class with no numbers at all has orders of magnitude more real math content than your average high school geometry class, but doesn't intimidate kids who think they're bad at math. I think it ought to be an option. Computer programming is also just as good.

          If geometry's going to be taught though (and I'm not convinced that it necessarily should be) the valuable form of geometry is the proof-based class taught in the '50s. But I really thing some form of proof-based discrete math with elementary number theory is much more useful for those kids who intend to do higher math of any form.

          Every horror committed by man begins with the lie that some man is not a man. - Jyrinx

          by kyril on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:17:56 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree with the broad value of proof skills... (0+ / 0-)

            which are about logic and argument and can be learned in many educational paths including, but not exclusively in math.  My daughter struggled to do geometry proofs, but they were boiled down to basically memorized algorithms so that the kids in her class would not fail.

            My daughter's poor geometry teacher, who was quite knowledgeable and highly regarded by his peers, was distraught at having a class full of kids who didn't get it and did not want to be there.  I really felt for his dilemma.  Standardization, regimentation and coercion as pedagogical tools has reduced wonderful teachers at time to creative jailers trying to make incarceration fun and meaningful.  Not good!

            Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

            by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 02:44:02 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  That being said, I'm not an advocate (4+ / 0-)

      of one-size-fits-all by any means. Algebra's fairly necessary as a basic problem-solving tool, but some/most kids would probably learn more if they went on to something like a discrete math or formal logic or computer programming class afterwards instead of geometry, which is in its current state an utterly pointless course.

      Every horror committed by man begins with the lie that some man is not a man. - Jyrinx

      by kyril on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:09:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  also I think (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    chilipepper, kyril, James Robinson

    kids get frustrated with math because they have crappy teachers. That's not due to any national standards.

    I can say this is what happened with me. I love science. I love math. I had shitty teachers in high school and college. If a teacher was good, I got good grades. If one sucked, I did poorly. I can't imagine I'm alone.

    BlackKos Tu/Fri. (better not discuss GLBT issues with 4th graders on dkos!) eggs, brd, milk.

    by terrypinder on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:42:48 AM PDT

    •  I agree... there is a great benefit to better... (0+ / 0-)

      teachers, that know and love their subject and really have a relationship with and understand each kid they teach.  But still, we can't expect (or pay enough to expect) teachers to be such magicians that they can manufacture math interests in kids like my own son and daughter.  Maybe make it fun enough so they can stumble through (still forsaking another class that might really engage them).

      But face it... the reality is that we will never pay our K-12 teachers enough to attract those "magicians" to teaching math in high school.  Budgets need to be cut, it is not going to happen.  The path we seem to be headed is for scripted classes like "Open Court" that don't require highly skilled teachers you longed for.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:51:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Some of it is the purely abstract nature (0+ / 0-)

      I simply could not wrap my head around the epsilon-delta proof until some enterprising professor animated it on a NeXT Cube (remember those?). After that, calculus was dead easy.

      The problem is, in part, that abstract math is the first formal abstraction that kids come across, and there's no bridge to it from the concrete. Math is beautiful to those capable of visualizing it, and impenetrable to anyone who can't.

      Government is not instituted for the good of the governor, but of the governed; and power is not an advantage, but a burden. -Algernon Sidney

      by James Robinson on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 01:16:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  So should those who can't penetrate it... (0+ / 0-)

        be forced to go through the motions of that penetration anyway.  How much coercion can we subject kids too before they shut down and say they are sick of learning anything.

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

        by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 02:47:35 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Innumeracy unfits one for responsible citizenship (5+ / 0-)

    just as surely as illiteracy. So many failures of critical thinking in math are central to an understanding of social problems.  REALLY grasping the orders of magnitude in the national debt.  Or in REALLY comparing the defense budget to the education budget.  Or in comprehending the number of deaths from public health risks. Seeing the unimportance of minor skirmishes over nuances of various global warming models.  

    It makes me crazy that otherwise-educated people will brag, yes, BRAG, at cocktail parties about how lousy they are at math, whereas they would conceal it in shame if their reading comprehension was impaired.  

    I don't think further reducing our expectations in mathematics will serve us well in any way.  

    "The extinction of the human race will come from its inability to EMOTIONALLY comprehend the exponential function." -- Edward Teller

    by lgmcp on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:44:03 AM PDT

    •  I agree, but you can learn numeracy by... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lotlizard, James Robinson

      middle school and move on to other areas of interest.  What your braggert is pointing out is that abstract math is a specialized subject that because of "Sputnik Anxiety" etc has become fixated in our national consciousness as critical to our survival.  At least that is y take.

      My math phobic son ended up being in charge of operations for a small high tech business he helped launch as a business partner.  He learned the practical math skills he needed on his own to do spreadsheets for their accountant.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 10:56:52 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  My semi-poor math skills actually (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lgmcp, kyril

      are an area of shame for me. I'll mention it, but it's no bragging matter.

      BlackKos Tu/Fri. (better not discuss GLBT issues with 4th graders on dkos!) eggs, brd, milk.

      by terrypinder on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:16:45 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  you are so right it isn't funny (0+ / 0-)

    so many other courses would be more usefully and prepare minds for higher math at a later more receptive point in their live, e.g. logic, rhetoric, accounting, database and spreadsheet skills, applied math of many kinds, etc.

    I'm already against the next war!

    by casamurphy on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 11:17:57 AM PDT

  •  Methods and goals (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kyril

    I am a bit opponent of One Size Fits All for educational methods.

    However, in terms of math, there are foundations things are built off of, and making people pick to follow them or avoid them early limits future opportunity. How do you know what you do at an early time does not require math you do not know of? (I just read a discussion about how much of psychology is actually about statistics, how many middle school students would realize that?) With your own example of game design, I've seen people use Calculus to analyze the progression and balance of Starcraft.

    In terms of applied skills, I do not know if going from theory to practice or practice to theory is better for everyone, on the other hand, once you have the foundation skills, you can learn budgeting at any time because that knowledge domain is only a prerequisite for more advanced business classes.

    •  Again many paths is the issue I think... (0+ / 0-)

      Some people learn from the abstract down to the practical.  Others learn from the practical up to the abstract.  Our mandated math curriculum is biased to the former at the expense of the latter.  Not fair... and a sad waste of our kids' energies and enthusiasm.

      I have found it so much easier to learn something, whether I was 5 or 50 when I saw the value in it and it would contribute to something I had already made my own decision to pursue.

      I strongly believe the most important thing we can help our youth develop is "agency", the ability to pick a course and chart it.  All else, including all types of learning, flow from that.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 02:55:07 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It all begins at the beginning. (0+ / 0-)

    Laying the intuitive foundations for Math begins in early childhood education and elementary school by giving the games that develop their abilities in pattern recognition (which happens to be innate in the human brain). Kids also have an intuitive sense of money as they have to calibrate on a daily basis what they will spend the little they have on for fun and pleasure or lunch, etc. One of the ways I have seen is, by sixth grade, the kids are given a math project wherein they plan their own business (my daughter's was a bakery) and had to figure out the finances using all the algebra they were learning. They had to figure out what they needed (rent, electric bills, ingredients and their cost, refrigeration, revenue, percentage of profit, etc.) in order to price their product in a profitable fashion, including donations to a favorite charity. They kids got excited and learnt their math pretty damned well!

    In higher grades, I'd say that games are more interesting to kids and computer graphics can be used help them begin their journey on geometry. I've seen a project where the kids would build a model of an island with hills and rivers, design highways, lights, towns, etc., and had to use geometry to do so. They need to find relevance to the math that they are learning.

    I majored in Math in college only because I came across a professor who could make Math so beautiful you wanted to learn it. (I had planned originally on studying journalism!) But most teachers can't really do that. It takes a special mind and temperament.  Nevertheless, in the years prior to college, math should and can be taught by taking the interests of the kids into consideration.
    I think it's called tacking the wind.

  •  My grandson tested (0+ / 0-)

    as being a genius in kindergarten.  He was in advanced math until about the Th or ninth grade. He suddenly started failing math.

    He went though a lot of physical changes, his body matured, his voice deepened, he had pimples, etc. He was very easily upset and would get angry.

    He was always high energy and the school didn't have recess or PE.  That may have something to do with it.  Kids get rid of a lot of tension playing and competing in sports

    About the same time he really got into video games. Life can not compete with exciting video games.

    This year he has done better in math. It may have something to do with him having a girlfriend whose mother is a teacher.  They study together sometimes.

    Anyway, it may be a combination of all that.  He told me that no one uses algebra. I told him that if he wanted to get a scholarship or test high on entrance exams he would need to learn Algebra.

    My attitude has been I had to take 1st grade in a classroom that also taught the 2nd graders and I learned because I listened and I tried.  I have trouble blaming teachers, except the clowns that stopped recess and PE.

    We didn't say Wealth Care, we said Health Care.

    by relentless on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 01:13:33 PM PDT

    •  Interesting anecdote about your son... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      relentless

      I think you are both right in a sense about algebra.  He was right that most people don't use most of it, except for its most basic form in most real life application (except for science careers).  You were right that it would help him test successfully to get into college.  It's quite ironic!

      I suspect your son (like my own) is one of those kids who will do fine as an adult if only he can survive his youth...*g*... Good luck with that!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 03:00:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Math lover here who can see your point but ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lgmcp

    can't quite come to the same conclusion.  I also start with a slightly different perspective.

    I have two kids, both GT/LD (for those not up on edu-speak: gifted & talented/learning disabled -- high IQ/dyslexia or other reading issues).  The older went all the way through public schools, the younger asked me to homeschool her for high school. (Way too many stories, will try to stick to the relevant ones.)  I also taught comp sci, 7th grade math, & geometry for 2 years.  Both of my children love numbers as much as they love language -- and learning is the greatest love of all.  I also have two step-daughters who hated school, math or otherwise, all the way through.  They somehow internalized that learning meant admitting you were stupid and don't really have that love of learning that makes life so much fun.  So, I absolutely agree that one size does NOT fit all.

    Things I heard from elementary school teachers (who taught math along with all other subjects):  

    1. Math is too hard for your son (who could later visualize calculus functions that I needed to graph out)
    1. I hated math as a kid, so I try not to give the kids too much math
    1. [to the class] If you are good all week, we will skip math on Friday
    1. If he can't write down all the steps, he obviously doesn't really understand the math. (really? so the astronomical odds against his getting all the right answers are overcome by what, exactly?)

    We are passing math phobia on to our kids in epidemic proportions.  By the time kids get to high school, where their math teachers might be people who actually studied math, they have already been exposed to years of dislike.  (And I haven't even mentioned Barbie's, "Math is hard!")

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is in the lack of understanding of the total coolness of numbers that many elementary school teachers seem to have.  Multiplication isn't a set of math facts to memorize, it is a function that increases the speed with which a person can add tremendously.  We play word games (what rhymes with bat?) But few numbers games (how many different ways can you say 5? 4+1, 6-1, etc) We use poetry (think Shel Silverstein) to inculcate love of words, but have few equivalent fun-with-numbers activities -- the Logical Zoombinis were a great exception, but I think they are out of print.  In some ways, high-stakes testing may be part of the problem.  If you teach multiplication the same way it has always been taught and your students don't "pass" the IOWA basic skills test, it isn't your fault.  If you try some new, game-based, fun-based method, then you are to blame for any failures. ( This guy is going to change that for us all, if we can make his column required reading.)

    Then you have the left-brain/right-brain learners issue -- whole-to-part vs. part-to-whole learners.  Some kids learn to read easily with phonics programs.  Break the word down into its component parts, sound it out, and you can read any word (well, in a phonetically consistent language you'd be able to, but even in English it gives you a start).  This method does not work for some children.  These other children memorize many "sight" words -- words of any number of syllables that they have memorized on sight.  At some point their bank of sight words reaches an internal threshold and they see the patterns in the words and they use the sight words to read other words.  Over night they go from reading behind grade level, to at or above grade level.  This latter group of kids is poorly served by the public school system.  A majority of people fall in the former group, so that is the method we use in school.  The sad part is, that I am a math-education geek and I don't know what the parallel is in math.  Presumably, it is memorization of math facts with the understanding to come later.  But wait, that's what we do.  

    Back to your point about high school math requirements.  I absolutely agree that people should be able to graduate from high school without calculus and not have that be a "second class" diploma.  On the other hand, algebra and geometry are the least theoretical, most applicable of the maths.  Another commenter mentioned building a deck, certainly sailing, flying, statistics ... just being able to read the news and spot the BS would be a result of having a basic grounding in numbers.

    So why did I go into a rant on bad elementary math education in your diary on OSFA high school math?  Because I believe that if their elementary math hadn't been totally screwed up, your kids would have loved learning math as much as they loved learning anything else.  Not necessarily in the same way that the kid next to them learned it, not with the same methodology, but ultimately with the same fluency.  I also believe that if I had gotten more of my step-daughters' time, earlier, I could have helped them hate school less. [I don't believe in the Easter Bunny, if you're keeping score.]

    So the reason that I don't abhor stronger math standards is that I hope that they will drive a transformation in math education.  This story [at Wash. Post, sorry] shows some positive outcomes from curriculum changes that have come about due to the horrible NCLB requirements.  We have to change the way we think about, talk about, teach, and maybe even test math.  What will drive us to do it?  Maybe tougher standards?

    •  I hear ya... and my kids loved Zoombini's too... (0+ / 0-)

      But I think you are trying to throw talented teachers at an OSFA system that chews them up in favor of teachers resolute to follow pre-programmed scripted teaching.  Schools are way too labor intensive and expensive as is without trying to pump billions more in to upgrade the teachers to the point of extreme talent needed to try and make an OSFA program palatable to the full range of kids.

      I think we should not try, and instead transform our school model from OSFA to "Many Paths" and give kids and their parents the opportunity to be more active participants (rather than just consumers) of the learning process.

      I was in a youth theater group when I was a teen that had at times 40 kids present rehearsing, building sets and costumes, etc.  There was only one adult present and he just made himself available for questions and problems when they came up.  The rest of the time we youth taught each other, learned together and otherwise collaborated to mount our stage productions.  I had no more profound learning environment in my life than that.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

      by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 03:11:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  theater is fabulous (0+ / 0-)

        as a learning experience.  In some ways, it saved my son.  Writing wasn't essential, and he was able to shine.

        I absolutely agree.  We know about different learning styles and we let teachers teach only to their own.  In one of the few education courses I took before deciding I couldn't bear it, I attended a 3 hour lecture on how everyone isn't an auditory learner.  No, really.  The irony was apparently lost on the professor.  

        We should have phonics and sight-word reading.  We should acknowledge what we know about statistics in designing our schools.  Children are ready to learn to read at the average age of 6.  Yet, any who haven't learned by the end of 1st grade are put in the "slow" class -- when they are frequently ahead in other, more abstract, subjects.  

        Can we match learning styles with teaching styles?  Can we use interest areas to hook children on learning all that they need to know?  Of course, you mentioned the problems that "tracking" has had in the past, with racism and classism used rather than objective measures for assigning students to resources.  

        I just don't think that national standards require OSFA -- equal outcomes, not same paths?  Maybe I'm misunderstanding the standards.

        •  Reinforced by new national standards... (0+ / 0-)

          the current state standards (at least in CA) mandate 80% to 90% of the classes high school kids take, leaving little room for pursuing interests outside of the OSFA programmed path.  That is my great concern.

          The political motive is always to add more content to the standards not to reduce it.  More content standards means more required classes, less electives, and as far as I can see it, more OSFA.

          The other thing I see coming, is that like newspapers, our brick and mortar schools will become more and more economic albatrosses with more and more problematic funding.  The ideal approach of small classes taught by highly talented highly paid teachers will be substituted based on budget issues with lower skill teachers (paid less) with bigger classes following scripted OSFA curriculum.  

          Economics has always driven public education, and we no longer have that pool of highly skilled women to be our underpaid school teachers now that all careers are open to both genders.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles http://www.leftyparent.com

          by leftyparent on Fri Mar 19, 2010 at 04:49:53 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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