Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Government Lies On Math Education

The New York Times reports that yet another government report has been produced advocating the thrashing of the math curriculum in elementary and middle schools - the Bush administration never tires of trying to control government beyond their elected years.

It seems that in education especially, Bush and his cronies are attempting to create legislation that will pervert and hamper public education for years to come.

The Times piece called Report Urges Changes in Teaching Math by Tamar Lewin describes the study.
The report, adopted unanimously by the panel on Thursday and presented to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, said that prekindergarten-to-eighth-grade math curriculums should be streamlined and put focused attention on skills like the handling of whole numbers and fractions and certain aspects of geometry and measurement.

It offers specific goals for students in different grades. For example, it said that by the end of the third grade, students should be proficient in adding and subtracting whole numbers. Two years later, they should be proficient in multiplying and dividing them. By the end of the sixth grade, the report said, students should have mastered the multiplication and division of fractions and decimals.
This report is not change and that's why I call it thrashing. The report decides that the existing education regime has failed and recommends yet more of it. More broad based testing, more grade specific goals.

Nowhere is the individual child mentioned. Nor is any recommendation for grooming the individual as a whole spiritual being deserving honor and respect. No, this report is more pig-piling of thinly disguised NCLB remedy. And therefore the report is toxic.

Later in the article a starling assertion is made without follow-up.
“There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction,” Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, said at a briefing on Wednesday. “People may retain their strongly held philosophical inclinations, but the research does not show that either is better than the other.”

The report found that “to prepare students for algebra, the curriculum must simultaneously develop conceptual understanding, computational fluency and problem-solving skills.” Further, it said: “Debates regarding the relative importance of these aspects of mathematical knowledge are misguided. These capabilities are mutually supportive.”
Let's examine the assertion by comparing the world's best math test scores with the U.S. test scores and compare the methodology.

A recent Wall St Journal article entitled What makes Finnish Kids So Smart by Ellen Gamerman is worthy of attention. Here's why.
Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers.
Finland's students are the brightest in the world, according to an international test. Teachers say extra playtime is one reason for the students' success. WSJ's Ellen Gamerman reports.

The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland's students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland's combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD's test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland's students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country's secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. "We don't have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have," says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.
If we are to believe in test results then this evidence wholly contradicts what Bush's hand-picked Dr. Larry R. Faulkner asserts. There is plenty of evidence that paying attention to the needs of the child instead of the needs of corporate lobbyists in Washington is productive.

Furthermore the article states;
Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn't translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: " 'Nah. So what'd you do last night?'" she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely "glue this to the poster for an hour," she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.
Maybe the reason Dr. Faulkner's committee makes the kinds of assertions they do is that the Department of Education spends an inordinate amount of time and money visiting the schools of totalitarian countries instead of paying attention to the kinds of pedagogy that actually work internationally.

The casual observer might note that the Finns were one of many democratic nations represented ahead of the United States in this testing. It appears raising intelligent children is not a monopoly in countries we outsource our prosperity to.

Citizens need to reject the Bush education initiatives in wholesale fashion. They are the diseased recommendations of a diseased Washington culture allowed to govern without accountability, sanity, or restraint. They cannot be voted out of office soon enough. Nor can their absurd ideas be flushed fast enough.

The Wall St Journal video:

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