Monday, March 24, 2008

Reform an even greater threat to high school math?

An anonymous poster sent me a link to this article in the Ledger-Enquirer, which reveals the latest front in the secondary school math wars: the state of Georgia. 

Georgia's Department of Education is now calling on schools to switch from the traditional Algebra I-Geometry-Algebra II-Trig sequence to a program in which, in the words of "instructional specialist" Suzanne Evans, "It's all going to be integrated."

Pondering this--my Reform Math-afflicted children haven't yet hit middle school--I suspect that there's even more at stake here than in elementary school math.

At least, however superficial, haphazard, and sloppy the pedagogy, Reform elementary students still come across most of the topics that traditional students do. They get at least a passing exposure to most of the standard algorithms, and those that have been chucked--e.g., long division or inverting and multiplying--are still relatively accessible to them and to their parents. When all else fails, most parents can teach most children these topics at home. Especially if they are left-brained math buffs.

But mixing up and reconstituting algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculous into a novel, "integrated" stew opens up all sorts of opportunities for Reformists to ditch whole topics. Especially those that don't integrate nicely with those things they consider important: calculators and real world applications. Rotated parabolas? Polar coordinates? Proving properties of triangles from the axioms of geometry? 

These topics won't be ones that most parents have at their finger tips, however eager their children are to learn about them. 

Georgia's motivation for integrating math? Below average math scores. Its education experts may be thinking of continental Europe, whose secondary schools use an integrated curriculum. But one look this curriculum--I've used it myself--shows it to be much more rigorously mathematical than anything these American Reformers have in mind.

As with all our other reforms, we lament how poorly our students do compared with counterparts in Europe and Asia, but can't be bothered to look at how these countries educate their children.

American Exceptionalism--it rears its pompous head in the most surprising of places.


bky said...

Can you give me details about the integrated secondary math curriculum used in Europe? In other words, as a blogger, do you take requests?

lefty said...

As a student in France, I experienced this curriculum first hand as very rigorous and abstract, with lots of set theory, analytic geometry, and proofs. But that was a number of years ago and I no longer remember details. The best English-language source on this may be the International Baccalaureate program, which reflects the European curriculum but which is available to some American students. Here's a link I found pertaining to IB math:

Independent George said...

I love the Orwellian use of language by the reformers. A math curriculum where individual topics are arranged sequentially so that concepts build upon each other in a natural logic? Not integrated enough! Instead, we need to scatter topics across several years, ignoring several key topics necessary to higher-level math, while repeating several superficially important ones.

Sweet merciful crap.

lefty said...

Good point! Linear doesn't mean disentegrated, and many (most?) nonlinear jumbles aren't integrated.

Plus, I'm guessing there's less and less mathematical integration in Reform's "integrated math".

R bky's comment, someone just sent me a link to some new French math materials:

I'm going to see if I can get my hands on these without paying too much $.

Lsquared said...

Singapore Math is integrated at about that level and is easy to find if you want to see what an integrated program in another country (but written in English) looks like. One of the sad things about reform math is how things get lost that way. People say "what are the schools in other countries doing that makes them effective at teaching math?" Well, one answer is that the high school math topics are integrated. So we get reform curricula that are integrated, but not anything like the topics or format that you have for integrated curricula elsewhere, so instead getting a curriculum that is tested and has a track record, we get something new that if you squint really hard looks a little bit like something that has a track record. Pretty disappointing