Monday, October 13, 2008

Everything but the math curriculum

In the last week, I've seen two articles expressing concern about the nation's school children:  one about boys, and the other about girls. Both leave out one of the biggest underlying factors, namely, the grade school math curriculum.

First there's an article in Teacher Magazine about Peg Tyre's new book, The Trouble with Boys, which, quoting Teacher Magazine, "details the problems boys are facing in school and argues for a new, boy-focused “gender revolution.” As far as the curriculum's role in all this goes, Tyre faults it for being too narrow and test-focused.

Then there's an article in the New York Times about a forthcoming article in the Notices of the American Mathematical Society about how few American-born girls are competing in top math competitions like the Math Olympiad and the Putnam Math Competition. This article makes no mention of our country's new Reform Math, instead blaming the numbers on anti-nerd biases that especially ostracize female math students.

Once again, people are happy to blame everything but the math curriculum. But the boys I know who are languishing in school are doing so because of Reform Math's dumbed down math and emphasis on language arts.  

This may also explain the disproportionately small numbers of American girls--which is accompanied, though outnumbered, by a disproportionately small number of American boys--performing well in the top math competitions. Perhaps, outside of school, gender stereotypes still have people identifying and encouraging boy math buffs more than their female counterparts.  

And, as America's math classrooms dumb themselves down under the Reform Revolution, what happens outside of school--including ongoing sexist assumptions about math ability--wields an ever greater influence over who does well in math.


lgm said...

It's even simpler here. The newer elementary teachers lack subject competency, an understanding of their methods course, an understanding of the grade level objectives, and the ability to do formative assessments. Even with the good salaries and benefits this district offers, mathematically competent new hires are rare.

For unclassified students, there is mandated remediation for those who fail to acheive the '3' or '4' on the state testing in Gr. 3-8. That means a math resource 'specialist' & Response to Intervention in the elementary; extra period mandated remediation in middle school.

My area doesn't use a curriculum. Math is a list of objectives given by NY state..if the topic is not on the list, it's not taught. They do allow the children to take the texts home, just in case the parent would like to 'work with their child'. The wealthy do hire tutors; the engineers, doctors, and teachers take matters into their own hands and teach the course at home. There is no way the middle school math teachers (competent) can make up for six yers of incompetency from the elementary.

PaulaV said...

Recently, while in my sons' school to volunteer, I struck up a conversation with a soon-to-be new teacher. She lamented over having to take advanced math courses because she didn't understand why she needed to take them. I mean, "it isn't like I am going to use this sort of math in K-5". She then added that she was never really good in math anyway.

Sometimes I feel like telling teachers and parents, "Okay, all of you who want reform math, step over here. The ones who want a more traditional curriculum stand over there." To me, it seems reform curriculum is a sinking ship and those of us who are stuck on this boat and what to get off cannot because well, you know, it wouldn't be fair. We should all go down with the ship.

Those of us who try to teach our kids math at home or put them in Kumon risk being labeled "slave drivers" (yes, I've actually been called that by a teacher and a principal).

The whole situation stinks and I see no end in sight, so I quietly go about my own way and try to save my children from drowning in a ship called REFORM.

Anonymous said...

As an American-born girl who regularly participates (competitively on the state level at least) in math competitions I thought my input might be relevant here. I contribute my absolute love of math to my fifth and sixth grade math teacher, who, as I look back, must have been a huge proponent of teaching math traditionally.

We were given at least an hour of homework every night. All of our tests and quizzes were completed without calculators, and some of them were timed. For those interested, she held hour long contest practice sessions every day before school, which drew a surprisingly high attendance (I went to all of them).

I shudder to think that so many students were never, and will never be inspired to love math because of the inadequacy of their teachers and the system in general.