Saturday, January 23, 2010

Book talk feedback: where are the teachers?

At my last book talk someone asked whether I had had any discussions with math educators vis a vis my concerns about Reform Math.  In reply, I had to say that I'd had a few, but that, unfortunately, those discussions hadn't been very satisfying.  At some point I'd raise some topic, e.g., a comparison of specific Singapore Math problems with specific Reform Math problems, or the needs of children with autism, or the possibility of surveying grade school students to find out what percentage of them find school math class too hard/easy, at which point the math educator stopped responding to my emails.  

I've also noticed that very few teachers attend my book talks, and that those who do are predominantly special ed teachers.  Only one math teacher, as far as I know, has appeared (he defended Reform Math on the grounds that it covers more statistics than overseas programs do).

A number of teachers do read my blog (or, at least, there are a number of visitors from servers like and, including local teachers who could easily have conversations with me if they wanted to, but only a couple of self-identified teachers have ever posted comments here.

My experiences would seem to be typical, or so I hear.  Perhaps others have thoughts on this, including teachers? If so, please do share!


Matthew K. Tabor said...

Seems to be the case with all things ed reform - teachers just aren't as interested in having the discussions, or working actively toward real improvement, as other segments. Puzzling in some ways, not in others.

Cheryl said...

First, let me "out" myself as a mathematician and math teacher (though not at the K-12 level). ;-)

I'd imagine that the K-12 teachers themselves are far too busy keeping up with the ever-changing standards/curricula on top of their usual day-to-day stresses and demands of the job to have much time to engage in these discussions. But I'll try to point a few of them your way and maybe one or more of them will make the time to comment.

But as the person who asked the original question, I would be curious to know what sorts of responses you might get if you approached the educators with some of your ideas. Both U Penn and Drexel have several academics (in education and in mathematics) who have been involved with math reform in one way or another. Drexel is also home to the Math Forum, which operates a great website for math teachers, and it's run by people who are knowledgeable and passionate about both mathematics and education.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

"I'd imagine that the K-12 teachers themselves are far too busy keeping up with the ever-changing standards/curricula on top of their usual day-to-day stresses and demands of the job to have much time to engage in these discussions."

Every serious person I know in education reform - regardless of which side they're on, both 'friends' and 'enemies' - works their tail off, usually in a full+ time position. They engage in the education debate in addition to that job [and in many cases raising/running a family, too]. The ones who mix business with that ed reform hobby [a largely thankless one, btw] seem to put in about 70hrs a week.

But I guess you've got a point, Cheryl. Those standards and curricular changes make it impossible to get involved in professional improvement on a macro level.

Thank the Good Lord so many get summers off - I fear they just might break under the load if they didn't.

Cheryl said...


I didn't mean to imply that people in ed reform aren't also busy. I was just trying to cut the teachers a little slack. I know I would have a tough time in their shoes. (For the record, I'd also have a tough time trying to fill the shoes of many other professions...heck, I have a hard enough time doing my own job sometimes)!

I would *love* to see teachers get more actively involved in these sorts of discussions. I'm (naively, perhaps) not yet ready to write them all off as not interested, largely because I haven't personally tried to engage them and then gotten rebuffed/ignored because of their lack of interest.

Katharine Beals said...

I'm thinking not just of grade school math teachers, but of teachers of math education: yep, including people at Penn and the Drexel Math Forum. Lots of university-level math teachers, on the other hand, have been willing to have extended conversations with me.

Matthew K. Tabor said...


I've noticed the same thing. Math and related-field professors have a keen interest, education profs pass.

I wanted to add something about the K-12'ers. The climate in the administration of K-12 schools does not reward, let alone encourage or even condone, the type of conversations you and I would like to have with teachers. Those teachers willing to examine the issues are strangled by what's best described as fear imposed by their peers and admins. The professional climate is miserable - and then improvement comes at a snail's meandering, often misguided, pace. It's understandable when an individual teacher remains silent in a climate like this.

Between the unwilling, those forced to compelled to remain silent and the do-nothing clowns in university ed departments, we're in trouble.

Anonymous said...

As a high school math teacher who felt "pushed out" by bringing these ideas to administrations, I am not surprised that many teachers avoid topics such as this. In many schools teachers, especially new teachers, are encouraged to just follow the line and don't make waves.

Liz Ditz said...

I twittered it -- let's see if anybody shows up.

Katharine Beals said...

I sympathize with Anonymous' situation. This is yet another example of how the education establishment's priorities are all wrong. While it's notoriously difficult to fire teachers for incompetence, I've learned that it's much easier to fire them for insubordination (or, if tenured, make their lives difficult in other ways). Many of the best teachers don't toe the line; many of the worst teachers do.

bhammer said...

Hi Katharine. I'm a 4th grade teacher in WA, and also a big fan of your blog. My experience in the classroom is totally consistent with your observations about education. I have been trying to remove Investigations from my district for years, however district administrators are unwilling to engage the public in a curriculum review. It's tragic that the bad decisions of a few individuals can undermine the prosperity of an entire community. But that's exactly what happens when school leaders adopt programs that weaken the math skills of elementary students. I applaud you for your efforts, and hope you continue to advocate for a world class math education for all students.

Julie said...

Hi - I am a 3rd year h.s. math teacher. Just discovered your blog yesterday & stayed up too late reading. Fortunately, today's a snow day, so I am continuing to work my way backward through your posts.

I came into this through alternative certification, so I have not been indoctrinated by any school of education. However, I did go to a cooperative learning workshop during the summer before I started teaching. It seemed to make sense, but in practical application, it hasn't been working. One eye-opener has been your comparison of other math texts to "Everyday Math" -- which is the series our elementary school uses. Hmmm -- now I understand a little more about why most of my students don't have a good basic foundation.