Monday, January 11, 2010

Enlightened exchanges with Reform Math defenders, IV

Final installment:

(Exchange between yours truly (KB) and Michael Paul Goldenberg (MPG), a Lecturer in Mathematics Education at University of Michigan-Flint, who seems to think I operate out of Ridgewood, New Jersey).


Scores of bright math students--from moderately to extremely gifted--are bored out of their minds by the level of challenge offered by Reform Math classes in public, private, and parochial schools alike. I know this because I interviewed them for my new book. Their parents know it as well. And other people would know it, too--if they simply bothered to listen to what these children have to say.


Well-crafted inquiry-based curricula (and I don't mean books per se) challenge all students at whatever their entry point may be. Creating such programs and teaching them requires a level of commitment and knowledge that may be rare, but is not impossible to help teachers achieve.


Given that inquiry-based programs require "a level of commitment and knowledge that may be rare, but is not impossible to help teachers achieve," a more realistic bet is a teacher-proof curriculum like Singapore Math. This is what large numbers of bored kids I know (about 1/3 of the 3rd and 4th graders at our local school, for example) are doing at home with their parents.


Yeah, well, any thought that you might have anything useful to contribute to mathematics education just went out the door. There are no teacher-proof curricula.


I know many students who are learning mathematics not from teachers, but from Singapore Math at home with minimal supervision from parents.


While I'm not going to denigrate what Singapore Math is or was intended to be, or how it's done in Singapore, or analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the program itself regardless of the concomitant pedagogy (which is open to adjustment here by every teacher who uses it in the United States, where we don't HAVE a Ministry of Education or the threat of caning if someone chews gum or doesn't toe the line), or go over once again the insanity of believing that ANY curriculum can be adopted to massive, diverse public school education in the United States from a homogeneous, tiny, affluent country that doesn't educate its working class (because it IMPORTS its working class daily and sends them back where they came from at the end of the day, leaving the kids of THOSE folks to be educated elsewhere),


No working class students reside in Singapore and attend its schools? References, please.

Singapore Math resembles math in other East Asian countries, Russian Math and Unified Math (continental Europe). The approach is not specific to Singaporean society; it's used with quite a diverse group of students, from a multitude of cultures, societies, and socio-economic classes. Singapore Math appeals to Americans over the various other overseas math curricula because it's written in English. The only element I know to be unique to Singapore Math is bar modeling, which doesn't strike me as particularly connected to homogeneity, small populations, wealth, or consequences for chewing gum.


I will suggest that anyone who believes there are teacher-proof curricula (not to mention the crazy idea that Singapore Math pretends or aspires to be one of those), has lost all credibility in my eyes (and likely in the eyes of the vast, vast majority of educators).


See above.


And the notion that you'd sacrifice real, inquiry-based education on the altar of something ostensibly "teacher-proof" gives the game away even more nakedly than the rest of what you've posted to this list.


Are you retracting your earlier comment about how rare the skills are that effective inquiry teaching requires?


The red herring that we're going to lose future mathematicians is equally absurd. We still have a glut, last I checked.


The graduate students in our top math programs were disproportionately educated in countries that use the math programs I cite above.


Every lame argument in the book against trying to teach the majority of our population to be numerate, inquisitive, self-reliant, challenging of the status quo, etc., seems to be in your repertoire. You are likely a wonderful pupil of the Gospel According To Mathematically Correct and NYC/HOLD, (as I know you are, having visited your site and put two and two together regarding your role in trying to undermine progressive mathematics education in the Atlantic states), but you're going to find a little more resistance to received doctrine here than in, say, Ridgewood, NJ.


I'm not familiar with Ridgewood NJ, but I am familiar with inner city Philadelphia, where Everyday Math and Investigations are widening the achievement gap between those who do Singapore Math at home with their parents, and those who do not.


Too bad you didn't interview kids in my high school, right next door to Ridgewood, back in the sixties. No reform math to blame. Just crappy, uninspired, traditional math pedagogy at its "finest." Some kids did well enough in spite of that. But how many LOVED mathematics who didn't already come to school inclined (perhaps because of "left-brainedness") to do so? How many very, very bright kids got so turned off to mathematics, in fact, that they came to loathe it? I have occasion to be in NYC every month these days, and I have reconnected with a number of old acquaintances from FLHS c. 1965-1970. Want to know what they feel about mathematics? It isn't pretty. It's downright depressing. If I even start to talk about math in any specific way, they get very uncomfortable.

How about the number of people I meet in Ann Arbor and vicinity of my generation, many of them graduates of such institutions as University of Michigan, Michigan State, Wayne State, etc., whose eyes swim when mathematics is mentioned? I'm hardly alone in knowing that this obvious fear and loathing is a plague upon the land. And what you propose is to return as much as possible to the approaches to mathematics teaching that created their feelings and beliefs? Whom do you hope to fool? Perhaps the same folks you're selling "Left-brained" children to?


Some people will never like math, no matter how it is taught. Of the mathematically inclined of your personal connections, how many of them have seen the latest trends on math ed and say that they actually prefer the new curricula to what they went through? I'm personally connected to many mathematicians, and not a single one has expressed such a preference. Most, in fact, express the exact opposite.

As for credibility, you might increase yours by editing out certain phrases that make you look angry and therefore untrustworthy. For example: "any thought that you might have anything useful to contribute to mathematics education..."; "lame argument"; "Gospel According To"; and "Whom do you hope to fool?". Just a thought.


Beth said...

Sometimes it's almost impossible to have a reasonable conversation. People have an ax to grind, they jump to conclusions, they don't listen. And it's not just the promoters of reform math, either.

Anonymous said...

You are completely wrong to say that Singapore is homogeneous and that its working class go home to somewhere else at the end of the day. It is one of the least homogeneous places in the world in cultural/racial/language terms, and the vast majority of its large working-class lives there and are educated there, other than a minority of people who commute daily across the causeway from Johor Baru in Malaysia. There are 150 secondary schools in Singapore and most of them have predominantly working-class students.

Katharine Beals said...

Anonymous, thanks for pointing this out. For the record, it was Michael Paul Goldenberg, not myself, who made those unsupported claims about Singapore.

lgm said...

ROFL The ego! The arrogance!

This man went through high school back when there were good texts such as Dolciani that included visual, symbolic, and verbal explanations of the topics, yet he still didn't 'get it'. There were even problems to develop insight, rather than solely exercises to memorize algorithms. He had a text to refer to and study, unlike today's student. This man blames his failure on the curriculum, rather than his inadequacy, b/c after all, he IS bright and wealthy. The evil teachers blocked the royal road to learning!! Scoundrels.

So he promotes a curriculum that prevents students from teaching themselves at a pace, depth,& learning style that works for them while trumpeting that everyone else is against "trying to teach the majority of our population to be numerate, inquisitive, self-reliant, challenging of the status quo, etc.". Yeah. We can spot Revenge on the Nerds. We're familiar with Harrison Bergeron.

So now, after all these years of revenge, why isn't it working? Oh, got it. The evil teachers: "a level of commitment and knowledge that may be rare"...gee, these are the teachers that grew up w/reform math.

Katharine, I commend you on your professionalism.

linkprofit said...

your blog talking about math. i like it..keep sharing.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

It's rather late and I have better things to do right now than deal with the pile of horse shyte you've offered up here to mislead your readers. Let's just start with two facts: I haven't taught at UM-Flint since 2006, so you're 3+ years out of date in how you've identified me (or misidentified me). And there was no dialog between us, though you've written up a series of e-mails as if somehow you and I were involved in one. Should I bother to address your hatchet job, maybe I'll do it on my own blog/turf. But I'll be a lot more honest and fair about things than you've been here with me. I'm sure you and your fans will have loads of fun clapping yourselves on the back. But at least one of your readers thought it was good form to let me know you were trashing me over here behind my back. If you're so wise and right, how come YOU didn't let me know what you were up to? When I blog about people, I always try to let them know. What are you afraid of?

As for unsupported claims about Singapore, where is the support for the counter-claims? Or does only one side have to provide evidence? Funny, too, how that claim that I got it wrong comes from an anonymous poster. Well, maybe not so funny.

Katharine Beals said...

@Michael Paul Goldenberg: That's right, there was no dialogue between us. Merely the email exchange that you see here, and saw earlier.

As for your out of date information, you might want to update it at the Drexel Math Forum which was my reference:

Are there any more relevant facts you care to address? (I do think that extreme claims about other countries require some references. If you have any, please share.)

p.s., Thanks to JM for sending you here.

Cranberry said...

I took the opportunity to check the CIA World Factbook. When I compare Singapore and the US, I find,

Ethnic Groups:

Singapore: Chinese 76.8%, Malay 13.9%, Indian 7.9%, other 1.4% (2000 census)

US: white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate)


Singapore: Mandarin 35%, English 23%, Malay 14.1%, Hokkien 11.4%, Cantonese 5.7%, Teochew 4.9%, Tamil 3.2%, other Chinese dialects 1.8%, other 0.9% (2000 census)

US: English 82.1%, Spanish 10.7%, other Indo-European 3.8%, Asian and Pacific island 2.7%, other 0.7% (2000 census)
note: Hawaiian is an official language in the state of Hawaii

Hmm, on these facts, I'd have to conclude that Singapore is more diverse than the US, in several aspects of their population.

They also spend less on education, only 3.7% (2001 figures) of GDP, compared to our 5.3% (2005 figures).

Katharine Beals said...

I awoke this morning to find a strange email sitting in my inbox from someone I hadn't heard from in a while. Certain passages relate to this thread, and I excerpt them here:

Why no request for references from your blog contributor who was conveniently anonymous? Seems to me you believe what fits your biases and challenge only what might cause you cognitive dissonance. How wonderfully convenient for you.

How I spend my time is my business. I owe you zip. I haven't decided if you're merely an annoyance I should indeed ignore or a more harmful pest I actually should exterminate (figuratively speaking, of course). My guess is that you're a lightweight and so your suggestion that I ignore you is likely good advice indeed.