Sunday, December 12, 2010

Everything but the elementary school math curriculum

Of the 5 letters published in this week's New York Times in reaction to the PISA results, all five or which agreed that something needs to be done, only one discussed curricula. 

One letter called for better teacher training; another noted the importance of students and teachers taking responsibility for learning; another implied that PISA scores reward those who focus on "drill and kill" rather than "critical thinking," "experiential problem solving," and creative leadership, and complained that US schools fail at these as well; and another proposed a connection between the U.S.'s low PISA rank and Republican tax cuts. The only letter to mention the curriculum proposed that the problem is the disconnection between algebra and geometry "and so on" and the failure to integrate these subjects via "authentic math problems."

Not one letter mentioned the most serious problem with today's U.S. curricula: those that begin as early as elementary school and leave many American students, including those at some of the most privileged schools, two years behind their international peers. Not one letter discussed how this curriculum compares, in specific ways and at specific grade levels, with curricula used in Shanghai's corner of the world.

Instead, in using terms like "taking responsibility" for ones learning, "critical thinking," "creativity," "integrated curriculum," and "authentic problems," these authors, unwittingly or not, are echoing those terms used by supporters of our Reform Math programs to justify the continued use of a uniquely American approach to k12 math that is perpetuating, and exacerbating, our academic decline.


Anonymous said...

my 2nd grade kid managed to get 20-17 wrong on a math test because they are required to do that crazy pyramidal thing with lines instead of just ... subtracting. Yes, he needs to check his work and THINK about it, but in the midst of drawing lines he totally lost track of the point. Now he says "I suck at math!" Parental remediation is underway.

FMA said...

The latest PISA results prove that No Child Left Behind and all of the various methods we use in schools aren't working. Do the people with the power to change things really care? Ideology, not evidence, seems to be driving educational policy.