University of Washington Education Dept. Brochure -
Misleads Public and Legislature
Subject: “Research That Matters 5: Taking Measure” – Brochure on Math Education distributed by the University of Washington College of Education.
A brochure on math education has just been published by the U of W College of Education, and is being distributed around Washington State to PTA leaders, education administrators, and state legislators. The contents should be of concern to anyone who cares about education, or the long term economic welfare of our state.
The roles of universities and colleges are critical, training our next generation of educators, and providing ongoing professional development to thousands of practicing teachers. This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and the public misinformation contained in this brochure is a clear indicator that the UW College of Education is horribly out of touch with the foundations that create successful students and citizens. For example:
1... The presentation of the “Math Wars”:
“The gloves have come off in the Math Wars” – The first statement on the first page sets a divisive and polarizing tone. The basis of the math wars is that students in math, across the socioeconomic spectrum and of all achievement levels, are not meeting their mathematical potential. Parents and business leaders expect sound education for their students, not excuses. The brochure mischaracterizes the nature of the two sides of this debate. It is not between “traditionalists” and discovery-math advocates, but rather between those supporting world-class math curricula used in high-performing nations and states, and those, like UW Education professors, who believe that math must be discovered and invented individually and that mastery of key algorithms is not essential.
2... Poorly defined problems labeled as “higher order thinking”:
A typical reform math problem provided in the UW brochure is illustrative. “A toy is hidden in one of two cakes. One cake is a circle, cut into fourths. The other is a rectangle, cut into sixths. Students must choose the cake that gives them the best chance of finding the toy.”
Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem. Are the two cakes of the same size? Not given. How many pieces can the student select? Not given. How large is the toy? Unknown. A casual review of a number of reform math textbooks reveals far too many of such ill-posed problems. It is hard to believe that such poorly considered examples represent “real world” problems that enhance a student’s math education as suggested by UW Education faculty.
3... The misrepresentation of mathematics outside the education system:
In the section of the brochure titled “Where’s the Math”, UW Education professors claim to have evaluated the use of math by professionals such as architects and roadway engineers, as well as average people in their daily lives. “In consequential financial situations”, the brochure notes, “they saw little school-like math in action.” The brochure concludes that real math, with equations, factoring, and algorithms is unused, and that the math taught in schools “is not the math we actually need.” More specifically, “If you spend a month with architects, you’ll never once see them write an equation.” It would seem reasonable for national engineering or architecture associations to suggest changes in the math training, or perhaps university department prerequisites might dictate suitable math content as adequate preparation. For a College of Education to arrogantly make these statements about other professions is preposterous.
4... “Equity” as a justification for not teaching all students math:
The brochure states “it seems a fairly elitist thing to push algorithmic math as mathematics instruction for all students.” In actuality, it is a huge disservice to all students to deny them the understanding of the core relationships and algorithms which make up the foundation of mathematics.
5... Calculators everywhere
While the learning and understanding of algorithms is downplayed as elitist, over half of the glossy images of students at work include a calculator or computer. Again, this is a clear example of misplaced priorities within an organization trusted to deliver balanced guidance to Washington’s current and future educators.
An examination of this brochure reveals much about the mindset guiding the UW College of Education, and how that world view leads to the poor math education currently experienced by Washington State students. The UW College of Education seems oblivious to the downward spiral of state math education and to their own role in supporting a failing approach for the last decade. Ultimately, the UW College of Education’s lack of objectivity, deficit of empirical support, and insistence on perpetuating failing educational fads has harmed the future of Washington State and its students. It’s time for a change.