Thursday, October 2, 2008

700 billion is a big number (at least to some of us)

Featured Blog: A Nation at Risk for Real
Susan Graham has this to say about the $700 billion bailout: Teach math.
A Place at the Table

By Susan Graham

Susan Graham has taught family and consumer science (formerly "home ec") for 25 years. She is a National Board-certified teacher, a former regional Virginia teacher of the year, and a Fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network. She invites readers to pull a chair up to her virtual table as she offers her voice-of-experience perspective on teaching today, with a special focus on teacher leadership and continuous professional growth.

September 29, 2008
A Nation at Risk for Real

I am trying to wrap my head around our current fiscal crisis. Not only am I having a hard time trying to grasp the implications of the still-developing disaster or the proposed interventions, I'm having a hard time just trying to really get a fix on what $700 billion dollars is.

This is what it looks like:
$700,000,000, 000.00 That’s a lot of zeros.
I trolled the internet to get some perspective on what $700 billion really amounts to.

If the federal government siphoned off Florida's gross domestic product, we could cover the bailout. Invading the Netherlands might be advisable—that nation's GDP was $768.7 billion last year.

In terms of individuals' net worth, $700 billion is equal to 11 Warren Buffets, 12 Bill Gates, 280 Oprah Winfreys -- or 14 million average-earning American households.
“Cost” per citizen: $3,324 -- the equivalent of one long living-large weekend at the Wynn in Las Vegas) Hmm, somebody’s living a lot larger than I am. Because to me that $3.3 grand looks like a semester of in-state tuition our local University of Mary Washington.

Of course this is an optimistic estimate of the bailout cost. Some pundits predict that this is only the beginning. We are told the longer we wait the worse it will get. I don't know about you, but I’m feeling a little sick now.

How did we get ourselves into this mess? Well, the Republicans blame the Democrats and the Democrats blame the Republicans. Main Street blames Wall Street for being greedy and Wall Street blames Main Street for not reading the fine print. The one thing that they all agree on: It's somebody else's fault. I’m just waiting for the other shoe to drop and for all of them to turn to public education and say, “No one understands the numbers! They can't do the math! We told you education people that we were a Nation At Risk and now look what has happened! We're beginning to think that IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!”

Well, let it be noted that this whole thing might have been avoided if Wall Street read Teacher Magazine.

My Teacher Leaders Network colleague Anthony Cody wrote on July 28th:
At the same time we have boosted the amount of higher math our students are required to take, we seem to have lost the most elemental common sense math from our schools – and our society. The past decade has seen people encouraged to borrow against the equity in their homes to make consumer purchases. This practice was sometimes even justified as “good debt,” because the interest is deductible. Ed Week reported that the The National Mathematics Advisory Panel recommends every eighth grader should be taking Algebra which
Should include symbols and expressions; linear equations; quadratic equations, functions, algebra of polynomials; and combinatorics and finite probability. These should be the focus of state curriculum frameworks, algebra courses, textbooks, and end-of-course exams. But it seems to me that our eighth graders don’t need Algebra as much as they need Numeracy or Mathematical Literacy which can be defined as
An individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded mathematical judgements and to engage in mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s current and future life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen.Lynn Arthur Steen explains numeracy this way:
Numeracy is to mathematics as literacy is to language. Each represents a distinctive means of communication that is indispensable to civilized life….. Despite great differences in structure and form, both mathematical language and natural language are powerful tools for description, communication, and representation. Numeracy is especially important for a nation expecting to compete in a global economy fueled by information technology. Whereas natural language is redundant, ambiguous, and concrete, mathematical language is concise, precise, and abstract. Full expression of our thoughts and visions requires the richness of both natural and mathematical language. Like yin and yang, numeracy and literacy are the entwined complements of human communication.

Teaching our students the codification of mathematics focused on how to do math problems without addressing how to use math to solve life problems is a misunderstanding of the discipline and a disservice to our children. Suggesting that they take advanced mathematics courses because "they will help you get into college" without providing an explanation of how they will "help you get on with life" is form without substance.

We are indeed a Nation At Risk and it will fall to the children in our classrooms to rescue us. To our great shame, we are about to saddle these young people with a crushing amount of debt while simultaneously pricing them out of higher education. It is probable that they will spend their lives paying for our lack of self restraint in economics and public policy. Unfortunately, fellow educators, we’ll have to figure out how to prepare the next generation for this glum future on the cheap, since we have overcharged our national credit card and we are likely to hear that there's just no money for school supplies in the budget.

Sometimes I wonder if the economists on Wall Street really understand that they aren't playing Risk with play money, but gambling with our businesses, our homes, and our retirement funds.
Sometimes I wonder if the policymakers in Washington grasp that this isn't a debating society, and that their "good shots" to the opposition don't score points, they imperil the stability of our nation.

Sometimes I wonder, when the grownups get through, will there be anything left on the table to address the needs of our children?


Anonymous said...

Lynn Steen is the author of the Boeing Achieve Standard and partially responsible for the current wasteful and reckless effort to reform math in Washington.

The Boeing Achieve Standard is the current document serving as a template for the American Diploma Project that the UW ed department is eagerly attempting to push through the math standards committee.

The effort to supplement traditional standards with discrete mathematics has been underway since the 1980's and is partially responsible for such dismal textbook failures as Core Plus (statistics and algebra instruction that integrates the TI83) Result: Teachers spend hours being tethered to a television troubleshooting student's calculators. Imagine how much money is spent on batteries alone.) The textbooks by the way are purchased through grant money administered by the textbook consultant's cousin.

Anonymous said...

uhxadAs you read through this article, you realize that it is tuned to a reformer's rhetoric.

Aside from the twisted sentences (wrapping one's head around the financial crisis) one of the assumptions that characterizes SG as an imposter is for example her poignant reference to a fellow colleague's 'wise' cautionary words regarding the learning of algebra in the eighth grade.

"But it seems to me that our eighth graders don’t need Algebra as much as they need Numeracy or Mathematical Literacy which can be defined as An individual’s capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded mathematical judgements and to engage in mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual’s current and future life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen."

This of course is followed next with a reference to Lynn Steen, who has already been identified as the author of the as yet unratified America Achieve Standard currently guiding Washington's latest effort at reform - the American Diploma Project.

Excuse me...this is a teacher with a credential that says they teach 'family and consumer science' advocating schools should continue clinging to the unproven methods of textbooks like Core Plus and Everyday Math...because they teach 'number sense'!!! Precisely the strand that students raised on Everyday and TERC score lowest.

SG should try teaching numeracy using a Core Plus textbook. Algebra would be far easier.

PS. My extended algebra class is learning how to factor the difference of two squares, four weeks into learning algebra for the first time.

My math 12 students (traditionally a remedial class) are learning how to use determinants to solve linear equations and find the areas of triangles - just the way its taught in La Jolla. Have a nice day. My students are preparing to go to four year colleges, where will your students be in four years?

Don't believe the empty-headed rhetoric from authors like SG - its full of lies.

Sincerely, FTB.

Anonymous said...

Pearson absorbs Harcourt announced sep 29.

Graham ought to get her masters in math pedagogy before she discusses children's lack of numeracy. She sounds ridiculous.