Tuesday, April 14, 2009

About Conceptual Understanding Claims

Dear Steve,

The reform math movement makes lots of claims about increasing Conceptual Understanding better than other programs. There is little in the way of empirical data to indicate this claim is valid. Given the huge quantities of NSF EHR funds poured into reform math materials, I believe if this claim was true the WWC would have empirical evidence to support it.

The following is from Diane Ravitch.

A few selected quotes from Diane Ravitch--

"There is nothing new in the proposals of the 21st century skills movement. The same ideas were iterated and reiterated by pedagogues across the twentieth century." "For decade after decade, pedagogical leaders called upon the schools to free themselves from tradition and subject matter." "They left American education with a deeply ingrained suspicion of academic studies and subject matter." "This deeply ingrained suspicion - hostility, even - towards subject matter is the single most significant reason for the failure of the standards movement in American education over the past generation."

"For the past century, our schools of education have obsessed over critical thinking skills, projects, cooperative learning, experiential learning, and so on. But they have paid precious little attention to the disciplinary knowledge that young people need to make sense of the world." "We should have been educating future teachers to study their subject or subjects in depth." "Instead, we have numbed the brains of future teachers with endless blather about process and abstract thinking skills."

A return to subject matter is important. Please direct mathematics in the Seattle Public Schools toward the learning of actual math content through the adoption of instructional materials (like Singapore Math and Prentice Hall Mathematics) that facilitate this learning process rather than impede it (like Everyday Math, Connected Math Project 2, and the "Discovering Series").

Dan Dempsey

I am reminded of a Seattle Math coach's pooh poohing of the "Stand and Deliver" approach of Jaime Escalante. The coach is one of the NSF enlightened ones. I clearly have not spent sufficient time beneath the Bohdi tree.

I remain convinced that Jaime Escalante knew what he was talking about as math content counts.

Garfield High school in East Los Angeles went from a rating as one of the worst schools in California and in danger of losing its acceditation to the high school that produced the most students passing AP calculus exams in the USA. It took Esalante seven years at Garfield before he had an AP Calc class with a passing student. Learning content takes time. Creating an effective efficient system takes time.

Escalante created the Garfield success by assembling a team of content oriented instructors not just at Garfield but at feeder Junior Highs and Cal State LA summer programs. He eventually left Garfield as his original very supportive principal left. The replacement principal managed to alienate enough content oriented teachers that Garfield has returned to near its previous dismal ranking. Escalante went to Sacramento and is now retired and living in Bolivia.

There is no current high school anywhere using the enlightened vision that Seattle Central Math Admin possesses that is achieving anything like what the Escalante Dynasty achieved with its focus on content.

As long as Seattle stays aimed on "The same ideas were iterated and reiterated by pedagogues across the twentieth century" do not expect much in the way of results. The alienation of many content oriented math teachers continues as the ideas prompted by Dr Bergeson and her lackeys are still believed by central administrations. The thrust of the NCTM focal points and the recommendations of the National Math Advisory Panel made little impact on the zealots or the administration.

{Thar's Gold in Them Thar Hills ... Professional Development and NSF grant dollars..}

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data ... adherence to a failed philosophy just does not cut it.

If there was a large increase in the academic subject content preparation of prospective teachers accompanied by a reduction in required education classes, there would be a decrease in the size of the faculty at colleges of education. Unlikely that Colleges of education will support increased learning of content for prospective teachers.

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