Sunday, October 31, 2010

How much Math do we really need?
from Washington Post

Twenty-seven years have passed since the publication of the report "A Nation at Risk," which warned of dire consequences if we did not reform our educational system. This report, not unlike the Sputnik scare of the 1950s, offered tremendous opportunities to universities and colleges to create and sell mathematics education programs.

Unfortunately, the marketing of math has become similar to the marketing of creams to whiten teeth, gels to grow hair and regimens to build a beautiful body.

There are three steps to this kind of aggressive marketing. The first is to convince people that white teeth, a full head of hair and a sculpted physique are essential to a good life. The second is to embarrass those who do not possess them. The third is to make people think that, since a good life is their right, they must buy these products.

So it is with math education.

.... ......

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This "nation at risk" has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner. Why create a need to make it palatable to all and spend taxpayers' money on pointless endeavors without demonstrable results or accountability?

We survived the "New Math" of the 1960s. We will probably survive this math evangelism as well -- thanks to the irrelevance of pedagogical innovation.

The writer, G.V. Ramanathan, is a professor emeritus of mathematics, statistics and computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

After WWII the USA found itself in an ideal circumstance. In 1980 the game had changed but through largely financial "flim flam" and "smoke and mirrors" we managed to make USA lifestyle better than we could actually afford for the last 30 years. Now we are likely entering a period of austerity.

Remember all that social security money deducted from pay checks was largely funneled into general spending over the last 30 years. So there was no "Social Security" lock box -- wow Al Gore was wrong (imagine that).

So where is the investment happening in the USA to produce the jobs for the next several decades? R & D ??

As near as I can see whatever economic recovery that was going to happen has happened. Look at State Jobs in Olympia, now that there are no more Federal bailout dollars arriving there will be reductions in employment.

The stats have indicated that private employment is headed up and government employment is headed down. If you are waiting for a bigger recovery, on what will it be based?

Our nation is not producing the technical professionals necessary to maintain our economic advantages in a highly competitive environment.

The idea that all students need advanced skills is ridiculous.

Look no further than what happened in LAUSD when all students were required to pass Geometry to graduate, the quality of Geometry courses rapidly declined.

Core-24 from WA SBE seems an absurd undertaking for a variety of reasons.


Look for further declines in housing prices at least in Olympia, Washington.

How much math is really needed depends on the individual as well as national needs. The idea that all students need to reach a proficient level in Advanced Algebra to graduate is absurd. This requirement will only serve to lower the quality of Advanced Algebra classes and further debilitate the state and the nation.

Needless to say the incredibly wasteful NSF/EHR "Reform Math" movement has contributed to mathematically disabling at least a generation of students.

.... but it sure has provided employment for marginally qualified extremely misguided math coaches accompanied by "Just Absolute ZIP" for results.

Zero accountability on every level for those who should be held responsible.


HiDefMathFan said...

As with many college level mathematics professors, Dr. Ramanathan apparently presumes that students have all learned "all the mathematics one needs in real life ... in early years without much fuss. " He also implies that he believes that they all come out of high school fully versed in grammar and composition. His delusion is common among professors who only see students who have made it to prestigious universities such as his. He should spend some time a little closer to the ground in a randomly selected public school mathematics lesson. There he'd see bright children who are not being taught these things because they are not contained in the latest "creams and gels" coming out of the Colleges of Education.
At issue is not whether students learn calculus. It's whether or not they learn the rudiments that Dr. Ramanathan takes for granted.

The Dean said...

Unfortunately, Washington schools stopped teaching the math that most students will ever need. The only math skills that most of the public will ever need was taught in business math or consumer math courses. The idea that all students need anything beyond a survey course in Algebra and Geometry doesn’t match reality. Of course, the education reform movement has never let reality get in their way.

If we want to compete in the 21st century global economy then we need to concentrate on pushing the kids with the ability to excel in mathematics. We are doing just the opposite. This is not only a waste of money, it is a type of child abuse that no one over 30 was ever exposed to.

Anonymous said...

Ramanathan has never faced the employer's dilemma of hiring new workers who haven't learned how to do arithmetic. I don't care if it works for high school graduates - if adults can't do basic arithmetic they don't get hired. If you want to see a rebound in the US economy then schools should start teaching students how to do math correctly. Ramanathan is a first-order idiot. What makes a hs graduate think they can get a job if they can't add two fractions together correctly? I'm mad our schools don't educate most of our students. I'll grow old somewhere else, then at least I probably won't be a victim of someone's careless education or their political dishonesty or their American bigotry.

Anonymous said...

The teaching of mathematics should not be filled in with orthodox bible agenda pushed forward by the Governor's Roundtable, the AAAS, the Majarishi, and the Apollo 14 apostles. I'm not concerned with whether finding out if sasquatches exist or whales can talk to ET. Such is the state of education in Washington - 48th is another tall tale. You'd be dead last if there were a 1000 states to compare yourselves with...