Thursday, April 20, 2017

8th grade Math - Singapore Crushes USA - who cares?

To: Executive Director 
The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession

Dear Nasue Nashida,

I initially listened to the Jana Dean webinar of 4/13/17 because among other things it was advertised as dealing with Singapore's math program. I am deeply disappointed.

As a "math person" who was a member of the State Board of Education's Math Advisory Panel, which was involved in the formulation of the 2008 Math Standards, I am particularly disappointed in WA State's current NAEP performance and the direction math instruction has been headed.

Advertising Ms. Jana Dean's presentation as having anything to do with Singapore's math practices was incredibly misleading.  I think your organization needs to do more to improve instructional practice.

I’ve been puzzled by the lackluster performance in math of USA 8th graders on the TIMSS testing for two decades and recently a drop on NAEP 2015. It seems inexplicable to me that the Math Ed gurus at the state and school district level have very little interest in how Singapore consistently scores so far above the USA. Does saying USA ranks in top 10 suffice?

I’ve reached the conclusion that the current USA math education gurus believe so strongly in their current  ideologically-based pedagogical superiority that there is no reason to consider anything else.  It is downright anti-science.

Singapore vs USA compared from grade 4 2011 to grade 8 2015
------------grade 4 :: grade 8 :: change over 4 years for the cohort
USA  -------   541 :: 518 :: change -23 lower
Singapore -- 606 :: 621 :: change +15 higher
USA Gap : :  -65 :: -103 ::

July 29, 2016 at the 13th International Conference of Mathematical Education in Hamburg, Germany,  Berinderjeet Kaur, PhD of Singapore, presented the in depth pertinent information about teaching practices in Singapore.  Ms. Dean was in attendance at this presentation. I've watched Dr. Kaur's presentation online and downloaded her slides. Unfortunately USA persons of authority in math leadership positions take at best a passing interest in Singapore's consistently outstanding performance.   (Reminds me of Lilly Tomlin’s We don’t care, we don’t have to. We’re the phone company.)

Dr. Kaur's Findings from Singapore: close-up lens

Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed that students deemed a mathematics lesson as a good one when some of the following characteristics were present.


(1) explained clearly the concepts and steps of the procedure

(2) made complex knowledge easily assimilate through  demonstrations, the use of manipulatives, and real life examples.

(3) reviewed past knowledge

(4) introduced new knowledge

(5) used student work/group presentations to give feedback to individuals or the whole class

(6) gave clear instructions related to mathematical activities for in class and after class work.

(7) provided interesting activities for students to work on individually or in small groups

(8) provided sufficient practice tasks for preparations towards examinations
In a lesson there may be more than one instructional
objective but the structural patterns of the lesson
are done in sequence.

Instructional approaches may involve:
D - Whole class demonstration (aimed to develop students' understanding mathematical skills and concepts)
S - Seatwork
R - whole class review of student work
M - Miscellaneous -  managerial and administrative
Q - Group Quiz
T - Test
[D] [S] [R] were present in all 3 classrooms observed

Singapore bases its instructional program not on “inquiry” or “student-centered design” but on a combination of teacher-centered Traditional Instruction with Direct Instruction and then builds from this to Teaching for Understanding.   Why is the USA not doing the same?

The evidence is all there, if anyone wants to read it and believe it.  But THEY DON’T!  Evidence of this claim is seen in Jana Dean’s presentation at the 4/13/17 webinar.  She simply IGNORED the information presented in the well detailed Singapore talk by Berindarjeet Kaur.  It didn’t compute in her ideologically bound frame of reference. Ms. Dean reduced Dr. Kaur’s presentation to “Singapore focuses on testing”.  Apparently Ms. Dean  is representative of the entire US K-8 ed corps, with a few exceptions.  Why are agents like OSPI, school districts, and The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession not intelligently applying the relevant data to greatly improve USA math practices and performance?  

Isn’t a 123 point gap enough to elicit some interest in change?


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.
Olympia, WA

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