Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Crazy or What? - using STEM to sell any idea no matter how bad

We now have some high schools attempting to teach every mathematics class without books and "supposed" experts telling us that math homework is unnecessary, even in the preparation of students for the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) professions.

First of all very little “Education Research” will meet the normal standards employed in scientific research.  The National Math Panel (final report March, 2008) as a whole reviewed more than 16,000 research studies and related documents. Yet, only a small percentage of available research met the standards of evidence and could support conclusions.

Many of today’s articles and research papers seem closer to “People Magazine” than science.  Many arguments are advanced based on “Closing the Opportunity Gaps” or better preparing students for “Successful STEM Careers”.  Often the arguments are barely linked to those two concerns if at all.

The NSF and in particular NSF - EHR (National Science Foundation - Education and Human Resources) has through grants supported many elements of Mathematics Reform.  In the last decade Stanford’s Jo Boaler has become an influential leader in the reform math movement.  Unfortunately many of the ideas and practices she advances as beneficial can not withstand careful scrutiny.  Many of the practices she recommends are often accepted by school district administrators without careful inspection or analysis. Many of her current recommendations will prove damaging.

Jo Boaler’s recent April 3, 2017 article  "OPINION: It’s time to stop the clock on math anxiety. Here’s the latest research on how", purports to improve the chances for students to successfully pursue STEM careers.  I believe what she recommends, if widely put into practice, will substantially lessen students chances for a successful STEM career.

She claims students using her methods improved 1.6 years in 18 days but fails to provide the evaluation tool or the data.

She claims  Anyone can learn to high levels but she provides no definition of high levels. Does “anyone” include every handicapped SpEd student with multiple handicaps?   Her sentence has the ring of  a pep rally cheer not reality.

She references a report that uses PISA math scores of 15 year-old students, but PISA is not testing the academic mathematics needed for STEM success. PISA claims to measure mathematical fluency and problem solving, not rigorous mathematics.   

She attempts to link a measure of math anxiety to student under-performance. She finds little use for math homework.

Her article in “The Hechinger Report” titled

 links to a paper
The Math Anxiety-Performance Link: A Global Phenomenon

This paper’s attempt to link anxiety to mathematics under-performance in regard to  potential STEM students fails completely.  Yet Jo Boaler proceeds with lots of recommendations as if the anxiety-under-performance link has been well established, when it clearly has not been established.

I reference page 53 of the Math Anxiety paper and its graph.

From Boaler’s article:

"The highest achieving students had the most striking negative relationship between math anxiety and performance." I was puzzled by this when I first read this sentence.

It seems to me that if we use the data present from nations, the reference would not be to "the highest achieving students"  but rather reference to "Students from the highest scoring nations". Currently there is a national concern about preparing more STEM professionals.

The anxiety-STEM connection debunked.

Check out page 53 graph in the linked - Math Anxiety Global Performance paper.

Look at Countries with a mean anxiety index of around 0.00
Shanghai, Canada, Australia, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Kazakhstan

So does this list mean anything? The scores from the graph range from 600+ to around 420.

What is interesting about a STEM conversation is that the 7 highest performing countries have anxiety indexes from about 0.00 to 0.35

The first full paragraph on page 53 addresses these highest performing countries and anxiety but fails to point out.... that there are no countries no matter what anxiety level that perform at the level of these 7 countries.    In thinking about STEM is the goal high performance or low anxiety?

Low anxiety champs in order of declining PISA 2012 math performance from pg 53 are:
Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Netherlands, Finland, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden

High performing champs in order of math anxiety are:
Japan, Chinese Taipei, Korea, Macau-China, Singapore, Hong Kong - China, Shanghai-China

Let us look at 2015 PISA and TIMSS grade 8 math scores (percent of students achieving advanced benchmark) for these countries (if available) :Note only Sweden in the low anxiety countries takes the 8th grade TIMSS thus the * scores are from 2015 4th grade TIMSS math

TIMSS [PISA]- country  

4* [512]-Netherlands,
8* [511]-Finland,
5* [506] -Germany,
12*[511] -Denmark,
3  [494]-Sweden,
10 [470] - USA
34 [532]-Japan,
44 [542]-Chinese Taipei,
43 -Korea,
54 [564]-Singapore,
37 [548]-Hong Kong - China,
- Shanghai-China

Whether using TIMSS advanced group percent or PISA score
there are two clear groupings:
#1.. the lower anxiety low math performance group
#2.. the higher anxiety much higher math performance group.

It should be obvious which group's instructional methods would  better prepare prospective STEM professionals.

A friend once told me :
Research shows exactly what it needs to show for the researcher to get the next grant.

Jo Boaler is a true master of the research grant.  She gets her nonsense accepted as wisdom by telling the uncritically naive exactly what they wish to hear “fairy-tales”.  It is well past time to stop putting fairy-tales into practice.

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