Tuesday, April 4, 2017

More Math Nonsense masquerading as thoughtful research

The Hechinger Report often publishes items of great interest, but occasionally prints opinions of dubious worth.  Jo Boaler frequently publishes in a wide variety of publications. On April 3, 2017 came this opinion of dubious worth:

Dr. Boaler advocates for a different way to teach math, but uses straw-men about the way she presents math as currently taught in the US.

Dr. Boaler uses a link to a study by University of Chicago Psychologists, complete with a graph plotting anxiety vs achievement. The study makes references to the need for STEM professionals but uses PISA math data.  The use of PISA math results seems inappropriate in this context as PISA is hardly a measure of the mathematical progress needed by 15 year-old students on their way to becoming STEM professionals.

The place to look for relevant international data is TIMSS.  Results of 2015 4th grade math

Percent of students scoring at the advanced level:

50% - Singapore

45% - Hong Kong

41% - Korea

35% - Chinese Taipei

32% - Japan


27% - Northern Ireland

20% - Russian Federation

17% - England

16% - Kazakhstan
16% - Florida, USA

14% - United States
14% - Ireland
14% - Norway

TIMSS 2015 8th grade math results:
54% - Singapore
44% - Taipei
43% - Korea
37% - Hong Kong
34% - Japan
15% - Kazakhstan
14% - Russian Federation
13% - Israel
12% - Hungary
10% - United States
10% - England
10% - UAE
9% - Quebec, Canada
7% - Florida, USA
7% - Canada
7% - Australia
5% - Norway
Notice how the top five countries have separated from the others as most of the other countries have declined in percent of students scoring at the advanced level in grade 8.

Dr. Boaler has been selling her stories about how to teach math for a long time.  The top five scoring countries are not following her guidance.  If the USA is planning on increasing its supply of native born STEM professionals, it is past time to dismiss Dr. Boaler’s poor advice and pay more attention to instructional practices that produce advanced students.

It seems there is a growing cottage industry blending psycho-babble with concern about how feelings are effecting math achievement. Unfortunately many administrative decision-makers are unable to separate wheat from chaff. If only there was more concern about finding, developing and using effective instructional materials and practices, what a wonderful world it might be.


Anonymous said...

If I could offer a suggestion based on another online conversation. I'd refer to Jo Boaler as Dr. Boaler rather than Ms. Boaler. That avoids the appearance of any sexism and allows the reader to focus on your argument which I think are valuable.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Anonymous

Changes made from "Ms." to "Dr."

-- Dan