Friday, April 14, 2017

The Elusive Search for Balance - (with some history) by NCTM President Larson

February 20, 2017 from NCTM President Matt Larson

The Elusive Search for Balance

Mr Larson gives a summary of US Math education history and begins with:

 “The Common Core math standards seek to bring a peaceful end to the ‘math wars’ of recent years by requiring equal attention to conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and application (applying math to real-world problems). Yet striking that balance has not been easy. We see in these results several examples of teachers over- or underemphasizing one component to the detriment of another”

His observation sure nails that correctly that "balance has not been easy" yet fails to say the failure to balance is at least partially because of NCTM and NSF actions.

Historically the NSF funding of "New Math" produced a disaster for many students (I was one). But in later years a windfall for institutions developing "reform math" materials via NSF grant dollars.

 "The late 1950s and 1960s were the era of “New Math.” Proponents of new math worked to make the pendulum swing from rote learning to discovery teaching approaches that emphasized developing students’ understanding of the structure of mathematics, how mathematical ideas fit together, and the reasoning (or habits of mind) of mathematicians."

In regard to habits of mind -  elementary grade students are largely in need of procedural fluency for the habits of mind of mathematicians depend on underlying competencies.

What Mr Larson neglects to mention is that the abandonment of efforts to produce procedurally fluent students produced confusion and chaos for many students.  This same chaos was repeated decades later by Core-Plus materials. After 4 years of Core-Plus in high school many hopeful engineering students found themselves completely unprepared for math in college.  Students discovered that they had been tricked.

"In 1989 NCTM gave birth to the standards-based education reform effort with the release of Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, and subsequently NCTM followed up this transformative publication with a series of other standards publications, culminating in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000). By the mid-1990s over 40 states had created state math standards or curriculum frameworks consistent with the NCTM standards. But by the late 1990s the pendulum began to swing back to the basics when the “math wars” erupted in California and then spread across the country as parents and others demanded a renewed emphasis on procedural skills and direct instruction."

The NCTM standards were likely responsible for the NSF funding the development of programs like Core-Plus. There were many others that were also ineffective yet served as a cash cow for colleges and other institutions involved in their development.

By 2006 the NCTM had issued the NCTM focal points in an effort to bring the necessity for Procedural Fluency back into the picture.

Most of Mr Larsen's "Search for Balance" is excellent.  Today the question remains why are the results of international math performance finding the USA students way less competent than those in high performing nations?  Why are Black/African American students scoring so poorly on NAEP math when the NCTM emphasizes equity?

There is a major need for a change of direction.  Yet this need goes unrecognized.

Is the plan for more H-1B visas for STEM professionals?  
Consider TIMSS 2015 advanced 8th grade students by percent:

54% - Singapore
44% - Chinese Taipei
43% - Korea
37% - Hong Kong
34% - Japan
15% - Kazakstan
14% - Russian Federation
13% - Israel
12% - Hungary
10% - USA
10% - England
7% - Canada
7% - Australia
7% - Ireland
5% - Norway
3% - Sweden
0% - Egypt
0% - Lebanon
0% - Morocco
0% - Botswanna
0% - Saudi Arabia
0% - Jordon

Grade 4 teachers:
Major in primary education and major (or specialization) in mathematics.

59% Singapore / about 4.5 times US
13% USA
International Average 27%
Grade 8 teachers:
Major in Mathematics Education and Mathematics
53% - Singapore / about 1.5 times US
35% - USA
international avg 36%
Major in Math but no major in Math Education
31% - Singapore
12% - USA
international avg 36%
Major in Math Ed but no major in Mathematics
6% - Singapore / less than 1/3 of US
22% - USA
international avg 13%
My observation is that:
Most current leaders in USA school districts and state offices of education directing math decisions are holders of degrees in Math education.

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