### Friday, March 21, 2008

## Really Says it ALL!

**Presidential Math Panel Vows to Increase Learning Disabilities**

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 5:17 AM

Gary Stager

In the last year of his term, the President of the United States and the

Department of Education are now trying to do for math what they did for

reading. The notable achievements of Reading First include massive fraud,

profiteering, junk science, federal control over classroom practice, fear

and hysteria. While the National Reading Panel was stacked with ideologues

sharing the same educational philosophy, the National Math Panel co-opted

the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) by appointing the

organization’s President to serve on the committee.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, never known for its

radicalism, swung hard towards “the basics” last year in its Curriculum

Focal Points and now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of having

to disagree with NCTM’s President and the President of the United States.

“Skip” Fennell did neither his members nor millions of American school

kids any favors by participating in this unnecessary process.

These federal education expeditions seek to narrow both the range of

content and pedagogy permissible in public schools. The private and

religious schools the GOP wants to support with taxpayer-funded vouchers

are immune from these intrusions. The one-size-fits-all prescriptions for

what ails public education are justified by claiming that schemes are

research-based.

The rigid definition of “scientific evidence” enforced by Department of

Education may be fine in testing remedies for restless leg syndrome, but

is ill-suited for the complexities of education. But hey, these are the

folks who have mangled the English language to imply that theory is merely

an unproven guess.

There is a lot wrong with the recent math report, but making Algebra the

holy grail of K-8 mathematics is wrong-headed and goes unquestioned.

Stressing the importance of fractions as critical prerequisites for

Algebra adds insult to injury.

In a world-class display of side-splitting math teacher humor, panel

member Frances “Skip” Fennell told the New York Times , “Just as

“plastics” was the catchword in the 1967 movie The Graduate, the catchword

for math teachers today should be ‘fractions.’“ What Fennell doesn’t realize is that the person who said, “Plastics,” in The Graduate was emblematic of everything wrong with society. “Plastics,” was a metaphor for a shallow, superficial, inauthentic culture focused on

the wrong values. The National Math Advisory Panel’s greater focus on

fractions represents a “plastic” version of mathematics that will do more

harm than good.

It’s easy to see how someone might think that several years worth of

fraction study prepares a child for Algebra. Fractions have numerators

over denominators, separated by a horizontal line. Many algebraic

equations have something over something else, also separated by a line.

That’s all you need to know. Right?

Not only is the progression from arithmetic manipulation of fractions to

Algebra tenuous, but neither of the assumptions underlying the value of

teaching fractions or Algebra are ever questioned. The President’s Math

Panel, like most of the math education community maintains a Kabbalah-like

belief in an antiquated scope and sequence. Such curricular superstition

fuels a multigenerational feud in which educators fight over who has the

best trick for forcing kids to learn something useless, irrelevant or

unpleasant.

Despite the remarkable statement in the 1989 National Council of Teachers

of Mathematics Standards, “Fifty percent of all mathematics has been

invented since World War Two,” the NCTM has been in full retreat ever

since. Although much of this “new” mathematics is playful, practical,

beautiful or capable of being visualized via the computer, little new

content has made its way into the curriculum. Against this backdrop of

unimaginative heuristics and a leadership vacuum, math class has become

increasingly torturous for too many students.

Children who struggle to manipulate fractions do so because the skills are

taught absent a meaningful context in a culture where fractions are rarely

ever used. Fraction fans might argue that fractions are important in

following a recipe, but little cooking is done during fraction

instruction. Even if kids did get to learn fractions by cooking, they

might add, subtract or even multiply fractions, but one hardly ever

divides fractions. The fact that there are four arithmetic functions

doesn’t justify drilling kids for several grade levels. I wonder how many

members of the Presidential panel can coherently explain how division of

fractions works beyond repeating the trick – multiply the first fraction

by the reciprocal of the second fraction?

The Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel

does not dispute that teachers spend lots of time teaching fractions. The

report merely urges that teachers do even more of the same while hoping

for a different result. A definition of insanity comes to mind.

It would be bad enough if wasted time was the only consequence of the

fanatical fraction focus, but too many students get the idea that they

can’t do math. This damages their inclination towards learning other forms

of mathematics. Given the importance of mathematics and the widespread

mathphobia sweeping the land, students can ill afford to a diminution in

their self-image as capable mathematicians.

Educators should not be complicit in creating learning disabilities

regardless of what the President or his friends say.

Comments:

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Part of the problem with this report is what they decided to consider research. The inclusion criteria for studies included by the panelists ...

"Systematic reviews of research on mathematics education by the task groups and subcommittees of the Panel yielded thousands of studies on important topics, but only a small proportion met standards for rigor for the causal questions the Panel was attempting to answer. The dearth of relevant rigorous research in the field is a concern. First, the number of experimental studies in education that can provide answers to questions of cause and effect is currently small. Although the number of such studies has grown in recent years due to changes in policies and priorities at federal agencies, these studies are only beginning to yield findings that can inform educational policy and practice. Second, in educational research over the past two decades, the pendulum has swung sharply away from quantitative analyses that permit inferences from samples to populations. Third, there is a need for a stronger emphasis on such aspects of scientific rigor as operational definitions of constructs, basic research to clarify phenomena and constructs, and disconfirmation of hypotheses. Therefore, debates about issues of national importance, which mainly concern cause and effect, have devolved into matters of personal opinion rather than scientific evidence."

(p. 63, Research Policies and Mechanisms)

In the Appendix, on pg. 81, the Standards of Evidence are laid out as they were developed by a subcommittee. Specifically,

"In general, these principles call for strongest confidence to be placed in studies that

. Test hypotheses

. Meet the highest methodological standards (internal validity)

. Have been replicated with diverse samples of students under

conditions that warrant generalization (external validity)"

This "clinical trial" model is very problematic when applied to education, I believe. Maybe this is going down the Reading First road...

"Systematic reviews of research on mathematics education by the task groups and subcommittees of the Panel yielded thousands of studies on important topics, but only a small proportion met standards for rigor for the causal questions the Panel was attempting to answer. The dearth of relevant rigorous research in the field is a concern. First, the number of experimental studies in education that can provide answers to questions of cause and effect is currently small. Although the number of such studies has grown in recent years due to changes in policies and priorities at federal agencies, these studies are only beginning to yield findings that can inform educational policy and practice. Second, in educational research over the past two decades, the pendulum has swung sharply away from quantitative analyses that permit inferences from samples to populations. Third, there is a need for a stronger emphasis on such aspects of scientific rigor as operational definitions of constructs, basic research to clarify phenomena and constructs, and disconfirmation of hypotheses. Therefore, debates about issues of national importance, which mainly concern cause and effect, have devolved into matters of personal opinion rather than scientific evidence."

(p. 63, Research Policies and Mechanisms)

In the Appendix, on pg. 81, the Standards of Evidence are laid out as they were developed by a subcommittee. Specifically,

"In general, these principles call for strongest confidence to be placed in studies that

. Test hypotheses

. Meet the highest methodological standards (internal validity)

. Have been replicated with diverse samples of students under

conditions that warrant generalization (external validity)"

This "clinical trial" model is very problematic when applied to education, I believe. Maybe this is going down the Reading First road...

BTW, I had to rework the account I used to post the previous comment. I am not Annie (that is my daughter's friend who was on my computer, who has now been edite).

Kew

Kew

You're kidding, right? Have you ever taught Algebra? Have you ever tried to teach Algebra to students who come out of these reform programs that do not ask students to own mastery of basic facts and fractions?

Students are turned off to Algebra because they can't do it. And they can't do it because they don't have the basic skills required to successfully complete the course. And now the reform courses are asking kids who do not have basic skills to figure out Algebraic topic on their own (constructivism).

Amazing...

Students are turned off to Algebra because they can't do it. And they can't do it because they don't have the basic skills required to successfully complete the course. And now the reform courses are asking kids who do not have basic skills to figure out Algebraic topic on their own (constructivism).

Amazing...

I began teaching in fall 1968 and had remarkable results. I've watched as TERC/Investigations and Everyday Masth have disabled scores of children. In Seattle WA and Bellevue we have had constantly expanding achievement gaps for disadvataged learners over the last decade. Seattle, Bellevue, and Clover Park were reform hot beds in the Puget Sound basin and still are. In 2006 both Seattle and Tacoma adopted middle school texts. Seattle adopted Connected Math2 and they had been piloting(??) CMP in almost every middle school classroom in the district. Tacoma ditched Reform math Entirely in 2006-2007 by adopting Saxon math k-8. To the surprise of many State test results gave a clear nod to Tacoma over Seattle at the middle grades and particularly so for Hispanic students.

Tacoma grade three results were the best of all but that is the lowest grade tested on the state tests.

The results for 2007-2008 will not be out until September.

I teach in an alternative high school and think the failure to teach arithmetic is a major source of our current problems.

I disagree strongly with Dr Stager on this particular issue. I've collected extensive testing results in WA state at various districts and also have formed my opinion from working daily with students.

I think that Gary Stager is off the mark with this posting.

I think that NMAP is on the mark.

Tacoma grade three results were the best of all but that is the lowest grade tested on the state tests.

The results for 2007-2008 will not be out until September.

I teach in an alternative high school and think the failure to teach arithmetic is a major source of our current problems.

I disagree strongly with Dr Stager on this particular issue. I've collected extensive testing results in WA state at various districts and also have formed my opinion from working daily with students.

I think that Gary Stager is off the mark with this posting.

I think that NMAP is on the mark.

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Kate

http://educationonline-101.com

Kate

http://educationonline-101.com

Simply asking the question, "you've got to be kidding" does not represent a research question. And, although I appreciate your experience, that too does not represent a research finding (particularly in a clinical research model). Therefore, I infer that such a response is one root of the problem with bias in the report. I agree that memorization and skill development are important. However, this is not the only aspect of mathematical reasoning. I do teach as well.

This blog is really informative for students who learn online. Thanks for sharing information with us regarding Assignments Online Help keep continue.

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