Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Mirror, Mirror on the Educator's Wall

Another Sane Voice Rises in Protest Against the Damaging and Absurd Practices of Progressive Educationalists.

It should be a headline in every newspaper in North America.

At the risk of boring my readers with yet another rant against bad pedagogy, I want to praise and promote the views of Sandra Stotsky, who refutes the self-serving blather that assaults students in classrooms every day.

In her article "Who Needs Mathmeticians for Math, Anyway?" in City Journal (Autumn 2009), Stotsky decisively rebuts the ridiculous practices and ideas about teaching math that have dominated for the last twenty or more years (and unfortunately continue to do so!).

American kids in eighth grade scored miserably in "the 2006 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), which claims to assess application of the mathematical knowledge and skills needed in adult life through problem-solving test items."

For its future, America needs scientists, technologists, and engineers. Schools have to prepare students with the knowledge of mathematics that enables them to tackle the education required for these jobs.
But the...worthy aims won’t be reached so long as assessment experts, technology salesmen, and math educators—the professors, usually with education degrees, who teach prospective teachers of math from K–12—dominate the development of the content of school curricula and determine the pedagogy used, into which they’ve brought theories lacking any evidence of success and that emphasize political and social ends, not mastery of mathematics.
Progressive education has been around doing its dirty work since the seventies, trying to undo traditional curriculum and practices.
During the 1970s and 1980s, educators in reading, English, and history argued that the traditional curriculum needed to be more “engaging” and “relevant” to an increasingly alienated and unmotivated—or so it was claimed—student body. Some influential educators sought to dismiss the traditional curriculum altogether, viewing it as a white, Christian, heterosexual-male product that unjustly valorized rational, abstract, and categorical thinking over the associative, experience-based, and emotion-laden thinking supposedly more congenial to females and certain minorities.

Traditional math curriculum was in the gunsights as well, but was more difficult to dismiss "because of the sequential nature of its content through the grades and its relationship to high school chemistry and physics."

But "the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the chief professional organization for mathematics educators and education faculty" has found ways to make math more accessible by dumbing it down and allowing students to "construct" their own "deep conceptual understanding:"
The primary role of math teachers, constructivists say in turn, shouldn’t be to explain or otherwise try to “transfer” their mathematical knowledge to students; that would be ineffective. Instead, they must help the students construct their own understanding of mathematics and find their own math solutions.
To achieve these goals, classroom practices and curriculum with no evidence to support their effectiveness became the norm for about twenty years. In an attempt to undo this disgraceful state of affairs,
"the president [of the United States] issued an executive order in 2006 forming the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, ...composed of mathematicians, cognitive psychologists, mathematics educators, and education researchers ...[who] would examine how best to prepare students ...based on the “best evidence available...The panel found little if any credible evidence supporting the teaching philosophy and practices that math educators have promoted in their ed-school courses and embedded in textbooks for almost two decades."

The NCTM fought back,  one educator stating that
"the panel’s report offered nothing useful, since it had “restricted” itself to scientific research and ignored the “rich reflections” of educators, who, in his judgment, had produced the “deepest work in the field.”

According to Stotsky,
These reflections, which progressive educators call “qualitative” or “practitioner” research, generally consist of educators studying their own classrooms and concluding that, yes, their methods work well.

The traditionally trained mathematicians and the others on their panel had taken too quantitive and narrowly scientific an approach; more qualitative solutions would be best, according tho the NCTM.  Or read differently, emotion should trump reason in American schools!

The movement to reform mathematics education still struggles:
even if a new Congress or Secretary of Education were to support the panel’s recommendations, it will be essentially business as usual in the public schools so long as math educators, joined by assessment experts and technology salesmen, continue to shape the curriculum.
The educationalists might do well to think through the qualitative, mirror-mirror-on-the-wall approach to teaching math (or anything else, for that matter!). When the old queen asked her mirror who was the fairest one of all, the mirror made a qualitative judgement that the new kid on the block was fairer by far.

Math education reform is the Snow White - the fairest one of all - on a tired old scene. Let's not let the self-serving educationalists put it to sleep.

Sandra Stotsky is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and holds the 21st Century Chair in Teacher Quality. She is the author of What's at Stake in the K-12 Standards Wars: A Primer for Educational Policy.

I would like to invite Sandra Stotsky to my soiree.


Argentum Vulgaris said...

I never apologise for a rant; and I rant, at times. Thank you for adding me as a friend, I wish to see you ranting more often. You don't have a Followers widget, but I will certainly add you to my new Blog List on my Genes. I am not American, I still fail to understand the US education system, but I assure you this namby pamby attitude toward education is not restricted to the US, but my native NZ as well.

Off to make the link, rant away my girl.


oh, just check my profile for my blogs.

Argentum Vulgaris said...

Eeeeek, sorry, meant to say it's going to be on Tomus as well...

And it is already.


ChrisJ said...

Thanks Argentum Vulgaris.

I'm Canadian, and it's found its way into Canada as well - post-secondary, too! That worries me even more.

I will be adding a followers widget!