### Town Square

# Destructive Innovations and PAUSD's Achievement Gap

Original post made by See-sth-say-sth, East Palo Alto, on Sep 1, 2019

For those who ponder why finding a math tutor has been a perennial topic on our Nextdoor, and who are puzzled by the persistent achievement gap in PAUSD, I'd like to share an article that might offer a clue: "My Childhood Schooling in the Soviet Union was Better than my Kids’ in U.S. Public Schools Today."

Web Link

It's uncertain whether this article is sufficiently politically correct in our progressive Palo Alto, but its criticism of math and English language literature education is worth a careful read.

Not many Americans, including many very successful people, are aware of the huge divide between two camps of math academics—mathematicians (those who earned their Ph.D.’s from math departments) and math education professionals (those who earned their degrees from Schools of Education), and how the latter camp of people have led astray U.S. K-12 math education for decades.

Eminent math education professors from top U.S. universities have been preaching to teachers and parents that the most important thing about learning math is to find at least 10 ways to solve simple problems like 5*18—which would supposedly cultivate creativity—and to tell a story about, or draw a diagram, to solve problems like 3/4*1/5 that is supposed to induce “conceptual understanding.” They claim that brain-science experiments show that reciting multiplication tables and practicing basic arithmetic—the so-called “lower-ordering thinking” according to the Bloom Taxonomy—would causeneuro-cells to disconnect and thus damage kids’ mental abiity to learn math. Lured by the promises of “critical thinking,”“brain science,”“21st century skills,” “higher-order thinking,” and so forth, and dizzied by the glorious fame of the world’s top universities withwhich these math education scholars are affiliated, few teachers and parents actually apply critical thinking to those immensely appealing ideas churned out by those math education professors.

But the explanation of the persistent math travails of American kids is starkly simple: the romantic approach, the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum, and the downplay of practicing the basic arithmetic skills have rendered most American kids with poor numerical fluency and fuzzy understanding of basic concepts which, in turn, makes students ill-prepared to process algebraic expressions and hence algebra and any higher-level STEM courses become insurmountable for them. A panel discussion by three distinguished mathematicians in 2008 elucidates the profound problems in U.S. K-12 math curriculum and approach Web Link (big file).

Comments (27)

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 2, 2019 at 3:53 am

While I am in hearty agreement with your and the article's criticism of math education in our district and elsewhere in recent years, and also with the points about the neglect of the basics, I disagree that this supports the Prussian model of education, which was designed to create compliant workers for the Industrial Revolution. There have been numerous areas of knowledge and scientific inquiry that have arisen since the model was developed and it places an inordinate amount of stress on young people while leaving them ill-equipped for the world they need to be prepared to work in.

I am also in agreement that families shouldn't have to homeschool in order to get the education their children need, and yet, when districts like ours won't work with families, and you can't afford private, that's the choice. Homeschooling allowed a significantly accelerated, better, more comprehensive, and more challenging math education for our child, whose test scores skyrocketed after leaving the local schools for just one year (and without even accommodating a significant learning disability).

(As for the usual concern about how homeschooled children will be "socialized", that's amusing to homeschooled parents who can better see the social ills of children who are tightly sequestered with exact age-matched peers, and see socialization with people across all age groups as homeschoolers do to be far more positive. From a societal perspective, sequestering people into age-matched peers ultimately has negative downstream consequences such as to seniors in the workforce and the elderly. Providing homeschoolers with opportunities to meet and work with other students while maintaining independent educational advantages is far cheaper and easier than fixing schools in time to work for those same students.)

By the way, studies of standardized testing in homeschoolers finds no achievement or gender gap, which makes sense when you consider that it's individualized education. Which our schools could easily provide, if they weren't so attached to the Prussian model. PAUSD schools, by the way, are a souped up Prussian model, so that blows the whole premise that the reason for the problem is a failure to maintain that model.

Equating the Prussian model so tightly with academic excellence is just incorrect.

a resident of another community

on Sep 2, 2019 at 8:32 am

The "factory model" or "Prussian model" of schools is a common method used to disparage traditional methods of education to justify so-called "upgrades" to education. See Web Link.

The "understanding uber alles" approach to math sacrifices procedural fluency in the name of "understanding" math. In so doing, it ignores that there are levels of understanding and that one builds on such levels.

Interesting that this comes to light at this venue, given that Everyday Math was adopted in PAUSD some years ago. I recall the back and forth and controversy over it, and contributed to that conversation back then, to be told I was wrong. Don't know if Everyday Math is still being used in PAUSD but it, and other programs like it, are a manifestation of the problem described in the article about education in the Soviet Union.

a resident of Downtown North

on Sep 2, 2019 at 9:03 am

It is clear that we are in the midst of yet another math education "fad," no different than the "mods, sets, and bases" New Math fads that dominated elementary math in my generation - a total waste of time.

To clarify how this feeds the achievement gap, most high-income students will end up learning basic math fluency (and more) no matter what is taught in school. Their parents, horrified, will teach them, or send them to outside math providers. School math will be a supplement at best, a waste at worst - but they will learn basic math elsewhere.

This really takes off in sixth grade, where PAUSD formally holds back all students (unless they can skip TWO grades) in the name of "lowering stress." The result, even more (especially Asian) students move to outside learning (math schools or tutors), permanently making their school placements irrelevant.

And the low-income students? They don't receive outside support. Many, many come to sixth grade without fluency in multiplication or division - their ability to take on more complex math (pre-algebra, algebra) is very low. They are thrown in with students actually doing algebra in sixth or seventh grade (with tutors), and made to feel stupid.

So, in the name of "21st century learning," we deprive many low-income students of even basic math skills and permanently throw them off track, and feed the achievement gap we claim we care so much about.

a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Sep 2, 2019 at 9:33 am

Thanks for the link to the terrific article. It strikes me that it fails to address the real elephant in the room, though.

The Soviet Union made no pretense of reducing any “achievement gaps.” Quite the opposite. It identified the most gifted in mind and body and threw enormous attention and resources at them to create the next generation of Nobel prize winners and olympians. We do the opposite, under pressure from divisive identity groups.

We have terrific math programs in this country— but only for kids with both the talent and parental support to escape from ideologically hobbled public schools.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 2, 2019 at 10:04 am

@Barry Garelick,

"The "factory model" or "Prussian model" of schools is a common method used to disparage traditional methods of education to justify so-called "upgrades" to education"

That may be so, but there's no either-or here. You are presenting a false dichotomy if you think "factory model" schools are part and parcel of getting traditional math. Our schools and the others provide this substandard math under the Prussian model. Parents haven't been able to get things changed to a more classical math education because of this Prussian model.

My student asked for independent math education in elementary and middle school -- in order to take a more traditional math approach -- and was denied the ability to do that in our schools. Kids already get trapped in a bad math trajectory in elementary grades because of systemic problems in our (Prussian model) schools.

The factory/Prussian model is about standardizing school and students' experience (rather than, for example, supporting gifted students), it separates learning by subjects such as chemistry and requires all students to progress at the same rate under the same learning circumstances, then indelibly marks them rather than providing ways to use the judging to better master the material along the way. Most importantly, the Prussian model is designed to inculcate compliance rather than autonomy and independence.

Esther Wojcicki discusses how she realized a different model worked better for her journalism students (and even struggling English students) in her Moonshots for Education book.

Sorry, but regardless of how some people misuse the concept for their purposes, there is no connection between bad math programs and the need to reform the Prussian model of education to better support student independence and learning.

The problems of these new math programs are tied intimately with the problems of the Prussian model of education. This article flat-out wrongly conflates the two. I know many, many homeschoolers who choose independent education precisely so they can follow a more challenging classical math education (in whatever way best works for each learner). Probably one reason homeschoolers score on average higher on standardized tests and there seems to be no achievement or gender gap. The difference between Prussian model and independent education is learning autonomy, it's not about another program being forced on everyone.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 2, 2019 at 11:38 am

>> It's uncertain whether this article is sufficiently politically correct in our progressive Palo Alto, but its criticism of math and English language literature education is worth a careful read.

"The Federalist" is a right-wing source, which has become a Right-Wing-Authoritarian (RWA) source since January 2017. Worse, the association of the writer and "The Daily Caller" completely discredits the article. What the author writes may or may not be true-- find credible sources.

==

As for math education today-- yes, there is a problem. Elementary schools do OK, and most teachers are up to the task. Middle school is where the trouble begins. The first problem is the teachers. Teachers in some other countries have been held in higher regard than teachers usually have been in the U.S. Some time in grade school, we first heard the joke, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Later, we heard various additions. "And those who can't teach, teach teaching." etc. But, in reality, I had much better teachers than most kids today do. Why? Because, back then, women had three main career options: wife, nurse, or teacher. Many mathematically-able women went into teaching because they didn't have a better option. Today, why would a mathematically-able woman become a teacher, only to get bullied by an overpaid "bigger is better" school district administration? Why not become an app-developer instead, and, at least get paid well to be bullied?

The other problem is, yes, the curriculum. As has long been observed, in mathematics, you can't just teach "concepts" in a vacuum; you also have to teach the mechanics, the calculations. e.g. Why memorize multiplication tables? After all, you can derive everything from set theory. (Given enough time.) But, in reality, you can't operate that way. You just have to memorize 6x7=42. However, I have to add, memorization really is not enough. You do actually need to learn the concepts, and, you need teachers and a system that are capable of teaching concepts. The first "movement" to address this became well-developed in physics first:

Web Link

Web Link

There is no easy fix for this today. Most teachers are not particularly good at math, and haven't been taught properly. They have been given a new curriculum that talks about concepts, but, they would be better at teaching calculations. At this point, I just don't see a likely path to improve average public school math education. I think math is mostly, and will remain, a kind of vocation passed on through families, independent of the schools.

a resident of Crescent Park

on Sep 2, 2019 at 2:30 pm

Get Msart:

>> I disagree that this supports the Prussian model of education, which was designed to create compliant workers for the Industrial Revolution.

This is not the subject of any expertise on my part, but I think it is more education in the US that is about creating compliant workers. Workers from kids so beaten down they never learned how to stand up for themselves against companies bosses. The Soviets had to be a lot more pragmatic because they were fighting for their lives and they needed citizens to be contributors to the defense of the state. They didn't have the luxury to squander their human resources.

How do you think Russia with less than half the population and much less than half of the wealth of the US was able to give the US a run for its money in the Cold War? Why did the US think the USSR was such a threat.

I perceive this as someone trying to make a gentle criicism of the American way of doing things, and we all know math education is one of the worst things we do. Why are there so many Russians coming to the US with great science and math understanding?

It is the US model that is lacking in almost all aspects these days. Pick any metric you want and the US is at the bottom and falling, despite all the media and the talk.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 2, 2019 at 2:38 pm

@CrescentPark,

"This is not the subject of any expertise on my part, but I think it is more education in the US that is about creating compliant workers. "

Education in the US is largely based on the Prussian model, brought here by industrialists in the Industrial Revolution.

a resident of Barron Park

on Sep 2, 2019 at 3:45 pm

*Douglas Moran is a registered user.*

Some historical context on educational dogmas -- I can't call them "fads" because they lasted too long:

Self-esteem: posited that a particular problem was a result of those students having too little self-esteem. When research was eventually done, they found that those students had excess self-esteem.

Whole language: The idea "made sense" to the proponents. Again when research was finally done, it was found to be much worse in what it replaced and damaged the education of a generation of children's education because reading deficiencies affected everything.

Gradual learning of English as a second language: This time there was research, it was just irrelevant. The research found that this approach could work with "well qualified teachers and staff". However, the situation here in California was that there was a substantial and persistent shortage of even minimally qualified teachers. In addition, English-speaking students seeking to learn another language were strongly encouraged to enroll in an immersion program at an early age (when learning language is the easiest) -- overwhelming research had shown that this was highly effective. If you don't understand the blinding effect of ideology, you can be excused for thinking that the gradual approach was intended not only to inhibit the learning of English, but inhibit those students from learning other subjects -- because of the shortage of teachers in those other subjects who were bilingual in the many different native languages of those students.

How many languages: The Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters supports 10 languages (English, Spanish, "Chinese", Hindi, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Tagalog, Thai, Vietnamese) based upon the number of voters using those languages surpassing a legal threshold. I vaguely remember the times when there were roughly 20 languages -- based on counting pamphlets at my polling location.

Did this program end because of research or observation of its bad results? No, those were persistently ignored -- it took a ballot initiative. What did research find afterward? Significantly improved results for the students.

*Conclusion*: Don't expect research, observation, or logic to change the situation. It is ideological/political.

Disclosure: I was briefly a victim of the first "New Math", back in the early 1960s. Fortunately, my school district believed in experimenting before committing. They pulled a few of the best students out of normal class, presumably because we could easily catch up if the experiment failed. It did, and very quickly. The problems are the same as I hear about today's version. For small problems, it was unnecessarily complicated and added so many steps that it took much longer than traditional approaches. And it didn't scale beyond small problems. That absurdity is one of my few vivid memories of elementary school.

a resident of College Terrace

on Sep 2, 2019 at 3:50 pm

@Barry Garelick,

Welcome to join the discussion! You know everything about the chronic ailment of the American K-12 math and you've written prolifically on this topic. Had everyone read your online columns, things might have not gotten so bad.

To answer your question about PAUSD's Everyday Math adoption, I'd recommend an essay, "Why the Palo Alto Schools Failed in Closing the Achievement Gap or Reducing Stress?" Web Link. It traces historical "math wars" in PAUSD and exhibits many hard facts collected from Palo Alto Online.

Some Palo Altans gruntle the schools assign too much homework to the kids. Others worry that the Asian families have brought in academic competition culture and waged academic arms races in the community.

Well, when a house is severely lopsided, it is very difficult for people trapped inside it to have an unbiased, objective view of the world.

PAUSD has been under heavy influence from elite professors from School of Education at Stanford, some of whom are grand masters of destructive innovations in the name of "brain science," "conceptual understanding," "social justice" and so forth, which are virtually variants of progressive education cliches disguised in scientific names. Supported by the "research-based findings"--often cherry-picking medleys--of these prestigious scholars, the San Francisco Unified School District has banned algebra from middle schools since five years ago.

Fooled by the fame of Palo Alto's "great schools," many parents have held their hands off while their kids were receiving the child-centered style education in K-8 grades. To keep Gunn and Paly's academic rigor, high school teachers have to assign many homework practices to help the students to close their numerous loopholes left by the very weak PAUSD's K-8 education. After all, every education system has not been completely destructed by American educational scholars yet--though they have successfully influenced many nations; one can't compete in the global economy with mere "conceptual understanding."

(continuing)

a resident of College Terrace

on Sep 2, 2019 at 3:51 pm

PAUSD seems to have been trapped in the loop:

Math Education Ph.D.s of School of Education preaches that study and practices of standard algorithm would kill creativity ==> PAUSD adopts deficient curriculum and progressive pedagogy, which leaves kids with feeble knowledge and skills ==> high school academics become very stressful for most kids ==> parents want less homework, less pressure ==> PAUSD retains its weak K-8 curriculum and is pressured to lower the academic standards for its high schools.

It is unfair to blame the conscientious school teachers or the vigilant parents for mounting pressure on the kids in PAUSD. Taking supplemental studies is a self-rescue means to escape oneself from the K-12 "math-science death march" so exquisitely imposed upon the public-school kids by the progressive-minded educators and social engineers.

I feel so sorry for the under-resourced kids who rely exclusively on school education. They could have been as successful as the disadvantaged kids in Success Academy of NYC, where 98% of kids passed math and ELA tests. In California, less than 7% low-income minorities met the math standards; in EPA, 83% of kids do not meet the ELA standards; only 16% disadvantaged kids met math standards in PAUSD. This website www.studibee.org offers a guide for those who are interested in free online tutoring and great learning resources available from our public libraries. It also collects a number of papers and talks on K-12 math by real mathematicians who have tragically lost their battles against the educational establishments.

A piece of advice for parents: stay vigilant for anything you heard from the School of Education people (Surely there are also many good education scholars); do lots of critical thinking to conceptually understand the educational fads (See E.D. Hirsch's “Education Terminology Every Parent Must Understand” Web Link); and to take a back-to-basic approach to supplement your kids' K-8 math study (using Russian School Math, authentic Singapore Math, AOPS, etc.)

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 3, 2019 at 1:37 pm

Interesting article on a recent black homeschooling movement:

Web Link

(A caveat: Recent federal educational surveys on homeschooling numbers suffer from serious methodological problems that they are aware of, including that when they ask if someone is homeschooling, they define it as not taking any classes at any public or private institution, which eliminates the vast majority of modern homeschoolers. Additionally, they survey in very limited areas and generalize nationally, when you can't even survey in one small part of the Bay Area and generalize to the rest.)

Underlying this and other modern homeschooling is an exhaustion with trying to get problems in the schools fixed and a realization that parental energy is better spent on their children who want, need and benefit from it.

I think parents are more complaining about MEANINGLESS homework in our district, not about homework. For example, I was not happy about my child having a lot of homework in a math program that demonstrably caused the child to REGRESS in math ability. The other problem with homework is that there is only so much time in a day, and kids need a part of the day in which they are not constantly doing something that someone else tells the to do, even if they are pursuing academics. Is the homework necessary to achieve the education? Usually not. Usually it's just a burden with an opportunity cost in terms of other redeeming uses of the time.

PAUSD early math education arbitrarily picks winners and losers and middle school education makes no provisions for that. My kid was not even on track to take calculus in PAUSD before graduating high school, much less take the advanced college calculus courses (with credit) that homeschooling allowed in earlier grades. Said kid is still coming across problems because of a deficient math education in PAUSD. Trying to fix that within the system would have meant failing in other areas. The system is simply too burdensome and autonomy-destroying. It doesn't have to be. And math shouldn't be used as a foil for destroying efforts to reform the Prussian model, because there is no connection between the Prussian model and "better" or traditional math. The kids have been getting this "new math" under the Prussian model.

a resident of Midtown

on Sep 3, 2019 at 2:38 pm

For those who can stomach another book comparing American to Asian or Finnish schools, there's a brandnew one by Teru Clavel (self-described education consultant).

Web Link

The American schools in question are in Palo Alto and New York. Quote from review in Publishers Weekly: "The top-rated school district in the U.S., Palo Alto, Calif., on the other hand, dismays her with its emphasis on technology; careless approach to curriculum, instruction, and grades; and the general U.S. education funding model, in which the best education is reserved for the privileged."

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 3, 2019 at 7:12 pm

Posted by cb, a resident of Midtown

>> "The top-rated school district in the U.S., Palo Alto, Calif., on the other hand, dismays her with its emphasis on technology; careless approach to curriculum, instruction, and grades; and the general U.S. education funding model, in which the best education is reserved for the privileged."

I hate to ask a dumb question, but, what "ranking" are they referring to? What criteria are used?

Here are the rankings on the niche website. "Top-rated"? How about #23?

Web Link

a resident of College Terrace

on Sep 4, 2019 at 10:58 am

Katya Sedgwick's critiques of America's schooling greatly resonate with us who had our K-12 in a foreign country. Nowadays most of American teachers and parents of school-children grew up after the 1970s, few of them have seen the correct and effective way--uncontaminated by the U.S. educational experts--to teach math and physics.

David Klein, Professor of Mathematics at California State University, North Ridge, writes eye-opening papers about U.S. K-12 math education:

"A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century" Web Link;

"A Quarter Century of US ‘Math Wars’ and Political Partisanship"

Web Link

These are must-reads for anyone who wants to probe how U.S. K-12 math education has deteriorated to its current status, and is still deteriorating...

Again, stay vigilant to the leading math education professors at Stanford's School of Education. Their immensely appealing innovations and revolutions are tremendously destructive. In "What to Do about Canada’s Declining Math Scores," Canada scholar Anna Stokke examines how Discovery Math imported from U.S. has undermined Canada students’ math ability, leaving over 70% of students not able to do 1/3-1/4 right. Web Link

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 4, 2019 at 11:56 am

Posted by Back to basic, a resident of College Terrace

>> In "What to Do about Canada’s Declining Math Scores," Canada scholar Anna Stokke examines how Discovery Math imported from U.S. has undermined Canada students’ math ability, leaving over 70% of students not able to do 1/3-1/4 right.

From the article:

>> It is imperative that policies be adopted to ensure that future elementary and middle-years teachers

>> have a deep understanding of the mathematics they are expected to teach prior to being certified. This

>> could be accomplished through a combination of course requirements for teacher candidates and

>> mandatory provincial licensure exams that assess mathematics knowledge and skill

This usually isn't an issue at the elementary school level from what I've seen, but, there is a serious issue with middle-school math. What the above boils down to is that middle-school math should be taught by teachers who who have a deep understanding of algebra. That is harder than it sounds. And, I would add to that, we actually need more-- it is not easy to transfer some of that understanding to middle-school students. We've never really selected middle school teachers on the basis of how well they can teach understanding of math. I think it is worth doing, but, it is going to require a sustained program to do it.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 4, 2019 at 4:57 pm

Let's get specific. EDM and other similar math programs were pedagogically wordy and almost devoid of any actual math and math practice. My child regressed, less able and advanced with math after EDM than a few years earlier when EDM was inflicted on mathy kids like that who just wanted math.

I usually get pushback for that statement along the lines of, well students need to learn how to do word problems -- but that's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about a math program with very little actual math content, that appealed to teachers who said they didn't like math when they were kids. The problem is that they forgot to include the rest of the kids who do like math and wanted to learn... drumroll.... math (not spend most of their time on wordy pedagogy). Really the ethos of the whole program was that somehow giving kids actual math to do was somehow emotionally abusive and to be avoided at all costs.

So I agree with Katya Sedgwick's contentions about the ills of these MATH innovations, but disagree strongly that this has anything to do with Prussian model schooling, when these math "innovations" have been brought into a system that continues to be based on the Prussian model.

Web Link

This article points out that one of the reasons for Finland's success is that teachers aren't afraid to experiment, i.e., innovate, and that kids have very little homework.

Web Link

My homeschooled kid started on an accelerated math track, with far higher standardized test results (without ANY teaching to the test), with much more time to do actual math without the artificial and unnecessary constraints of school that keep the kids with age-matched peers and all doing the same exact thing over the same time periods.

The curricula chosen were classical math, but the SYSTEM of educating was what gave. This could have easily been possible in school, too, but the adherence to the SYSTEM (instead of the student's education and outcomes) kept the same student locked into a program that was not designed to deliver the math education that child needed.

So again, I just want to point out that it is an adherence to the Prussian model that uniformly delivered these newfangled maths.If we had a system more capable of individualization, no child who didn't benefit from a given math program would be forced to continue, but could move on to a different curriculum that got results for the child, including any one of the numerous classical math education programs still available.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 5, 2019 at 11:20 am

Get Smart, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood:

>> By the way, studies of standardized testing in homeschoolers finds no achievement or gender gap, which makes sense when you consider that it's individualized education.

Do you have some citations for (statistically high-reliability) studies of the above? Preferably no paywall-- homeschooling education is not in one of my areas.

a resident of College Terrace

on Sep 5, 2019 at 6:50 pm

A disheartening fact about the Finland education folklore:

Though Finland’s education model has been globally admired, as early as 2005, more than 200 Finnish mathematicians and scientists issued an open letter to call attention to “severe shortcomings in Finnish mathematics skills.” Web Link

Wayne Bishop, professor emeritus and chair of the math/CS department at CSU LA, reveals that Finnish students scored even below their American peers in the 2015 TIMSS, a much more reliable test of students’ math capacity than the better-known PISA. PISA, designed by a group of educational experts who adore progressive education doctrines but disdain real math, is actually a very misleading indicator for math attainment. Web Link

Wayne Bishop was mentor of Jamie Escalante, the legendary math teacher commemorated by a 1988 Hollywood film Stand and Deliver and a 2016 Forever stamp. Wayne Bishop was invited to talk about K-12 math by CNN and ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings years ago.

See how mightily destructive these educational school people are: they ruined U.S. K-12 math with their deficient curriculum and pedagogy; they distorted assessments (SAT, PISA) to mislead global K-12 math education; and now they are reforming--sabotaging---college algebra, calculus, and physics (Web Link).

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 5, 2019 at 7:08 pm

Posted by Back to basic, a resident of College Terrace

>> Wayne Bishop, professor emeritus and chair of the math/CS department at CSU LA, reveals that Finnish students scored even below their American peers in the 2015 TIMSS, a much more reliable test of students’ math capacity than the better-known PISA. PISA, designed by a group of educational experts who adore progressive education doctrines but disdain real math, is actually a very misleading indicator for math attainment.

I don't doubt it, but, most standardized tests can be very misleading also: Web Link

And, of course, short, multiple-choice, standardized tests can usually be gamed: Web Link

Oral exams can be reliable, but also, very time consuming and therefore expensive. Some smart statisticians need to figure out how to create reliable exams that test conceptual understanding and content, are not labor-intensive, are inexpensive, and are more difficult to game than current standardized tests.

a resident of Charleston Gardens

on Sep 5, 2019 at 8:21 pm

I took my kids out of the district math program and put my kids in a really nice one called RSM and they also used the Art of Problem Solving books, classes and online platforms. They had meaningful homework, enjoyed the energy of teacher who love math and maybe do not have all the credits, but test into high math anyhow. They did the menial math work and used it for review of skills. There was really no real math. I am not being mean. There were mostly just math facts all the way up and then tests they had to perform on to get an A. There is no room for any creative problem solving. Lecture from a book. everyone on the same page and a test that can affect your path and life. No fun. no risks. Lock step commonality.

a resident of College Terrace

on Sep 7, 2019 at 2:56 pm

@Anon:

Every test has its limits, but PISA is severely misinforming and misleading. Facts and arguments can be found below:

W.Steve Wilson: Web Link

PISA does not cover the appropriate grade-level material and is quite weak in mathematical content. It is a problem-solving test and, although mathematics is used, that seems almost incidental.

Tom Loveless: Web Link

PISA is based on a philosophy known as Real Mathematics Education (RME), championed by the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands. RME’s constructivist, problem solving orientation is controversial among mathematicians.

Wayne Bishop: Web Link

Conception of PISA included heavy guidance from Thomas Romberg of the University of Wisconsin’s WCER and the original creator of a notorious math curriculum-- Mathematics in Context. Its underlying philosophy is exactly that of PISA, the study of mathematics through everyday applications that do not require the development of the more sophisticated mathematics that opens the doors for STEM careers. The arithmetic of the PISA applications is calculator-friendly so even elementary arithmetic through ordinary fractions – so necessary for eventual algebra – need not be developed to score well.

a resident of Adobe-Meadow

on Sep 10, 2019 at 8:02 am

*Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.*

I won't pretend to be knowledgeable concerning the various approaches discussed above. What I do know is that the Cal-State colleges are now demanding a level of math knowledge for incoming students and a number of organizations are vociferously complaining how unfair that is. I call it the dumbing down of the overall society. It is trying to push students into the next layer of education which have not yet mastered the basics. Also now seeing FB complaints that the schools need to resurrect a class on homemaking and other "shop" classes where students learn how to take care of themselves - learning the basic levels of living with themselves and other people. Guess those singles out there are running into whole groups who are unable to take care of themselves once they are out "making a living".

a resident of Palo Verde

on Sep 10, 2019 at 3:16 pm

>> ... resurrect a class on homemaking and other "shop" classes

Scissors and screwdrivers are prohibited on commercial airliners.

I cannot believe they'd be allowed in a public school these days.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 11, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow

>> What I do know is that the Cal-State colleges are now demanding a level of math knowledge for incoming students and a number of organizations are vociferously complaining how unfair that is.

It is an interesting argument that the complaints are using:

Web Link

"Last month, 50 student advocacy groups sent a letter to the trustees opposing the plan on grounds that so many high schools are riddled with problems, that toughening the university’s admissions requirements would place their students at a competitive disadvantage."

IOW, math education in schools is so bad that it is unfair for CSU to demand it. CSU is, of course, the system founded to train teachers, and still a large (the largest?) supplier of future California teachers. So, if CSU continues to admit future teachers who are deficient in math, what happens? (Does that count as a "word problem"?)

To me, the bottom line is that it is up to those parents who care about math to make sure that their kids are offered a true mathematical education. You can't count on the schools to do more than offer rote learning with standardized testing.

a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

on Sep 11, 2019 at 6:48 pm

"reciting multiplication tables and practicing basic arithmetic—the so-called “lower-ordering thinking” according to the Bloom Taxonomy—would causeneuro-cells to disconnect and thus damage kids’ mental abiity to learn math."

This is the one sentence in the article that is true, although I had to omit some of it to make it that way. Mindless recitation of times tables reliably killed off students' interest in "math" when I was in grade school during pre-Sputnik times. Including for yours truly. But I made my living as an engineer nevertheless, doing actual math every working day, daily ordering up trillions of multiplications on computers to get at the numbers as needed. Algebra is what turned me around. It invites and rewards thinking.

Today computers and calculators are ubiquitous. Even the most prodigious idiot savant is easily outperformed by any $5.98 calculator. There is no excuse now for stifling interest in math with needless rote mechanical drills in arithmetic, which is the lowest form of math.

In fact, the author of the article disparages what actual mathematics is being taught to children today: "find at least 10 ways to solve simple problems like 5*18—which would supposedly cultivate creativity—and to tell a story about, or draw a diagram, to solve problems like 3/4*1/5 that is supposed to induce “conceptual understanding.”, showing they have no concept of what actual math is. That kind of think is absolutely necessary to applying math to advanced practical STEM work.

a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Sep 12, 2019 at 1:51 pm

The above arguments about CSU requirements fail to appreciate that students can learn the math in a self-directed way in CSUsthat is less possible in the constrained education of (Prussian model) high school. Students should not be filtered out of the learning opportunities of CSU because of bad high school educations. CSUs cannot control students opportunities prior but they can facilitate opportunities for students when they are in college.

The fixed mindset about learning displayed in above comments is troubling. CSUs are public colleges where students who didn’t have advantages can overcome past inequality of opportunity through hard work and self direction. CSUs should not shut out students just because their k-12 math educational opportunities were so lacking or they couldn’t afford tutors to overcome the deficits as in this district. Just because they don’t filter such students out does not follow that such students cannot work hard to meet and exceed the standards of college when they have more opportunities than in k-12 and more control of their own time than in traditional high school. High school and college are two completely different kinds of educational opportunities.

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