Monday, July 30, 2012

American Educational Dissonance on Display

If you want to get a firm understanding on the challenge we have in our education system - then all you have to do is read Andrew Hacker, emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York, article in the NYT. He means well - but he is 180deg off from the right course.

In a highly competitive world, we need a population with a sound foundation in the basics. Algebra is a floor for a high school graduate from my perspective. It is not difficult if the math you take before algebra is well taught.

Students not getting through the algebra hoop is a teaching issue; not a student issue.

At the school my children go to (same one Mrs. Salamander and I went to BTW), there are three different levels of Algebra depending on the student's ability, and that is just algebra I. Algebra II has four levels.

Most of my kids' peers get though by 9th Grade, some by 8th - a select earlier.

Easy school? No. All Geek school? No - it is actually one of the best athletic schools in the country.

What it is, is a school that first and foremost focuses on quality teachers. Teachers who know that even a child who is not naturally gifted in math can not only master algebra, but go past it.

They don't blame the kids. Don't let the teachers and the education system off the hook.

This debate matters. Making mathematics mandatory prevents us from discovering and developing young talent. In the interest of maintaining rigor, we’re actually depleting our pool of brainpower. I say this as a writer and social scientist whose work relies heavily on the use of numbers. My aim is not to spare students from a difficult subject, but to call attention to the real problems we are causing by misdirecting precious resources.
It would be far better to reduce, not expand, the mathematics we ask young people to imbibe. (That said, I do not advocate vocational tracks for students considered, almost always unfairly, as less studious.)
No. A basic understanding of math is a requirement - and algebra is the foundation.
I hope that mathematics departments can also create courses in the history and philosophy of their discipline, as well as its applications in early cultures. Why not mathematics in art and music — even poetry — along with its role in assorted sciences? The aim would be to treat mathematics as a liberal art, making it as accessible and welcoming as sculpture or ballet. If we rethink how the discipline is conceived, word will get around and math enrollments are bound to rise. It can only help. Of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded in 2010, only 15,396 — less than 1 percent — were in mathematics.
Nothing is stopping that from happening right now - as a matter of fact good teachers already do. Mine did. Again - this is not a student problem, this is an educator problem.
Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.
It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.
Ahhh ... there we go. Finland, South Korea and Canada are not the USA. Different demographics and different education systems.

Ahhh yes - the brave emeritus professor. Notice that something in missing in his discussion? He hints at it in a dog-whistle way. Me? I'm not afraid to put it out there. What is it? Well - this is it;
The percentage proficient in the United States varies considerably among students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. While 42 percent of white students were identified as proficient in math, only 11 percent of African American students, 15 percent of Hispanic students, and 16 percent of Native Americans were so identified. Fifty percent of students with an ethnic background from Asia and the Pacific Islands, however, were proficient in math, placing them at a level comparable to students in Belgium, Canada, and Japan.

In reading, 40 percent of white students and 41 percent of those from Asia and the Pacific Islands were identified as proficient. Only 13 percent of African American students, 5 percent of Hispanic students, and 18 percent of Native American students were so identified.

Given the disparate performances among students from various cultural backgrounds, it may be worth inquiring as to whether differences between the United States and other countries are due to the presence of a substantial minority population within the United States. To examine that question, we compare U.S. white students to all students in other countries. We do this not because we think this is the right comparison, but simply to consider the oft-expressed claim that education problems in the United States are confined to certain segments within the minority community.

While the 42 percent math efficiency rate for U.S. white students is considerably higher than that of African American and Hispanic students, they are still surpassed by all students in 16 other countries. White students in the United States trail well behind all students in Korea, Japan, Finland, Germany, Belgium, and Canada.

White students in Massachusetts outperform their peers in other states; 58 percent are at or above the math proficiency level. Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas are the other states in which a majority of white students is proficient in math. Given recent school-related political conflicts in Wisconsin, it is of interest that only 42 percent of that state’s white students are proficient in math, a rate no better than the nation as a whole. (Results for all states are presented in the unabridged version of the paper.)
Political correctness is stopping us from aggressively going after this problem - but as the data tells us, this isn't a genetic thing. It is sub-cultural and also systemic.

What are some states doing well that others are not? A plus of a federal system - we get to experiment. Raise up those behind - don't drop those at the top down to lower expectations.

The future belongs to the intelligent countries. To not bring everyone up to a basic knowledge level is professional malpractice.

On average - in fits in starts depending on how you slice it - things are getting better. Now is the time to push harder, not fall back.

I am a liberal arts guy - but I know this - we need to be at the top of our intellectual game to stay on top as a nation. We will not maintain our standard of living by having a bunch of Art History and Sociology majors hanging around with trial lawyers.

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