GoBigEd 
Reporting on key Nebraska K12 education issues on a daily basis from Susan Darst Williams, a writer who lives at the base of Mount Laundry, Nebraska. To subscribe to this blog's mailing list, and see a variety of other education features and information, visit the main education website, www.GoBigEd.com 
Monday, May 09, 2005
Posted
8:15 AM
by Susan Darst Williams
Something that’s a little scary about math instruction in Nebraska and the nation is that “curriculum alignment” is pretty much pulling the wool over the public’s eyes about how well kids really can do math. When bad curriculum is “aligned” with the test, the test can’t help but be bad, too. Of course it’s true that the whole point to assessment is to see how well the kids learned the material you taught. But when that material is the wrong stuff, average test scores could be 100% and the kids STILL wouldn’t be getting the kind of rigorous and effective math instruction parents and taxpayers want them to get. But the public doesn’t realize how much the curriculum has changed. The public doesn’t ever see the test questions. We’re at the mercy of what educators say the scores mean. So the public doesn’t see that “rising” test scores over the last few years are concealing an increasing weakness in the overall math ability of our kids, due to the weak “whole math” curriculum that’s in place, K12. Someone on an education loop I belong to describes “whole math” this way: “guess and check, littletonocomputation, nonalgorithmic kinds of problems.” He’s an educator in Ohio, and he says the statewide thirdgrade math test in Ohio had only one out of 50 items that required computation. Only one out of 50! That calls for an “AAOOGAH”!!! I’d say the only answer is to force school districts to publish their test questions after the kids have taken them. Then we can see if that’s happening here, and put a stop to it, pronto. Does that . . . compute? Along these same lines, here’s today’s educational advice column from www.DailySusan.com:  Ten Myths About Whole Math Q. Is there broad consensus on how we’re teaching math these days? No, there are two opposing camps. The “whole math” methods developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), is under fire from New York City HOLD (Honest Open Logical Decisions), which favors a more traditional approach. The latter is made up of mathematicians and scientists, K12 teachers of mathematics, educational researchers, and parents nationwide. They claim to have defined 10 myths about math education that form the basis for the NCTM’s standards, which they vigorously oppose. To capsulize whole math vs. traditional math:  Only what students discover for themselves is truly learned. No; kids need direct instruction of math concepts.  Children should invent their own ways of doing math. No; standard skills such as long division are crucial to higherlevel math and must be taught explicitly.  Children need problemsolving rather than “drill and kill.” No; there’s no getting around the need for mastery of basic skills in order to do the conceptual type math.  NCTM math is better for learningdisabled children. No; they need structure.  NCTM math is better for disadvantaged children. No; their teachers disagree.  Calculator use is a great way to build math ability. No; the better the math student on the secondary level, the less calculators were used before sixth grade.  Foreign countries beat us on math tests because they “cherrypick” their top students to go against our entire student bodies. No; participants are randomly selected.  Math should be taught “in context,” with stories. No; they’re a good tool but shouldn’t take center stage, or students won’t have sufficient practical application.  NCTM methods are what higherperforming countries use. No; math class in Singapore and Japan is like the skillsbased methods the grassroots group proposes.  Research shows NCTM is effective. No; that “research” is selfserving, opinionated and far from conclusive; it looks effective because assessments have been modified to fit the NCTM method, instead of what kids really should know and be able to do. Homework: Read documentation at www.nychold.com/myths050504.html
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