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Education Math United States

Professors: US "In Denial" Over Poor Maths Standards 688

thephydes (727739) writes "The maths skills of teenagers in parts of the deep south of the United States are worse than in countries such as Turkey and barely above South American countries such as Chile and Mexico. From the article: '"There is a denial phenomenon," says Prof Peterson. He said the tendency to make internal comparisons between different groups within the US had shielded the country from recognising how much they are being overtaken by international rivals. "The American public has been trained to think about white versus minority, urban versus suburban, rich versus poor," he said.'"
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Professors: US "In Denial" Over Poor Maths Standards

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  • by bledri ( 1283728 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:50AM (#47063135)

    "South American countries such as...Mexico"

    No, the quote from the article did not contain the words "South America," so it's the submitter or editor that is poor at geography. And quoting. And the first sentence was not attributed to the Professor in the article nor in the summary.

  • by maliqua ( 1316471 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:24AM (#47063251)

    I'm Canadian its always been maths in my classes..

  • Re:In my youth (Score:4, Informative)

    by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:24AM (#47063253)
    Actually average SAT math scores are as high as they've ever been in the US [typepad.com] (at least going back to the 1960s) after a big dip in the 70's, 80's, and 90's, which is actually very impressive since the percentage of students taking the SATs has gone way up. So as far as that goes, if the US is declining relative to other nations it is because of improvement on their part.

    According to the linked article, one place that is nosediving in the US is California. Whether that is more due to immigration or per-student spending dropping behind the US average [cbp.org] due mainly to referendums on property taxes, I don't know.

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:49AM (#47063525)

    I would submit that the teachers' unions are practically the only thing keeping the U.S. public school system halfway functioning. The more the system has been taken over by non-teaching corporate-style administrators, the more it's gone down the toilet (and the more those administrators have used it as a stick to further beat down the unions).

    There are no "corporate-style administrators" in public schools, there are only government administrators. Corporations are ruthless about improving their product and cutting costs, exactly the two things that are not happening in public schools.

    It really takes a special kind of stupid to try to blame the failings of US public schools on corporations; US public schools have nothing to do with corporations, corporate governance, free markets, or any of that. The shortcomings of US public education is a joint effort of teachers, unions, government administrators, and politicians.

    Foreign countries with stronger unions also have stronger educational outcomes.

    Foreign countries who don't speak English also have stronger educational outcomes. Foreign countries where people drive on the other side of the road also have stronger educational outcomes. You can pull coincidences out of a hat, but that doesn't tell you anything about causality.

    The choice is effectively between having decisions on how students are taught made by either (a) Dilbert and friends, or (b) their Pointy-Haired Boss. Choose wisely.

    You assume that the only two variants of school systems we should consider are public administration-heavy schools and public teacher-and-teacher-union-run schools; both of those are lousy choices.

    Education should return to being a state and local matter, and the federal government should get out of it; there is no evidence whatsoever that a single national standard helps rather than hurts. In addition, we should give parents and students more choice via school vouchers. Forcing parents to send their kids to poorly performing schools is a lousy idea.

  • Re:math? maths? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zembar ( 803935 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:42AM (#47063681)


    Etymology of Mathematics on Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

    The apparent plural form in English, like the French plural form les mathématiques (and the less commonly used singular derivative la mathématique), goes back to the Latin neuter plural mathematica (Cicero), based on the Greek plural (ta mathmatiká), used by Aristotle (384–322 BC), and meaning roughly "all things mathematical"; although it is plausible that English borrowed only the adjective mathematic(al) and formed the noun mathematics anew, after the pattern of physics and metaphysics, which were inherited from the Greek. In English, the noun mathematics takes singular verb forms. It is often shortened to maths or, in English-speaking North America, math


  • Re:In my youth (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoborrobots ( 577882 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @04:14AM (#47063801)

    That's the average SAT score for students entering college... Which automatically filters out those students who weren't good enough to get in. It's not an average of all test-takers...

    All that graph tells you is that admission standards for college have been climbing since 1992...

    Also, it's not clear how that chart reflects the "recentering" that change the way scores were calculated from 1995 onwards...

  • Re:In my youth (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoborrobots ( 577882 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @04:58AM (#47063935)

    The data across all test-takers [nbcnews.com] (not just those who are admitted to college), tells a different story...

  • Re:math? maths? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CurryCamel ( 2265886 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @05:34AM (#47064017) Journal

    the English to which you refer is only "standard" among Commonwealth countries, and is not a global one.

    I beg to disagree. At least in my school, using the American English was considered an error. One teacher relented enough to admit that American English, whilst not wrong as such, should at least not be mixed up with British English in the same text: "so pick one, and don't pick the American version" was her advice.
    This was not a country with English as native language, nor was it a part of the Commonwealth. And unless the history classes were propaganda, never even been conquered by the Brits.

  • by reub2000 ( 705806 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:04AM (#47064113)

    Appears that the error doesn't appear in the original. The use of quotation marks would lead one to believe that it's a direct quote, but it looks like it was altered to add the part about South America.

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:28AM (#47064193) Journal

    Corporations are ruthless about improving their product and cutting costs,

    Do you know how I know you've never actually worked for a company pretty much ever?

    Seriously most companies, especially large ones couldn't fine their arse with both hands. You see the first hand has to get approval from legal. That is staffed with angry and incompetent corporate lawyers watching their dreams of courtroom defense or prosecution (and possibly a judgeship!) dwindle in the rear view mirror. The hand will eventually come back, but at some point they'll probably have specified that an indemnity is needed if it doesn't have 35 fingers, requiring further rewrites etc etc. Eventually it will get passed on and purchasing will be in charge of the other hand. That's when the real fun starts since finding their arse with both hands isn't their budget anyway so they don't really care and besides they're in a regional office in a different timezone and anyway you're not going to get the sharpest tools in the shed for the salaries on offer.

    So, the fact that it delays a large and important job by 4 months and that makes the company have trouble delivering on to their customer, well who cares really? It's not their problem.

    That more or less refelcts a recent experience with a Very Large Company. The fact thay you think companies are ruthlessly efficient means you have no idea at all how things in the real world actually work.

  • Re:math? maths? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Eunuchswear ( 210685 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:32AM (#47064205) Journal

    Do you have a donkey phobia?

    Arseholes, not assholes.

  • by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:43AM (#47064485)

    America is a synonym for the US*, and it is also also a term for the combination of North and South America, but not at the same time.

    I have seen "the Americas" more often when referring to the combination of North & South America.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:24AM (#47065143)

    Don't worry, we seem to be on it. We now have "Common Core" math which is so insanely difficult and confusing that kids will hate math and will never want to do it in their lives. Don't believe me? Try this Common Core math problem: "What is 32 - 12?" Now wait just a second... I'm guessing you're trying to subtract 12 from 32. That's the wrong way to do it according to Common Core [ijreview.com]. No, instead you need to do this:

    32 - 12 = ?
    12 + 3 = 15
    15 + 5 = 20
    20 + 10 = 30
    30 + 2 = 32

    Now you draw a box around the 3, 5, 10, and 2 that you added in and then add those numbers up. 3 + 5 = 8 + 10 = 18 + 2 = 20. So the answer is 20. If a child just does:


    They will be marked as wrong because they got the right answer, but in the wrong way.

    The sad part? This isn't even as insane as it gets. My son was given the problem: 1.62 / 0.27. Instead of actually dividing, he was told to draw 162 "tenths segments" Then he had to redraw them, but in groupings of 27. The number of groupings was his answer. Does this work? Yes, but it doesn't teach kids to work with numbers. What if the number he needed to divide was 1.625? Would he need to draw 1,625 segments? What if the number was 492.572? Would he need to draw nearly half a million segments? The method doesn't scale at all and yet kids are being taught that THIS is how you solve math problems and doing it any other way is WRONG (even if it works and gives you the right answer).

  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:11AM (#47065637)

    From what I understand, the alternative methods are supposed to be taught in addition to the traditional methods, not instead of them. The idea is to get kids comfortable with what the operations actually "mean", not just rote techniques.

    The method of using addition to do subtraction is one that I do quite regularly (I'm almost 40). It's handy as an estimation technique, since for a first approximation you can round both numbers to something that's easy to work with, and then factor in the correction if necessary.

    As for division, the technique described clearly doesn't scale to the numbers in the example. It was a poor choice of question to demonstrate the technique.

  • by RockClimbingFool ( 692426 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:40AM (#47066771)

    I don't like this method of adding or subtracting, but they added one step to make it look even that much worse.

    Every child should be taught what numbers are needed to get to the next or previous ten. Counting by tens (or hundreds, thousands, etc) needs to be ingrained because we are base 10 people. They need to memorize those simple additions and subtractions (going to the next or previous 10).

    This particular example should have been taught as you need 8 to go from 12 to 20, you need 10 to go from 20 to 30, and you need 2 to go from 30 to 32. So, 8+10+2=20. 32-12 = 20. It gets them thinking about both sides of the equation now, instead of reinventing the equals sign when you get to algebra.

    Yes, you need to understand conceptually what 32-12 physically means, but you also need to be able to just do simple math automatically as well. That is where quality teaching comes into play. You need to make sure that point is driven home, both concepts are needed. If teachers are on auto pilot, and saying, just do it this way (the conceptual way) because that is what is going to be on the standardized test, and completely ignoring ingrained automatic addition and subtraction, then they have gone too far on the other side.

    TLDR, It seems educators got hammered for the "old way" of teaching math that produced little calculators, but some are correcting too far on the conceptual side now, and handicapping children by not giving them tools to quickly add and subtract in their day to day lives.

  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:53AM (#47066919)

    The same thinking that scares people away from this "new math" is what makes it so hard for people to do arithmetic in their head. It is also the line of thinking that makes people unable to understand higher level math.

    The traditional way of doing subtraction of large numbers is a shortcut that is often only useful when the numbers are small and/or you have paper to write on. Both the traditional way and the common core way are valid ways to come up with the answer. And in most cases, when you are doing subtraction in your head you should be using the common core way since it will usually be easier.

    Take a better example, like:

    - 148.

    Doing this in your head the traditional way would be hard. You have to regrouping twice, and you have to remember that you borrowed 10 from the tens place when regrouping the hundreds place. Obviously not impossible, but this is the kind of math that makes people think they can't do it without assistance from paper or a calculator.

    But doing 52 + 21 is much easier, and doing 73 + 100 is also quite easy. "Almost" everyone who is good at doing math in their head will do 321 - 148 by adding 52 + 21 + 100 in their head. This is why it is important to teach children this method.

    The obstacles here are not the common core curriculum, it is parents and teachers. Parents who complain about this "new" math that they don't understand and aren't willing to learn, and teachers who also don't really understand how this math should be taught. Students should still be taught both methods, and it should be clear on any examinations if the teacher is expecting a certain method to be used. If the student isn't explicitly told to use a certain method, they should not be marked off any points if they get the correct answer. And the students need to be taught the pros and cons of each method, or else the entire purpose of teaching both methods will be lost.

Often statistics are used as a drunken man uses lampposts -- for support rather than illumination.