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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 Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:37AM (#47063083)
    if you teach kids to add, pretty soon they'll start wanting to think for themselves and only bad things can come of that.
  • by Ultra64 ( 318705 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:40AM (#47063091)

    "South American countries such as...Mexico"

  • Geography too.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:41AM (#47063099)

    When did Mexico become a South American country?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:05AM (#47063185)

    Just because you're too thick to recognize dialects doesn't mean that a word you don't use isn't a real word. Maths is a word. Aluminium is a word. Noo-kyuh-luhr is a sign of illiteracy.

  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:06AM (#47063191)

    We might need to spend more money on helping people improve their memory so that they don't, say, just as a random example, post the same shit twice in one thread on Slashdot.

  • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:14AM (#47063219)

    Sounds like "fuck the poor" to me.

    Socio-economic status never stood for race, you're just conflating the fact that minorities are more likely to be poor than wealthy with the correlation between SES and educational outcome. The relationship between SES and economic outcome has been extensively studied, and in my opinion boils down to one thing: opportunities. Low SES kids can't afford basic school supplies, can't move to good school districts, can't study abroad, can't intern for free, etc. etc.

    You can't pretend that a lack of money doesn't cripple your chances of receiving a quality education.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:16AM (#47063225)

    This is a BBC Article, so "maths" is the correct term in the article - and for that matter in most of the English speaking world.

    Only the USA and Canada use math. Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, India and the rest of the English speaking world use maths.

    Of course, one should point out that English was defined in Great Britain with American being a regional bastardisation, a minor dialect.

  • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:20AM (#47063241)

    It's not the schools that need more money; it's the families. Children are behind from the beginning (kindergarten) and don't catch up because in general, their environment is not conducive to learning. Parents often can't get involved because they have to work multiple jobs (or don't speak/read English well enough...). There is also more trouble from violence, gangs, drugs, etc. Socio-economic status has a lot to do with it.

    (Of course, there will still be stellar children who succeed in spite of it all, but they are not the norm.)

    You know, maybe you should try teaching in a school that is almost completely made up of children from a very poor socio-economic status before you claim to know it all and spout bullshit.

  • Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:28AM (#47063267)

    I spent a couple of years teaching in the Boston Public Schools. Your analysis is too simplistic. I had students who had recently immigrated from Cape Verde, who were fluent only in Cape Verdean Creole and whose parents never completed the 8th grade. I also had a student who had been in foster homes her entire life. I discovered after awhile that she couldn't see the board and that her foster parents were unwilling to pay out of pocket to buy glasses - she had broken two pairs of glasses and hit the limit for what MassHealth would pay for that year.

    You can't just ignore the impact that these experiences have on a child's ability to learn. It's completely unfair to compare outcomes from private schools, which would never accept a student who barely spoke English or a sullen, resentful product of the foster care system (not that these children would ever apply) to schools that are required to accept all comers.

    There are many problems that public schools create for themselves and have nothing to do with students, but the idea that socio-economic status doesn't effect student outcomes is just not accurate. c.f. this NYTimes article on the University of Texas for a week ago: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/who-gets-to-graduate.html?_r=0

  • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:39AM (#47063311) Journal

    Racism is the last excuse that our failed public education system still clings to. That and "we don't have enough money."

    White flight is extremely real. Resources are distributed very unevenly.

    And yet "racism" doesn't begin to encompass the range of reasons that some schools end up with 90%+ minority populations and with low funding.

  • by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:41AM (#47063323) Homepage

    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). Foreign countries with stronger unions also have stronger educational outcomes.

    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.

  • Re:No surprises (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:42AM (#47063327)

    Teachers are told what, when, and how to teach the material. They're basically reading scripts.

    This is the real problem here. We need to abolish whatever part of the system is generating those demands, to free the teachers to actually teach. Some might do worse in a free-form system but I'll bet lots could do better when they could tailor teaching to the kids they have.

  • Re:Money quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:46AM (#47063343) Homepage

    And yet all these better-performing countries have more leftist governments, stronger social safety nets, more concern about equity, and less economic inequality.

  • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:46AM (#47063513)

    No, it has little to do with the fact that being poor means you don't have opportunity. Being poor means your parents probably don't value education, so you probably don't value education, so you probably don't get an education.

    If you are rich, you probably got that way by being educated, so you value education, so your children value education, so your children get an education.

    It's not like opportunity has no effect, just that opportunity doesn't mean education. In other words, throwing money at the problem doesn't solve it. That's not to say money doesn't help, but it's better spent on giving the poor kids breakfast or community outreach than school supplies.

    I've always believed that a child who wants to learn will find a way to learn. The hard part isn't teaching them -- it's getting them to want to learn in the first place! And that starts in the home, not in the school


  • Not only in the US (Score:4, Insightful)

    by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:00AM (#47063551)
    When i was in high school back in the early 90ies in France, it was the same : people were trying to remember stuff by rote learning, not only in math but also in physic. With the predictable result that by the next year , for many very little was left of it. I have come to think that the few of us which aced the math/physic, we did it because we understood the problem and how to solve it, rather than learn the solution. And once you understand something, it is incredibly easy to remember how to do it. I don't think this is a special problem from south Alabama or where ever, I think it is a general problem in many country that many student are firstly taught rote learning in small school, and later in middle/high school are never taught to understand a problem properly.
  • Frank Zappa (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:06AM (#47063573)

    I don't think it's any accident that the educational system in America has been brought to its current state. Because only a totally uneducated mass of people will be baffled by balloons. And yellow ribbons and little flags and buzz words and guys saying "new world order" and shit like that, I mean, only a person who has been dissuaded from any kind of critical thinking and doesn't know geography, doesn't know the English language - I mean if you can't speak English, then this stuff works on you. One of the things that was taken out of the curriculum was civics. Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the '60s, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government - nobody knows what's in it. It's one of the best kept secrets. And so, if you don't know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don't know what is in that document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?

    circa 1988

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:07AM (#47063577)

    But as long as people like Obama advocate mediocre European systems as a model, all we will produce is the same kind of mediocrity that Europe produces.

    WTF? Do you just have a short list of canned sentence templates that you try to plugin in to any scenario to support some sort of mindless political agenda? Your statement makes about zero sense.

  • Re: Coded Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:11AM (#47063587)

    That's closer to the truth but a poor way of putting it. It makes it sounds like poor families affirmatively choose to be poor.

    The difference between your average poor family and average rich family is two fold: 1) time and 2) modeling habits.

    Take, for example, bed time reading. A rich family has more time to spend every night reading to their kid. They probably also grew up that way, as well as all their friends. They feel compelled to do it the way most of us feel compelled to brush our teeth.

    As both kids and adults we mirror our environment. Our choices have to a large extent already been made for us. Affirmatively doing something that you're not habituated or accustomed to is exceptionally difficult over the long term, no matter how rich or smart you are.

  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @04:58AM (#47063933)

    Any time you see "education" and "deep South" in the same sentence, it's dog whistle racism. This article is criticizing their scores and compares them to other countries without discrimination. This article is racist and should not even be here.

    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.

    Just keep screaming racism every time you see something that alerts you to a problem within your society, and claim that the article should never have been posted. Thats a very effective way of ensuring that the US continues on the path it is on.

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

    by thaylin ( 555395 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:12AM (#47064143)
    To some of my fellow Americans anything we do is the global norm, to everyone else around the globe, what they do is considered out of the ordinary.
  • Re:No surprises (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:07AM (#47064319) Journal

    Welcome to standardized testing for everyone. They drill the kids on facts because the learning standards testing is primarily fact based. They've forgotten that half the students won't be working a cash register or a driving a hammer or pipe wrench, and have completely eliminated critical thinking as a skill - mainly because it's not an easy-to-test condition. 70% of humans will never understand abstract critical thinking, so its unfair to test everyone on it when the purse strings are attached to 90% pass rates. So they don't test for it, but the panic to hit that 90% threshold means everything becomes secondary to drilling for those tests.

    As you say, there are exceptions. Great teachers, great students, great schools do exist. But the vast majority - the administrations and teachers who just want to keep their jobs to feed their families, and the students (who, let's face it, at 15 or 16) just want to get a good grade and go do something fun the 6 hours they're not locked in school - are streamlining the path of least resistance and maximum results for the path that is laid before them by legislators who have never held a piece of chalk.

  • Re:math? maths? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brulath ( 2765381 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:08AM (#47064325)

    Also, when it comes to language: everything you learn may not remain true indefinitely. Languages evolve constantly, so there's very little point in stressing about it when the language moves in a direction you didn't expect - you're certainly not going to be able to stop it. That and English is constantly breaking its own rules everywhere - you'd be hard pressed to find a page of text that doesn't break some - so worrying about specific instances of it isn't terribly productive.

    Use what you believe is proper $country English whenever writing something formal, and whatever gets your point across when you aren't. I use 'colour' everywhere, as I'm Australian, except for programming, where I exclusively use 'color' to match American English. I don't let it bother me anymore - they're both functionally the same, who cares which form is used? The only time it really matters is if you're writing to be included in a consistent body of work, or you're writing a to impress.

    Note: 'leet speak' and 'text speak' may qualify under "gets your point across", but only if the party you're communicating with can easily understand them without considerable effort. This is fine.

  • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:33AM (#47064429) Homepage

    In reality the real problem is the US's love affair with advertising, it has taken over the US mindscape, it matters not the way things are, all that counts is the way things are seen. Disingenuous distortions flood the US social landscape, where perceived delusions are preferable to reality as long as everyone can be socially forced to agree. Challenge it with truth and reality and you are attacked from every direction, media, politicians, corporations, law enforcement, religious fundamentalist groups etc. Not light attacks but solid and sustained ones including slanders, death threats and even direct violence. In fact the delusion is so great, so accepted, so powerful it is considered un-American to challenge the idea that the US is not number 1 in every regard, whereas the reality is the US is failing in many areas, except in the generation of bullshit, were is most certainly number 1 by a long margin likely beating out the rest of the world combined.

  • I have a series of math text book from the 50's that I bought at a garage sale for $10, when I was homeless high school drop out. I used them to brush up on Algebra Trig and Calculus as preparation for teaching myself higher mathematics, compiler theory, and etc. CS theory. They are far superior to today's mathematics books.

    A few years after me, my younger brother became a sophomore in high school and was struggling with mathematics. I tried to help him with his homework, but the terminology was wickedly alien. I said, "Is this even algebra? What the hell are they on about?" I showed him how to solve the problems using the methods that worked for me but he said, "No, you don't get it, I can't do it that way I have to do it the way my teacher wants or it doesn't count." That's asinine, if the solution fits then it's equivalent. However, I had experience with such oppressive systems myself, so I knew the only thing to do was start from the first chapter and re-learned their bullshit terminology so I could show him the book's particular way of performing and wording the calculation. I realized that the textbook sellers changed the wording and methods of teaching mathematics over the years, not only to yield more book sales for newer curriculum and re-assert copyright anew, but also to make mathematics more in line with the (supposed) way girls learn.

    It's unconscionable for teachers to remain willfully ignorant that boys and girls think differently in general [bbc.co.uk]; Only a complete moron would think that brains were immune to sexual dimorphism that had such drastic effects on the rest of the human body. It was common knowledge that men and women have different personalities in general, but strangely research was lacking in the area of sex differences in behavior. [wikipedia.org] However, the feminist mantra that men and women are not different drowns out opposing facts. [youtube.com] Strange when you consider that they lobbied for changes to the way mathematics and sciences were taught to make them more easy for girls to learn them. Drop the damn stereotyped learning, everyone goes at different rates and different methods are better for different folks, and yes, sexual dimorphism will cause a trend in certain graphs, but that doesn't mean we can't embrace outliers too. Just consider the student as individuals for once: If a boy or girl is having trouble learning via one method, then teach them the other. If that means you wind up more girls or boys in the class that teaches more event based and auditory methods vs visual and hands-on methods then THAT'S OK. If you want to end sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. you have to consider the individual's experience regardless of any group you classify them as being; Stop using identity politics, they only create more inequality in the name of equality.

    The feminists leveraged their sexist ideology and identity politics quite effectively by pointing to the disparity in female enrollment and graduation from college, especially in STEM fields. What they failed to realize is that my mom was in the slide-rule club in high school, and she didn't need sex tailored teaching. Their changes didn't help girls to learn, they merely made it harder for some to learn than others. The textbooks I have from the 50's and 60's teach mathematics in concise and plain terms. They don't use too many ridiculous analogies and mental gymnastics. Word problems weren't a focal point past elementary levels. It wasn't that all girls learn different than all boys, it was that there are different methods to teaching that individuals are better at understanding, and there is a trend in which methods boys and girls favor. However, these changes just muddled the methods and muddied the waters.

    Another problem has been brewing in education for a wile now too: Standardized Testing AKA Poor Penalization.

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

    by Slashdot Parent ( 995749 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:31AM (#47065215)

    Every time the new PISA scores come out, everyone goes apeshit about how the US is lagging behind East Bumfuckistan and how we're going to fall behind in this increasingly high tech world. And I really do mean "every time" the new PISA scores come out, as in they've been saying this since the 1960s [huffingtonpost.com] when international testing began.

    And as we all know, the US has become a desolate wasteland of a third world country since the 1960s, right? Right?

    Or maybe the PISA scores really aren't that important and we can all just relax a bit.

  • Re:Coded Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:35AM (#47065259) Homepage

    Exactly. A ton of effort is being made to change the educational system so "no child is left behind" or so we can "race to the top." However, all of the educational gaps go away when you account for poverty. A poor kid who is worried if he'll get to eat dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow, who is worried that his dad has been out of work for months and they might lose their apartment, who is worried that his older brother had to drop out of school to get a minimum wage job to help support his family... that kid is not going to be very focused on learning. Take away his worries about money/food/etc and he'll do just as well as any other kid who doesn't need to worry about those things.

    But it's easier for the politicians to just blame teachers for not teaching hard enough and then order more high stakes tests to "hold the teachers' feet to the fire" or threaten to shut down public schools because poor kids can go to those expensive private schools instead, right?

  • by Tyler Durden ( 136036 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:48AM (#47066029)

    These methods may come in handy at some point, but in my opinion they're horrid when introducing students to simple arithmetic. Make sure the students have mastered the fundamentals first and only then perhaps introduce them to some parlor tricks.

  • by OrugTor ( 1114089 ) <dmillarhaskell@cox.net> on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:05PM (#47067029)
    Well put. The whole point of Common Core is to generate understanding. The poster above is typical of the reaction we have seen in Arizona. Parents, like the general population, are not too bright and tend to be reactionary about things they think they know. Common Core has been renamed to facilitate acceptance but is encountering steep resistance from parents and politicians. Getting kids to think critically about everything is anathema to the would-be theocracies of the Southwest. tl;dr AZ parents are scared little people, AZ pols are Luddite religiotards. Common Core doomed.

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