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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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  • Coded Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:42AM (#47063105) Homepage

    Morgan Spurlock made the idiotic comment about how Norway is "homogeneous" right before transitioning to his piece on a charter school with minority students who were excelling.

    SES or "Socio-Economic Status" is the most common race bait thrown around in the education system. Anyone who has experience outside the public education system figures out real quick that you can't look at the skin color or bank account of a student to see how well they're doing.

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

    It's just one of the many reasons why despite being certified to teach high school math, I have no intention of ever teaching in a public school. I'm more interested in helping out at my daughter's small private school. My summer project is overhauling their library system. I've already fixed all the laptops as well as they can be. If possible I'd like to go into a part time teaching role to help out.

    The school is filled with students from a variety of racial backgrounds and financial circumstances and oddly enough I can't judge their grades by any of that.

  • Despite quadrupling per-pupil costs of public schools since 1962 [] (inflation-adjusted), the education remains the same or is getting worse. In some particularly well-managed cities, the costs are even higher and the results — even worse [], than national average. This article is about Math, but ability to read remains rather sub-par as well — with only 30% of 8th-graders, for example, considered "proficient" readers [].

    Clearly, we need to spend more money...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:06AM (#47063193)

    I tried to explain the income distribution to a community college student and she had no clue what the hell I was talking about. The one percent can sleep easy knowing fewer and fewer kids even know what a percent is!

  • apples and oranges (Score:2, Interesting)

    by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:11AM (#47063207)

    The US is doing about average for OECD on math (and other areas), which isn't bad given the large number of immigrants and diversity of students and backgrounds. And given that our public school system is not all that different from public school systems in those other countries, we shouldn't expect ours to perform any better. Are there identifiable groups and regions that are below average in the US? Of course there are. That's true for other large countries as well.

    The US could do better if we did things differently from other OECD nations; if we reduced our reliance on public K-12 schools and encouraged innovation, self-reliance, and diversity of approaches in education. 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.

  • No surprises (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vyse of Arcadia ( 1220278 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:20AM (#47063239)

    From the article:

    Southern states Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are among the weakest performers, with results similar to developing countries such as Kazakhstan and Thailand.

    Yeah, I teach math at a large university in the deep south, and this doesn't surprise me at all. Students are unprepared for college math classes, and I see a lot of behavior that I wouldn't have expected in a math class. For example, I always have students that try to memorize their way through class, mostly in calculus 1. They don't practice any problems, they don't try to understand the material, but they've got flash cards and highlighted notes and sticky tabs out the wazoo.

    It's like they all had a bunch of "study skills" drilled into them in high school and no one ever bothered to explain that these are supposed to aid actually understanding the material. They're so used to just regurgitating things onto tests that I guess a lot of them really do think memorizing is understanding.

    Now I realize the following is just anecdotal, but I know several people who teach high school math throughout the deep south, and all of them say the same thing: they aren't really allowed to teach. School administrators have a death grip on teachers' jobs. Teachers are told what, when, and how to teach the material. They're basically reading scripts. And of course they're all teaching to the state end of course tests too, probably because those are used to measure administrators' performances.

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:37AM (#47063301) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. I've looked at the problems CC curriculum presents as "math".
    The way they lay out and ask you to solve problems is insane. Absolutely and utterly BONKERS (and not in a good way).

    If you think the US is bad at math NOW, wait until CC has had a few cycles to sink its hooks in.

    You're going to have people actively HATING math in a way that'd be ludicrous even today.
    And these people who'd be able to solve even a SIMPLE concrete math problem to save their lives.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:44AM (#47063339)

    I was hired to develop a fairly large scale Common Core platform. I walked away out of disgust once I reviewed the actual content. The U.S. public education system has problems, and from my experience, Common Core is /not/ the solution.

  • by stenvar ( 2789879 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:00AM (#47063401)

    Actually, I didn't pay that much attention to the hype in the article, I read the actual report. I suggest you do too.

    If you actualy read the report, you'll see that PISA performance across US states is as widespread as math performance across European nations, and our national average is little different from averages of other large OECD nations. Therefore, the US isn't actually "failing" or "in denial". We have a European-style public education system for K-12, and it delivers European-style mediocre results.

  • by Your.Master ( 1088569 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:55AM (#47063543)

    Well...I'm afraid that's just wrong (and a very US-centric way of looking at the world).

    The "classic" 7 continents model (and the less-common-in-the-anglosphere models with fewer than 7 continents) doesn't include Central America, which can be part of the confusion, but Central America is pretty well accepted to mean all the mainland between Mexico and Colombia. The 7 continents model generally splits North and South America at Panama (either in the country or on one of its borders), thus most or all of Central America is actually the southern tip of North America, with possibly a little bit being the northern tip of South America.

    There is basically no disagreement that the US is part of North America. Or even Mexico.

    Central America is definitely not a synonym for America. 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.

    * in English; this is somewhat disputed in part on the basis that it's confusing, in part on the basis that some consider it an insulting synecdoche that erases most of the continent, and in part because nerds like to deconstruct words and figure out what they "should" mean etymologically rather than what they do mean; but it's hard to dispute that it's used as a synonym and that it has historical precedent.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:07AM (#47063579)

    The US is Number One! Anyone who disagrees is a communist!
    The US has an insanely powerful culture of avoiding self-criticism.

  • by DNS-and-BIND ( 461968 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:45AM (#47063693) Homepage

    I see that nobody has mentioned the elephant in the room. That's expected...otherwise it wouldn't be an elephant. Let's use critical thinking and examine the words used: "in parts of the deep south of the United States".

    It means African-Americans. 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. Shame, shame on Slashdot editors.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @05:22AM (#47063999)

    I've had a few good teachers, and am married to one in the 9-12, so I'm going to be a chicken and post anonymously. A few responses to your post:

    1. Regarding your union comment, while I don't know the veracity facts you are stating: Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    2. A certain percentage are a big fan of the teachers union, but by and large it's as big of a hinderance as the bloated administration. They are thought of as the same thing by those involved, it's all the administration really.

    3. Every time I talk to a teacher admire, they tell me a variant of the same thing: I need decent parents. Not money, equipment, computers, etc: just decent parents involved with their kids.

    I'm pretty sure the article could be interpreted to as more evidence to support #3, especially when you consider how wealthy kids here were doing worse than other places: the parents are not involved. This is a serious problem, and isn't entirely about socio-economics (eg, mom working 2 jobs so can't help a kid with homework might be an example) and a lot of it to do with culture that has taken hold in some of the groups that are struggling the hardest in the scores.

    I'm not sure it's solvable without solving some of the behaviors and attitudes that have developed: and things like railing on the tests is often just having to avoid talking about that which perpetuates things.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:02AM (#47064303) Journal

    deny our performance relative to the rest of the world?

    We deny the age of the earth.
    We deny the existence of climate change or global warming and man's effect on it.
    We deny the concentration of wealth and power among a few and its potential and real harm.
    I could go on...


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

    by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:51AM (#47064523)

    My parents never read much to us children (I can't even remember them reading to us once), but we grew up reading huge amounts of books ourselves. On the other hand, my father was reading a book all the time

    And that last sentence is the key! If your parents read, it's very likely you will read.

    Likewise, if your parents despise learning, that's what they'll teach you.

    Which no doubt accounts for at least some of the problem. I remember when the idea of an education was being derided as "acting white" in some circles.

  • Re:No surprises (Score:4, Interesting)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:58AM (#47065513)

    And of course they're all teaching to the state end of course tests too, probably because those are used to measure administrators' performances.

    Parent of 3 school-age kids here, and this right here really bugs the bejeebers out of me. For normal school tests, the ones that count for my own kids grades during the year, and their own ability to get into college, etc., I don't hear a peep out of a teacher ever. I don't even know they are happening unless I interrogate my kids every day.

    But when those EOI tests [] come around, which are important for the teachers and schools but don't do squat for my own kids, they damn sure let me know all about it! I get voicemails. I get emails. I get robocalls. Their grandparents get called. I messages sent home with the kids. All informing me how important it is that this one day they get lots of sleep and a good morning breakfast.(!) Even worse, the kids come home all stressed about it, so I know the teachers have been beating on them about it at school too. Over a test that doesn't help them at all.

    This is actually one of the "better" school districts in the state too. But after a 15 years of this, its pretty clear that the system is not set up in a way that makes my kid's grades a priority for the school or for their teachers. Its gotten to the point that I've set the caller picture for the school's robo-calls to the album cover for Queen's News of the World [], so I can instantly recognize them.

  • by cryptizard ( 2629853 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:30AM (#47065847)
    That subtraction example has been going around to "prove" that common core is hard/stupid, but it is very disingenuous. Of course for that particular case it is easy to do the "grade school" subtraction. However, when you get to more complicated numbers it becomes very non-intuitive. You can teach kids to do the "borrowing" from the next column, and they will be able to do it, but they won't understand why they are doing it, which is a bad precedent to set.

    I guarantee you that everyone who works with math on a daily basis already does subtraction the "common core" way in their head. In fact, tellers have been doing it for decades! If you give someone $20 for $8 worth of goods, they say "nine, ten, and twenty" when handing you your change. It is the exact same thing. Additionally, doing it that way sneakily introduces you to some concepts of algebra. It also adapts better to other domains where "subtracting" doesn't really make sense, but "finding the difference" does i.e. euclidean space.

    For your division example, I am sure that is not the end of the unit. That is a great way to understand the concept of division, you can't argue with that. Of course you need to know the shortcut way to do it, but if you learn just that then you won't really be learning division, you will just be learning an algorithm which gives you the answer. Can you not see how this way is better? Just because you did it a certain way when you were in school doesn't mean it is one way, or even the right way, to learn it.
  • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:57AM (#47066169)

    As I understand it, the problem that CC is trying to solve is that most kids don't have a gut-level understanding of what numbers actually *mean*.

    I went to school with a lot of people that just memorized the rules, but didn't really have a feel for them. And so when the circumstances changed they couldn't adjust the rules to deal with the new circumstances. (Dealing with binary or hex, for example. Or curved space, or alternate coordinate systems.)

    So with CC they're trying to give kids a more intuitive feel for numbers. That said, the alternate techniques are supposed to be *in addition* to the ones that we all learned, not instead of them. And the alternate techniques are not as efficient as the traditional techniques (which are optimized for the common case) but they're more flexible. So some questions (like those involving large numbers) don't mesh well with techniques involving counting/drawing/reordering/etc.

    Lastly, some of the issues are due to bad question design, bad teaching, etc. We've got centuries of experience teaching the traditional techniques, not so much with the new stuff.

  • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:57AM (#47066181) Journal

    I think advertising is only one of the symptoms, a part of a pattern of lies and bull. We've made educational achievement worth less than it used to be. Kids aren't stupid. When they see the straight A student not getting the job, the girl or boy, or any kind of reward, and indeed see this student vilified for being nerdy, spoiling the curve, and making everyone else look bad, what are they to think? At least the hate shows that people value intelligence if only in a backhanded way. But then the nice jobs go to the bosses' relatives and friends, the football coach is the highest paid employee of the school system, the teachers (many of whom were themselves poor achievers when they were the students) show jealousy and prejudice against intelligence, and many rich kids behave horribly and irresponsibly, maybe getting high and drunk and accidentally mowing down a hapless pedestrian with their high end sports car, and are let off easy. As adults, many move on to Wall Street, cheat and make a killing, then when the economy crashes, buffalo the entire nation into letting bygones be bygones because they're Too Big To Fail. Meanwhile, the intelligent kids who make a mistake get the book thrown at them because they're smart and should have known better.

    There still has to be a pretense of a reason for making an unfair decision, but the veneer is pretty see-through thin.

  • by JD-1027 ( 726234 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:00PM (#47066971)
    I completely disagree with this. It is way more important to break stuff up first, that way when you get to the quick and simple method, you know what is going on underneath. I have a 2nd grader who's been doing common core now for a couple years and I'm seeing this stuff every day.

    First, they are showing how these numbers break down. They are getting these minds to break things apart into their parts. They can see what makes up these numbers. They are showing them the tricks you can do to shift numbers around, and pull things apart. They are getting their minds a deeper view of numbers.

    They did the same thing with language. They treated spelling a lot like math. Their spelling words were mostly NOT memorized. They applied rules to words. Some of these rules got complicated, but it was a formula to break words apart and apply rules. Think about it, how dumb is it to just memorize every word in English, when 80% are rule driven... just memorize the last 20%. Their spelling tests had a section on the 20% that could only be memorized.

    I'm surprised every day that slashdotters don't praise common core. I'm guessing it is because they see a single example and aren't seeing the big picture that us parents see. They are driving these little minds to logic!
  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:06PM (#47067039) Homepage

    This isn't a matter of Facebook posts. The second example I give is one my own son encountered. I've dealt with this all year with both of my boys - one in 1st grade and one in 5th grade. I often understand just what the point of the exercise is, but the way they are phrased and the methods they require the students to use lead to confusion and frustration.

I've noticed several design suggestions in your code.