"Why Americans Stink at Math" . . (way OT)


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Balcarce, Argentina
Aug 5, 2014 - 09:11pm PT
Yeah, the first study Ed posted had something interesting to say, but it is not a study of "the American educational system" or how elitist it is, since, for example, data from private schools is not even considered. What the study tries to do is look at certain predictors for why a kid in public school takes advanced math classes. The fact that the study finds, for example, that parental values (expectations is the word used) are more important than socio-economic class when it comes to predicting participation in advanced math classes in public schools does not suprise me so much. Of course, as the study says, parental expectations are indirectly related to socio-economic class, so some care must be taken to separate these two. The study also found that previous success in mathematics courses was another important predictor for taking more advanced classes, again no huge surprise. Strangely enough, after the study reports that parental values are an important predictor, it then suggests that schools can somehow fill in the gap, for disadvantaged students. I don't see much in the study to suggest that this might be true.

Aug 5, 2014 - 09:28pm PT
The laws of mathematics never initiate the actions but only describe the modes of interactions.

It is the life force itself which is source and cause of mathematics ....

Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 5, 2014 - 10:40pm PT
I don't have any statistics available, but I would be willing to bet cold, hard cash (say odds 2 to 1) that for the vast majority, the US education (in math) is significantly worse than average (worldwide), but that for the top, say, 5% in terms of socio-economic class, US education is significantly better than the average (worldwide). I don't know if this means that US education is "elitist" but it does mean that it is is hugely favored towards the people who come from the highest socio-economic class.

While I suspect this is true, I think a similar statement could be made about a lot of other things, such as the US health care system. I, like Yanqui don't know if this makes our education system elitist. And even if it is, there are various degrees of "elitist". I'll give an example (or anecdote if you prefer):

I suppose one could say the high school where I teach is "elite". Mostly affluent, mostly white (with a large population of Asian kids, relatively small group of black kids, and a growing population of Latino kids), very high performance on standardized tests (we had something like 28 National Merit semi-finalists last year), lots of kids go on to elite colleges. . . In the last few years, the Latino population has shown the most improvement on math scores on standardized tests, of any group. (I know standardized tests don't measure everything, but they do measure something.) We now have Latino students open enrolling into our school (perhaps as much as 30% of our kids come from out of the school's attendance area through open enrollment), same as other groups. They take our advanced math courses, maybe not at the same rate as the Asian kids who generally kick ass in math, but nonetheless this is a growing and positive phenomenon. Last year I recommended a female student for AP Calculus, whose parents are from Mexico and do not speak English. She hopes to be a doctor someday. (You have to admit MS55401, that is an uplifting anecdote.)

What does that say about my school and its status as an "elite" high school? I'm not sure, but I am very proud that kids from families that would not be described as "elite" in any socioeconomic sense, have access to an "elite" education and in many cases are thriving at my school. This would not occur in a truly "elitist" education system.

Social climber
joshua tree
Aug 5, 2014 - 11:04pm PT

I suppose one could say the high school where I teach is "elite".

If you all have the same books and are teaching the same information, what makes for a good school vs. a bad school? Is it the character of the school, or the teachers, or the style of teaching, etc. that motivates the children to want to learn more?

I wonder why my daughters school is a #2 on the Calif. learning chart, while 20miles down the road another school is a #9? A #10 being the best.

Balcarce, Argentina
Aug 6, 2014 - 03:12am PT
That's the spirit wbw. IMO public education needs teachers with your kind of attitude.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
Maestro, Ecosystem Ministry, Fatcrackistan
Aug 6, 2014 - 06:57am PT
It seems patently obvious that socioeconomic status affects both the school's readiness to teach and the student's ability to learn. Also the participation of the parents has a huge impact too.

In fact it takes a village to raise a child. If one lives in a shithole expect shithole schools. There will be exceptions of course, but if the citizens of a given school district simply don't give a sh#t, and there are millions of such people, then the schools will reflect that attitude right back to the citizens.

I would say that failures in American education system are not due to government nor teacher malfeasance. There is no single point of failure, no one thing you can point to and say, "ah HA, there's the problem!"

It is a lack of will and a lack of priority.

My only stake in this debate is that of a reasonably intelligent parent with two high school grad children. Oh and the fact that I or their mother were at most every parent/teacher meeting since kindergarten through 12th grade. In kindergarten, a lot (not all) of parents show up for school participation in various forms. By 8th grade parental participation seems to have dropped off significantly, but it also seems High School is where a lot of parents stop participating at all.

So for parent/teacher night in the 12th, when we visited each teacher for a few minutes of what they had going on, etc. and there were maybe 5-7 parents attending each meeting, for class sizes of 30 or more.

Normal, I suspect and my parents weren't much different in this realm. I was a good student but I strayed in High School and they were asleep at the switch.

I think involved parents who set high expectations of their kids, make the key difference and the lack of involvement, for whatever reasons good or bad, leads to a degradation of the school system itself.

Parents..... and their kids. It all starts there. A public school system cannot fix a bad parent through the child. Of course a good educator can make a huge difference even there, one kid at a time. But a school system can't do that.



Trad climber
'cross the great divide
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 6, 2014 - 11:43am PT
That's the spirit wbw. IMO public education needs teachers with your kind of attitude.

Thanks Yanqui. That is a very nice compliment.

I think one of the ideas behind the Common Core (at least as it is playing out in my district) is that kids will have the same book, and that all classes are at more-or-less the same place, so that a student could move from one school to another, and get the same academic experience at any time. But this defies Common Sense.

At my school, we have an International Baccalaureate program, and have for years. That program pulls in hundreds of kids from out of the school attendance area. Because it is such a challenging program, most of those kids have done well before open enrolling into my school. This has the effect of helping my school to attract and retain good teachers, because the parent population demands it and because teachers want to teach students like this. This has an additional effect of attracting (mostly) good administrators. I have seen poor administrators run out of my school by teacher pressure. We have an administration that is very creative in problem solving, and actually supports creative methods in the classroom, even though many of us are more traditional in our methods than not.

Some in my district are critical of my school, saying that we "steal" their best kids from other schools.

Well, to that I respond that you can sit on your ass and wallow in mediocrity, or you can get up and get to work on giving kids the best possible education that you can, however you can. At my school, it is considered cool to be smart amongst the kids, so this also has a very broad and positive effect on the learning environment.

Dingus, you hit the ball out of the park on that last post. Parents and their appropriate involvement in their kid's education has BY FAR the biggest positive effect on their kid's education. BY FAR . . .
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 6, 2014 - 12:39pm PT
I believe the first study says that access to more math classes is the strongest correlative to success in advanced math. They also observe that students learn math at school, not at home. Parental expectations correlate, not parental tutoring.

The second study correlates student performance with the school'a SES and finds that "poor" schools indicate poor student performance. The first study also makes the observation that in poor schools the number of math classes available to the students is less than "rich" schools.

At least one of the ideas is to bring the curriculum to a standard for all schools. Presuming local, state and federal support for that standard which includes funding.

I believe both studies are optimistic regarding the remedy, which is adequate support for schools to offer more math classes.

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Aug 12, 2014 - 09:42pm PT
Top Math Prize Has Its First Female Winner



Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 11, 2014 - 02:11pm PT
Although I have been arguing that at least some aspects of the common core seem to make sense, the nature of its implementation seems to be a burgeoning problem, and much (but not all) of the frustration expressed here relate to the destructive side-effects of an evaluation-driven culture.

Yes, we still have the problem that some people, even and sometimes especially those with technical backgrounds, really don't understand mathematics and seem incapable of fathoming the difference between rote algorithmic competence and anything recognizable as understanding. That said, the destructive effects of current education policies on good teaching are becoming increasingly evident. The following letter of resignation from a social studies teacher captures many of the issues:

Source: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/11/10/1343935/-Teacher-s-resignation-letter-My-profession-no-longer-exists?detail=email

Mr. Casey Barduhn, Superintendent
Westhill Central School District
400 Walberta Park Road
Syracuse, New York 13219

Dear Mr. Barduhn and Board of Education Members:

It is with the deepest regret that I must retire at the close of this school year, ending my more than twenty-seven years of service at Westhill on June 30, under the provisions of the 2012-15 contract. I assume that I will be eligible for any local or state incentives that may be offered prior to my date of actual retirement and I trust that I may return to the high school at some point as a substitute teacher.

As with Lincoln and Springfield, I have grown from a young to an old man here; my brother died while we were both employed here; my daughter was educated here, and I have been touched by and hope that I have touched hundreds of lives in my time here. I know that I have been fortunate to work with a small core of some of the finest students and educators on the planet.

I came to teaching forty years ago this month and have been lucky enough to work at a small liberal arts college, a major university and this superior secondary school. To me, history has been so very much more than a mere job, it has truly been my life, always driving my travel, guiding all of my reading and even dictating my television and movie viewing. Rarely have I engaged in any of these activities without an eye to my classroom and what I might employ in a lesson, a lecture or a presentation. With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.

A long train of failures has brought us to this unfortunate pass. In their pursuit of Federal tax dollars, our legislators have failed us by selling children out to private industries such as Pearson Education. The New York State United Teachers union has let down its membership by failing to mount a much more effective and vigorous campaign against this same costly and dangerous debacle. Finally, it is with sad reluctance that I say our own administration has been both uncommunicative and unresponsive to the concerns and needs of our staff and students by establishing testing and evaluation systems that are Byzantine at best and at worst, draconian. This situation has been exacerbated by other actions of the administration, in either refusing to call open forum meetings to discuss these pressing issues, or by so constraining the time limits of such meetings that little more than a conveying of information could take place. This lack of leadership at every level has only served to produce confusion, a loss of confidence and a dramatic and rapid decaying of morale. The repercussions of these ill-conceived policies will be telling and shall resound to the detriment of education for years to come. The analogy that this process is like building the airplane while we are flying would strike terror in the heart of anyone should it be applied to an actual airplane flight, a medical procedure, or even a home repair. Why should it be acceptable in our careers and in the education of our children?

My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.

After writing all of this I realize that I am not leaving my profession, in truth, it has left me. It no longer exists. I feel as though I have played some game halfway through its fourth quarter, a timeout has been called, my teammates’ hands have all been tied, the goal posts moved, all previously scored points and honors expunged and all of the rules altered.

For the last decade or so, I have had two signs hanging above the blackboard at the front of my classroom, they read, “Words Matter” and “Ideas Matter”. While I still believe these simple statements to be true, I don’t feel that those currently driving public education have any inkling of what they mean.

Sincerely and with regret,

Gerald J. Conti
Social Studies Department Leader

Nov 11, 2014 - 02:30pm PT
I took math up to Vector Calculus. I rarely even use algebra. I use recursion every now and then in programming. Why do we need to learn all this math anyway? If I need to use it, I look it up on the internet. College isn't even necessary these days. Skip the debt, learn what you need to know on the job or taking online classes. I'm way ahead of my friends who went all in for the phd. They are still living in grass huts and complaining about privilege.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Nov 11, 2014 - 02:39pm PT
Why do we need to learn all this math anyway?

You never know when you might want to go back to school and get a degree in
physics or rocket science, do you? So who the hell is taking all this math?
Clearly a lot more are taking it than getting it. Most Americans are still
completely mystified by compound interest.

"How did my credit card balance get so high?"

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 11, 2014 - 02:42pm PT
My favorite math prof when I was an undergrad at Berkeley, Hung-Hsi Wu, has co-authored a couple of opinion pieces for the Wall Street Journal in support of the Common Core math standards, so it's been hard for me to dismiss them. Unfortunately, as you point out, Richie, the implementation seems to leave much to be desired.

The letter you copied hits hard, but it ignores a lot of the symptoms that led to the destructive trends about which its writer complains. In particular, employers outside (and, I suspect, even inside to a certain extent) academia find educational credentials meaningless. A high school or college diploma carries with it no reasonable expectation of any particular knowledge or skill.

Frustrated employers started demanding some evidence that graduates demonstrate certain minimum skills and knowledge. Those same employers concluded that neither grades nor graduation gave the desired assurance. The standardized tests and curricula were a ham-handed attempt to convey the desired assurance.

I find it particularly interesting that many professions with demanding postgraduate educational requirments still administer tests outside of those administered in school. Lawyers must deal with bar exams, physicians with board certifications, etc. Why don't I hear law or medical faculty decrying the influence of those tests?

In contrast, I see school districts misusing test results to judge value - when we should measure educators by their value added - and teachers railing against outside testing rather than the misuse of those tests. I find it quite telling that the writer complains that the unions don't do enough to fight the imposition of those outside standards and measurements, but makes no demand that the unions propose something better.

When teachers organize to promote better teaching, rather than to oppose burdensome or insulting requirements, we can hope for real progress. Until then, I'm not holding my breath for better American performance in math, or in education generally.



Nov 11, 2014 - 02:56pm PT
All these so called math guys who think they're smart are actually stooopid.

They all have to hire guys that know no math to do all their work for them since all they know is one dimensional ....

Trad climber
Fresno CA
Nov 11, 2014 - 03:12pm PT
Now wait a minute, Werner! Just because mere arithmetic differs from "real" math is no reason to criticize mathematicians.

I must admit, though, that one undergraduate linear algebra midterm at Berkeley had four numeric answers, all of which I got wrong because I was too hasty and sloppy in my arithmetic, and the prof still gave me 100% because my methods were right.


Trad climber
Nov 11, 2014 - 04:06pm PT
Big controversy here in Oregon this week because kids are being traumatized by taking tests.

It seems they are expected to actually know some math.

Social climber
Nov 11, 2014 - 04:19pm PT
hey there say johnEleazarian and all...

i just recently got curious, about an abacus... as, i had seen one at someones house, as a kid...

somehow, i 'ran' into one, one the web and looked up more about it, to read-up on them...

such an old time, 'always been around' hardy thing, :) as to basics, :))

so, i practiced a bit online and then went and got one from amazon...
for me, that goes 'blank' at math, and transposes various combo letters or numbers... THIS was just beads... so i thought i'd give a go...

oddly, it is working out nice (though i HAD to put a few markers, scratches, on it, so i do not 'flip' my vision of it)...

well, it is helping me sort the thoughts in my head... expecailly when i have to subtract... i need to REDO the beads...
have to take out ONE pretty bead and put back TWO pretty beads on the other stick, so that i will have ENOUGH neat little beads to subtract with ...

once in a while i get stuck on which pole to adjust, but, i reckon, so far, as FAR left, as you need to...

i practice on my check book, which is already figured out, as to what i have taken out, etc... for to see if i get the beads right...

onward and upward, ... not sure how much it is helping my MATH but it sure is helping my brain and i do see in pictures, anyway, so i 'don't panic' at the numbers... :O

wish my daddy was still alive, somehow, i think he'd have enjoyed this
adventure of mine... :)



oh, there is also this one, too:

Trad climber
Nov 11, 2014 - 05:06pm PT
All these so called math guys who think they're smart are actually stooopid.
photo not found
Missing photo ID#386021

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Nov 11, 2014 - 06:21pm PT
Neebee's story about the abacus reminds me about the origins of calculus. Not the subject, the name. All you medical types know that a calculus is a stone (usually or perhaps always a kidney stone). And that is the original meaning of the word, stone or pebble.

Although Asians were clever enough to put beads on a stick, Greek and Roman merchants reckoned with pebbles manipulated in grooves in the dirt in the same way as the abacus is used. The same fundamental concepts of place value that eventually led to Arabic numeration were present in those pebble systems. And the manipulation of pebbles, of calculi, became associated with having a system for obtaining mathematical results, so much so that it seems only the medical world continues to use calculus in something like its original sense. For the rest of us, calculus and its associated term calculate are mathematical notions.

In the spirit of a return to ancient times, one apparently embraced by the American electorate, I propose that henceforward the Stonemasters be referred to as the Calculusmasters.

Balcarce, Argentina
Nov 11, 2014 - 06:45pm PT
All these so called math guys who think they're smart are actually stooopid. Blah blah ... all they know is one dimensional

Mathematicians may be stooopid, but at least they're smart enough to know that some of the most interesting questions in analysis actually occur in infinitely many dimensions.
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