You will never use this math again

One of my favorite e-mail pals is local math teacher Ken Sprague, Sr.

Here is a piece that he wrote for the education page in Monday’s AJC.

Enjoy and let’s discuss.

“Will I ever use this stuff?”

An honest answer for the vast majority of high school math students is “You probably won’t.”

That question and answer highlights the dilemma of secondary math education: connecting real-world social and economic benefit to the increasingly rigorous math curriculum taught in the high school classroom.

I teach high school math. My teaching career began as a social commitment after building a successful business.

I can’t remember one time during my business career that I used what I now teach to average high school students.
Imaginary numbers, conic sections, and rational functions aren’t the stuff of financial statements, contract negotiations, cash-flow and marketing.

Employer surveys suggest that my experience is commonplace. Robert Lerman, an economics professor and Urban Institute fellow, was quoted in a recent AJC “Learning Curve” column: “Despite the thrust to require algebra II in high school, only 0.09 percent (less than one in a thousand) of workplaces use it.”

Against that backdrop, the Georgia Department of Education heavily invested in the rollout over the past several years of new math standards (Math I, et al) that far exceed the scope and expectations of algebra II. The new math standards are hyped as integral to a “world-class education,” a nebulous phrase, tough to quantify, but having great public relations value.

The world-class education is to be a 21st-century “jobs machine!” Of course, there’s no way to accurately project future job growth due to the new math curriculum.

There is only puffery.

Unknown are the relative impacts of globalization draining jobs, the level of local business investment creating jobs and, significantly, the actual employer need for greater workforce math skills. The new math standards might prove out as a case of “all dressed up with no place to go.”

We do have algebra II as a touchstone for potential future workforce needs: If we equate workplaces to workers, a wildly optimistic ten-fold increase in workplaces requiring only algebra II would add fewer than one-in-100 workers to the workforce.

A more realistic two-fold increase in algebra II-workplaces adds one-in-500 workers to the workforce. That’s not a jobs machine.

Jobs-machine or not, inside the schoolhouse the new curriculum will exacerbate the achievement gap. Two distinct tracks — accelerated and non-accelerated — are built into the instructional system; the accelerated track operates at a 50 percent faster clip. In practice Accelerated Math I & II covers in two years the same content as [non-accelerated] Math I, II & III covers in three years. Hence, an achievement gap is a built-in feature of the two distinct tracks of math instruction. Kids entering the program behind fall farther behind.

On racially and economically diverse campuses, the two disparate classrooms with disparate expectations disproportionately divide along the lines of the usual suspects; white and affluent students in Accelerated Math I; Black, Latino, and poor students in Math I. In one example of which I’m particularly aware, only 2 percent of the school’s freshmen black males were enrolled in the accelerated track.

How did we arrive at this point in education? Per Lerman, “We have evolved into this highly academic-based system for all students.” A “college readiness” program for all students.

Never mind that the Core Curriculum of the University System of Georgia requires only three math units of the 60 core units required for graduation; 57 other units potentially benefit more from developed language and critical thinking skills. (Certain degree programs and departments do require additional math credits.)

I’m not advocating an end to math, only an end to math for math’s sake. I am advocating for the option of a high school curriculum of more rigorous “practical math.”

Preparing children for real-life is or at least should be the goal of education.

That requires connecting the curricular dots with demonstrated real-life needs. The first objective assessment of the new math curriculum will arrive with the 2012 SAT and ACT scores; the first cohort to complete the new high school curriculum.

Gauging the effectiveness of the jobs-machine will come much later, perhaps several generations later. In the meantime, kids will spend as much as 25 percent or more of the school day in a curriculum that might prove useless to real-life.

–From Maureen D0wney, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

103 comments Add your comment

math 88

October 18th, 2009
7:50 am

Thank you so much for this article. I teach 8th grade math, which has really been ramped up over the past few years. At the end of the school year last year, after all the testing was over, the inequalities, the systems of equations, the point slope formula, etc had been taught and according to our test scores, mastered- I gave a simple end of the year scavenger hunt sort of thing I found on the internet to my top level students. To my chagrin, many of the students who had exceeded on the CRCT, who could find the solution to a system of equations that most adults would look at and shake their heads in confusion, could not find the price of a 50 dollar shirt if it was 30% off. Talk about a sobering moment. This is where our standards have gotten us. It’s a disservice. Truly it is.

sped teacher bibb

October 18th, 2009
8:13 am

Just another example of how we have gotten off track. What happened to practicle education and learning life skills?

ajh

October 18th, 2009
8:18 am

As a high school physics teacher (in a county that requires a year of physics for graduation), I get this question all the time, too- “When will I ever use this stuff again?!.” Yes, the fact is that very few of them will ever use the specific physics knowledge that they learn, other than those who go on to become engineers or take physics as their one-year science credit in college. However, in learning to solve physics problems, there is an analytical thinking process that I feel they will truly benefit from and can apply to other situations in later careers down the road and even other avenues of their life. That (and the incredibly broad, slightly unrealistic scope of curriculum that we’re asked to teach) is what makes the class so difficult, but it also makes it rewarding in the long-term.

what's best for kids???

October 18th, 2009
8:47 am

And yet mastering simple sentences and spelling seems to be something that is not high on the list of priorities. Huh. I wonder how many jobs require those skills? I’m thinking all of them. What ever happened to people being able to form complete, correctly phrased thoughts?
Although my typos seem to get the best of me sometimes, when I look at the sentence functions produced on this blog, my hear hurts. Why is English and Language mastery not emphasized?

TW

October 18th, 2009
9:20 am

Great article! Practical application! Research based practical application!

Here’s another – physically fit kids perform better academically. Forget for a moment the enormous cost obesity bring to both the individual and society. From an educational standpoint, nothing would position our students better for this new century than a rigorous, daily physical education program at every level. Check out Naperville, Ill when you get a chance.

Joseph B

October 18th, 2009
9:28 am

Under Cox math has become the new religion of the state. It’s just plain silly. I’m a writer in public relations. I once worked as a tax examiner for the IRS. I hold two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree. I don’t have a clue what my ninth grader is being asked to do in math. It’s just plain silly and absolutely useless.
He has to spend so many hours on math it leaves less time for him to work on other subjects. The new math standard in Georgia is just plain junk. A waste of time. Forty percent of students failed the math CRCT. Cox has failed to establish a useful curriculum for math but she’s allowed to push this on every student.
High school needs a return to practical math that teaches basic everyday problem solving. Leave the advanced, complex math as an elective for the faithful who dream of careers in chemistry or rocket science.

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trying hard to be patient

October 18th, 2009
10:38 am

I thank my lucky stars everyday that both my children have finished and graduated before the “New” Math began. All I’ve been hearing at my daughter’s high school(she is a Senior) is that it is too hard and too confusing. Even AP and Honors students are not understanding this “New” Math so you can imagine how confusing and difficult it is for the parents.

Gwinnett Parent

October 18th, 2009
10:46 am

The new math is just weird. My daughter had a simple assignment the other day. However, she had a hard time doing it correctly, because she was “hung up” on creating 4 different ways to create an equation and arrive at the same number. She is in 1st grade. I had to re-teach Math to her. The assignment involved determining place values and addition. She did not want to hear it from me, because I am just mom with a dual Business degree and several advanced level Math courses under my belt. If we could just keep things simple and straight forward, I am sure that our children would do a lot better in Math.

We can argue that we will never use Advanced Math in practical application. However, Math has haunted me several times in my adult life. In my career as a Real Estate Investor, I have used the following;

1) 30 year amortization of a mortgage. This requires an equation, which is beyond Algebra II, and was learned in a senior level college Finance class.
2) Determining net present value of an investment or compounded interest. To truly understand an investment, Math beyond Algebra II is useful.
3) Thought Geometry was useless, until I had to calculate material on projects. Try building a fancy deck with out Geometry or determining whether the roofer is ripping you off when you discuss roof pitch. It is interesting, carpenters, which usually do not have 4 yr degrees use a lot of Geometry.
4) I used a lot of advanced Math in my upper level Finance courses. Arbitrage and stock valuations can go beyond the level of Algebra II. My major also required a senior level Economics course, which involved Calculus. It is hard to imagine getting a 4-yr Business degree with out Algebra II.
5) Operations Management-Determining maximum and minimum values, and how to get the most out of an employee. Statistics and Calculus was required before taking a class in Operations Management. My husband is studying for a certificate in Green Belt Management. I read the books, and there are a lot of Statistics.

jd

October 18th, 2009
11:01 am

Can’t see the forrest for the trees, eh? The whole purpose of an esoteric and sophisticated mathematics and science curriculum is to encourage students to THINK like mathematicians and scientists. The scientific method has improved civilization; its practice must be encouraged. Just getting a job–the plight of the anti-intellectuals–is not enough. If these people are going to be producers in society, not just parasites, then they need to learn HOW to think.

tim from vietnam

October 18th, 2009
11:06 am

geometry teaches reasoning
physics teaches the concept of a model while advanced math enables one to use models
chemistry and biology teach evolution
social science teaches scepticism
physical education and the the arts teach respect for ones self and fellow man
philosophy and comparative religion teach contemplation

why learn to read or write? cell phones and TV are fine
why learn statistics? no one is going to lie
why learn to balance accounts? the government will replenish them

why stay in the USA? the pickings get easier every day

Old Physics Teacher

October 18th, 2009
11:10 am

As another physics teacher let me present another perspective. While going over a “regular” 10th grade student’s homework where I asked the student to “explain” her answer in writing, she responded in three sentences. At least she called them sentences. Not one of the three written “sentences” was error free. When I showed her that “their” was possessive, and “there” was descriptive her response was, “Oh. I always get those confused.” I was taught the difference in elementary school and NEVER made the mistake afterwards… and I can assure you, I wasn’t a top-flight student, far from it. My favorite class was recess.

Like Mr. Sprague, I’m not a professional teacher. I’m a retread from the business community. The only response I can think of when my students ask me THE question is, “It’ll be on the end of course test, or it’ll be on the graduation test.” Most of the material we’re teaching is preparatory for a quality education in engineering. The only problem is, we don’t need that many engineers. We need workers who can do simple math 100 percent correct 100 percent of the time. We need workers who can write a letter-to-the- editor with no grammatical errors.

Old Physics Teacher

October 18th, 2009
11:33 am

Gwinnett Parent,

You just made my case for me. I learned amortization in high school in an algebra II course back in the early 60’s. This course wasn’t required, but my parents wanted me to take the toughest courses. Now I hated every minute of it, but I did learn… simply because if I didn’t, my parents would wear out the backside of my pants. I repeat: it was taught in high school. It isn’t a college-level course. If parents would take control of the boards of education and stop the drive of EVERYBODY being REQUIRED to take the more difficult courses, teachers could spend more time making sure EVERYBODY got a BASIC education instead of putting calculators in kids’ hands before the kids know exactly what a calculator can do. Afterwards, if the student (and his/her parents) WANTED to take the tougher courses, he/she could.

Oh, by the way, only the top framing carpenters need geometry. You can identify them easily. They’re the guys running the crew. They’re the guys with the most tools on their tool belt. You only need one per crew. The old “saw” about too many cooks….

You want your children to learn everything they can so they’ll be prepared for any eventuality. You are to be praised for that. I would love to teach your children. To have a concerned parent is every teacher’s dream. But that should be YOUR responsibility – not the schools. There is another old saw about the horse and drinking… it holds true.

Sherman Dorn

October 18th, 2009
11:39 am

Bad reasoning here. It’s one thing to understand students need to see the value in a subject and another thing to give up the ghost if you can’t come up with an answer on the spot. If we apply the same reasoning to athletic training as I see in this op-ed or the comments, we should stop all high school athletes from any practice that isn’t a scrimmage. But that’s a foolish idea either in coaching or in teaching academic subjects. As Cameron Bauer explains, people don’t engage in weight training because they expect they’ll need to know how to bench-press 150 pounds on the field or court. Athletes do weight training because most training is outside the immediate context of the competition’s demands but still useful. Same with math. Maybe if more adults understood proportions, they wouldn’t be as likely to be stuck with credit cards with horrid interest rates, doctors and expectant parents would understand more of the limits of prenatal tests for very rare conditions, and we’d have better public policy. Well, probably not; but the reasoning here is dead wrong.

Roger

October 18th, 2009
11:44 am

jd- What if a student does not want to “think like a mathematician.” What if they want to think based on literature or the arts? Surely, literature and the arts have “improved civilization.”

The point is that there are other disciplines students can master. The math curriculum should provide a practical foundation for each student in order to graduate. If a student wants to go further, there are should be electives and advanced classes available to them.

It would be unfair for a music teacher to create a curriculum where every student has to compose like the masters in order to graduate. Some students don’t want to be great musicians.

It is equally unfair for a math curriculum to lead students in a direction that is not their passion.

Why force every student into an “esoteric and sophisticated mathematics” curriculum if it’s not their passion? Provide every student with a practical foundation and let them choose what they want to advance in. Some may advance in math. Others may advance in literature or science. Society needs more than one kind of “thinking.”

This is not about “anti-intellectual.” Our Constitution, or religion, the great words and speeches that moved us forward- reach beyond some of the “thinking” we’ll get from this new math curriculum. Let’s just require a foundation in each subject and let students choose their passion for advance classes. Why force them into an advanced math curriculum? Can you see the “forest” for the trees? (Only one “r” in forest)

therese persaud

October 18th, 2009
11:51 am

Great article!!! Doe anyone know what is also going on as a result of the imposition of STANDARDS from pre-K on in ALL subject areas??? Education has been given a back seat!!!

ScienceTeacher671

October 18th, 2009
12:21 pm

Roger, I have too many students who don’t want to think, period.

However, we also have too many students who are forced into advanced level courses, whether they want to be there or not, and even though they have not yet mastered the basics. They aren’t going to be able to do advanced math unless they can do basic math.

(BTW, the Rand Corporation has recently published a study showing that students who fail basic skills tests & are retained and given targeted remediation fare better than those who are socially promoted – probably not a big surprise for most teachers…)

Just a thought, though – isn’t it going to be hard for some students to identify their “passion” if they aren’t exposed to a variety of things, some of which they probably won’t use after leaving school?

Maureen's accountability metric

October 18th, 2009
12:23 pm

Funny you mention math this morning Maureen. Here’s a stat for you. One in a billion. It’s from your very own paper Maureen.

A school has gains that are statistics say have a one in a billion chance of happening, and the school system involved refuses to investigate?

Yet Maureen still refuses, as promised, to address the issue in her Learning Curve column?

Who are you being silent for Maureen? Is your silence “what’s best for Georgia students” as you claim your “single lens focus” is on?

Maybe Maureen’s math friend can explain the probability of one in a billion to her, and the implications when it comes to cheating.

And hopefully Maureen has a friend who’s an ethicist, who can explain to her the moral implications of her silence, when she publicly claims to write with a “single lens focus” about “what’s best for Georgia’s students” yet refuses to write about, time after time, what may be the single biggest scandal in Georgia education today.

And did anyone else happen to notice you can find practically all the print news in the Sunday paper online at ajc.com. All that is, except for the story that happens to be on the top front cover of the Sunday edition.

Interesting, to say the least. Hopefully a mere oversight that will soon be corrected.

BlondeHoney

October 18th, 2009
12:26 pm

@Roger, agree totally with your comments. My 23 year old son is mathematically inclined and just graduated from FSU with his degree in chemical engineering, so the advanced math and physics he took made total sense for him. I, on the other hand, have gone back to school to earn my degree in Business Management and was forced to take College Algebra for no apparant reason other than to fill basic requirememts. I passed, but not without a huge struggle and all while thinking I have done just fine in my 1st 48 years without algebra and am very unlikely to need it again. On the other hand, the classes I took in Finance and Statistics were VERY relevant to my career; why aren’t we emphasizing these types of math skills instead?

Christopher Beatty

October 18th, 2009
12:37 pm

While I agree with the notion that we should be teaching our children skills that will need and use as they seek out their paths in life I believe that this article and our education system have the wrong focus. It is the common belief of many that the purpose of our education system is to teach students how to execute some particular function, the purpose of our education system is to produce independent learners. With the goal of producing independent learners then the subject that you use to accomplish that goal does not become main reason you are in the classroom. So when a student learns about imaginary numbers and conic sections he might never use that again but knowing what it took to overcome the obstacles in his way to learn those things he will be able to use for a life time.

Christopher Beatty

October 18th, 2009
12:40 pm

Enter your comments here

FultonTeacher

October 18th, 2009
12:57 pm

The “new math” curriculum is ridiculous! I recall in high school asking my chemistry teacher why I had to take geometry and chemistry if I wasn’t going to use it. Her response was, “If you can figure out a geometric proof then you’ll be able to better solve problems in your life.” I guess that was a good answer. I’ve yet to do a proof outside of that 1985 geometry class, but I suppose I’m a better problem solver!

Students need more practical math that relates to real life. Kids today can’t write because that’s not on the CRCT. As a parent, I teach what they need at home. But I really feel bad for many of my students that don’t have parents with the ability or funds to ensure they’re kid gets what he/she needs. We are losing a generation of kids.

PhD_Engineer

October 18th, 2009
1:03 pm

This article and many of the subsequent comments validate the current crisis of why the US is lagging in math, science and engineering capabilities. If it were not for the students from foreign countries eager to move to the US to bolster the very few US students who want to work in Math, Science, Computer Science and Engineering, the US would be in an even worse situation than it is today (and it’s pretty bad). Mr. Sprague, get real, the schools are not to blame for African-American black males’ failure to achieve in mathematics – they, their parents, and their peers are! Sounds to me as if you have some other agenda here and are using math and this forum to beat your drum. If you cannot explain to students why mathematics is important, then you don’t belong in the classroom teaching it! I also find your article demeaning to the African-American community, as it implies that this group of students is somehow less intelligent in mathematics than Caucausians or Asians, which I know is not true.

Mr. Sprague, instead of making broad-brush statements that will negatively impact the learning of the top 3/4 of students in our schools, why not look for a more rational answer? All the mathematics you called useless are the mathematics used to fuel an innovative society, not just math and science applications! Instead, make a call asking for a stop to parents who run to school to bail Jr. out every time he/she does poorly in academics and/or is called on the carpet for anti-social shenanigans. Between parents “fixing” every problem their child runs into, and teachers like Mr. Sprague and pressure groups shifting the responsibility of failure from students to the system, the students learn that they don’t have to be accountable for their actions, and we have a society that relies on the government and immigrants from other countries to take care of them. “tim from vietnam” is the only one to grasp the importance not only of math, but the consequences of not learning mathematics in the myriad aspects of life.

Does every student need to learn calculus in high school? No, of course not. But the education mantra over the past 2 decades or so has been to stroke the students’ egos so that they don’t feel bad. That means that instead of separating students according to their abilities so that the best students get better, the average students progress well, and the students having difficulty get help, there is a one-size-fits-all mentality…..Welcome to “New” math. If you read the literature on its development, it was an attempt to “make math accessible” to accommodate the lowest common denominator of students. Not an entirely bad concept, but its execution was flawed and hurts many students, including the higher achievers. “Gwinnett Parent”, here’s why you are having difficulty: new math is geared to primarily one learning style, the one which researchers found was the most common style in learners who had difficulty in math. If that’s not your or your child’s learning style – too bad. It also assumes that there is only one way to solve a problem, which anyone in mathematics knows is idiotic and stifles creativity and math learning. If instead, we returned to traditional teaching, with qualified teachers in the area, tailored to students’ individual needs rather than a feel-good cookie-cutter approach, there would be improvement in our education system.

Virginia Girl

October 18th, 2009
1:30 pm

The reason to take calculus, physics, etc. in high school is to be able to choose your degree program when you get to college, rather than have your choices constrained by not having had the prerequisites in high school. High school students do not know what they want their major to be, and probably shouldn’t know. College ought to be a time to explore possibilities and change one’s mind. I have a degree in English literature, but I took a lot of math and physics in college just to see if that was what I wanted to do with my life. It wasn’t, but how would I have known that if I hadn’t tried?

On the other hand, not everyone wants to go college, and shouldn’t be forced to take college prep courses, whether calculus or AP English and history. The problem becomes, what will they do for a living without a college degree? The military has become one of the last domestic blue collar employers, and at least we cannot outsource the Army. What will people who do not fit into an academic mold, whether science or humanities, do for a living? To me, the economic question is the big problem, not new vs. old math.

clyde

October 18th, 2009
1:32 pm

On the job we relied on our Hewlett -Packards,our Texas Instruments,our Casio’s,etc. We were electrical,instrument technicians,charged with maintaing Distributed control systems,various computer run systems,variable frequency drives,etc.None of us had any mathematical backgrounds,so to speak,but we had fabulous calcucators with instruction manuals that made us mathematical geniuses.

MP

October 18th, 2009
1:42 pm

geometry teaches reasoning
physics teaches the concept of a model while advanced math enables one to use models
chemistry and biology teach evolution
social science teaches scepticism
physical education and the the arts teach respect for ones self and fellow man
philosophy and comparative religion teach contemplation

why learn to read or write? cell phones and TV are fine
why learn statistics? no one is going to lie
why learn to balance accounts? the government will replenish them

why stay in the USA? the pickings get easier every day
************************************************
Amen brother! Could not have said it better.

Also, school is not just about learning. To a degree it’s also about who can cut it and who can’t!

Maureen's accountability metric

October 18th, 2009
1:47 pm

Maybe the math experts who have posted can answer this question.

If a newspaper features, on the front page of its Sunday edition, statistics that indicate a dozen schools, all in the same district, cheated on the CRCT, and the education columnist for that paper ignores the story and instead tries to steer her readers into a discussion about math, what does that say about the journalistic ethics of a columnist who claims her “single lens focus” is “what’s best for Georgia students”?

Let’s do the math.

Duke

October 18th, 2009
1:56 pm

Is this what you call an increasingly rigorous high school curriculum? Good grief! Compared to what? Never mind. I am afraid to ask.

Modern Americans are mathematically and scientifically illiterate. They are incapable of performing their duties as citizens. Just to pick one example out of many: we regularly read in the news media that electric cars will free us from the need to use nuclear power and hydrocarbon fuels. We read mileage estimates for hybrid cars that ignore the cost of the electricity. We read ratings specifications for batteries that imply they produce energy, rather than merely store it. The electricity must be produced by electric power plants. It is much more efficient to use the gas directly to power the car, than to use it to produce electricity to power the car.

The idea behind education is not primarily to build a competent job force; it is to build a citizen population capable of self-government.

sb

October 18th, 2009
2:10 pm

What happened to an all around education?

DUMBING down America!! We should be giving our children more time to learn the math…science…history (a joke since it is being rewritten to make America look like the bad country)…yes and PE. What happened to common sense with all of this? Government requirements? State requirements? Laziness? Initiative? Work ethic? More hours in class will remove the need for homework as a reinforcement to the days lessons. Longer school year will keep it in their heads and off the streets.

The ones that want an education will get one. The ones that do not will not!! Expecting MORE from the next generation will teach them respect for themselves and others. Education is the only way out. No education means they become slaves to the government handouts. Duh.

Throwing money at the problem will not solve it. Expectations from students, teachers, and the overall system will correct many problems. Common sense.

My children and my self have received educations. The only way out of the food stamps and shame of having to go for help. My children have done it with and without loans. Doing without many of the luxuries that their friends just expect.

My children are BECOMING adult less dependent on government. One is a math teacher. She would become one more out of work person with this system of no math. But she would still have options due to a hard earned education!

Get over the easy. Go for education.

Grant F

October 18th, 2009
2:13 pm

I’m doing science as a career path, and I must say that the public education’s approach to math only held me back. If there wasn’t an advanced track for me in high school, I would have hardly been able to keep pace with the students I was expected to in college. We’re getting our butts handed to us by other countries and I think it’s reasonable to expect more from our students, not less

Patrick

October 18th, 2009
2:14 pm

PhD_Engineer, I totally agree with everything you have stated, especially your last sentence.
I was an instructor for a couple of years at a private technical school in Colorado. We had students from virtually all ethnic and age groups enrolled in the ET (electronics technician) program. I was astounded by the weak math skills of many of the incoming students as everyone was required to take a math assessment exam before entry. In fact, roughly 45% of them failed the exam and they were all high school graduates! I volunteered to teach a math “refresher” course for the benefit of those who truly wanted to enter the ET program. I was shocked at the number of high school graduates who could not convert a fraction to decimal form or express a ratio as a percentage!! It was very rewarding to see the light come on when they finally grasped the basics which would pave the way for much more complex concepts such as real and imaginary numbers. The students needed to master phasor algebra in order to properly analyze an AC circuit which contained reactive components (capacitors and inductors) so that it could be expressed in either polar or rectangular form. I know I’m sort of rambling here but my point is that the majority of the students were able to do it (African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Caucasians) so I reject the notion that math skills may be predicted along racial lines. All that is needed for learning is a desire to achieve; if that is missing then there is no hope for any student in any program. As you have pointed out, the real metric involved with how the students perform in our school system today is what is going on where the students reside.

PhD_Engineer

October 18th, 2009
2:15 pm

To Maureen’s accountability metric:
I agree with you. It also appears to be working – note that most of the comments ignore the three basic and scary facts that glare from this attempt at obfuscation:

1) Mr. Sprague’s thesis is more sinister than most here recognize. In GA high schools today, there are math tracks for business, non-college track, etc. He however advocates that the advanced math tracks be removed because of a small cohort of students who aren’t in the program! What’s next: science, english, history????

2) He cannot explain to his students what is important in the math they learn. Why is he teaching? Is this the same level of teaching that resulted in the need to cheat on the CRCT schores?

3) The problem is not at the advanced levels of courses and it is not just mathematics. The “feel-good” egocentric spin of the current k-12 education system is ruining the ability to teach children to become contributing members of society.

Mrnumbersman

October 18th, 2009
2:17 pm

The question I would ask is how much are we really raising the quality of education by requiring the math curriculum that is now required in high school. I taught high school math for 15 years before moving into administration and always enjoyed teaching algebra I. The students could see many purposes and it became applicable to many of them. And most of them attained a grasp of fractions, decimals, proportions, percents, and algebraic thinking which helped many of them.

The new math curriculum is a train wreck. Why in the world are we introducing advanced math concepts to 9th graders who barely have a grasp on the fundamentals of arithmetic. An example of this is binomial expansion. No knock on anyone here but I doubt seriously many of you actually remember this more or less use it, ever. And our math I curriculum has it in there. Why?

sb

October 18th, 2009
2:17 pm

PS Have you asked your children if they can write in cursive? Our children can not sign their names!! They print their names…looking like a third grader at that.

Ask them to sign their name. One more thing that a parent will have to teach them…a distinctive signature is the pride of the educated American. Are we going back to the uneducated “X”?

Parents stand up for your child….if you do not WHO will????

Patrick

October 18th, 2009
2:18 pm

PhD_Engineer, I totally agree with everything you have stated, especially
your last sentence.
I was an instructor for a couple of years at a private technical school in
Colorado. We had students from virtually all ethnic and age groups enrolled
in the ET (electronics technician) program. I was astounded by the weak math
skills of many of the incoming students as everyone was required to take a
math assessment exam before entry. In fact, roughly 45% of them failed the
exam and they were all high school graduates! I volunteered to teach a math
“refresher” course for the benefit of those who truly wanted to enter the ET
program. I was shocked at the number of high school graduates who could not
convert a fraction to decimal form or express a ratio as a percentage!! It
was very rewarding to see the light come on when they finally grasped the
basics which would pave the way for much more complex concepts such as real
and imaginary numbers. The students needed to master phasor algebra in order
to properly analyze an AC circuit which contained reactive components
(capacitors and inductors) so that it could be expressed in either polar or
rectangular form. I know I’m sort of rambling here but my point is that the
majority of the students were able to do it (African Americans, Latinos,
Asians and Caucasians) so I reject the notion that math skills may be
predicted along racial lines. All that is needed for learning is a desire to
achieve; if that is missing then there is no hope for any student in any
program. As you have pointed out, the real metric involved with how the
students perform in our school system today is what is going on where the
students reside.

Patrick

October 18th, 2009
2:21 pm

Enter your comments here

Shananeeeeee Fananeeeeeeee

October 18th, 2009
2:23 pm

The Obama administration admires people like Mao Tse Tung and Fidel Castro – true story. Anita Dunn who works for Obama and is in charge of smearing Fox News said one of her favorite two philosophers EVER is Mao Tse Tung, the man responsible for the killing of millions and millions of his own people. So Fox News is bad and Mao Tse Tung is good? Mao good, Fox bad? Something is wrong with these people. For the math people out there the estimates for Mao’s dead is up at 70 million. These men were a disgrace, this administration is a disgrace.

P_EE

October 18th, 2009
2:25 pm

I was an instructor for a couple of years at a private technical school in
Colorado. We had students from virtually all ethnic and age groups enrolled
in the ET (electronics technician) program. I was astounded by the weak math
skills of many of the incoming students as everyone was required to take a
math assessment exam before entry. In fact, roughly 45% of them failed the
exam and they were all high school graduates! I volunteered to teach a math
“refresher” course for the benefit of those who truly wanted to enter the ET
program. I was shocked at the number of high school graduates who could not
convert a fraction to decimal form or express a ratio as a percentage!! It
was very rewarding to see the light come on when they finally grasped the
basics which would pave the way for much more complex concepts such as real
and imaginary numbers. The students needed to master phasor algebra in order
to properly analyze an AC circuit which contained reactive components
(capacitors and inductors) so that it could be expressed in either polar or
rectangular form. I know I’m sort of rambling here but my point is that the
majority of the students were able to do it (African Americans, Latinos,
Asians and Caucasians) so I reject the notion that math skills may be
predicted along racial lines. All that is needed for learning is a desire to
achieve; if that is missing then there is no hope for any student in any
program. As you have pointed out, the real metric involved with how the
students perform in our school system today is what is going on where the
students reside.

P_EE

October 18th, 2009
2:26 pm

Why is my message being censored?????????????????

Maureen's accountability metric

October 18th, 2009
2:46 pm

Ph_D Engineer,

Thank you for noticing. And sadly, based on the majority of posted responses, it does seem to be working. Hopefully those who read but don’t post are seeing the obfuscation for what it really is. Maybe there’s a general timidness when it comes to education blog posters; if she tried this with the opinion blog crowd, they’d make mincemeat of her faster than an autistic savant could give you the square root of 23,746.

And speaking of obfuscation, why is a story that is on the front cover of the AJC nowhere to be found on ajc.com?

Maureen's accountability metric

October 18th, 2009
2:52 pm

Ph_D Engineer, I tried to acknowledge your post, but for some reason, my post has now been hijacked as well.

Of course it’s just a technical glitch. Wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact the post asked why a story on the top front cover of today’s paper is nowhere to be found in the online edition.

GregS

October 18th, 2009
2:56 pm

Having been a “poor math student” for most of my early school career and later graduating with a degree in Computer Science I’ve formed an opinion about math as it is taught in school. First of all, many, if not most, math teachers should not be teaching the course. I have been in math classes where the instructor in contemptuous of students that don’t connect with the math immediately. I’ve also been in classes where the instructor said “if you don’t get the math there must be something wrong with you.” This kind of attitude creates students that “can’t do math.” Secondly, parents are programming their kids to fail at math. Their comments about how bad they are at math and how hard it is teaches the kids that math can’t be mastered.

A serious problem with learning math in the classroom is a lack of real world examples. Not just the “Johnny goes to the store” example but something relevant to the kids right then. Examples that tie the math into a child’s daily life is invaluable in helping them learn the math.

How do we get better math students? Make the math a living thing to the kids. Stop the pre-programming of the students. Do away with the arrogant math teachers. Math is important and we all use it everyday whether we are aware of it or not.

PhD_Engineer

October 18th, 2009
3:30 pm

Mrnumbersman – I use the binomial expansion all the time, as do all mathematicians, scientists and engineers. It is a great way to estimate the value of a more complicated math expression without the crutch of a calculator or computer.

I’ve got to ask – why are the students in other countries, some of which are still classified as third world countries – able to accomplish so much more in K-12 than US students? The only program in the US that is comparable to what is expected in the rest of the world for college-bound students is the International Baccalaureate program.

The foundation for this program is in K-8 grades. But if teachers can’t teach, parents won’t be parents (rather than friends or strangers), and students don’t take responsibility, it doesn’t matter what the curriculum is – it will be a train wreck.

plc

October 18th, 2009
3:42 pm

It’s scary how a math teacher has published an article with his name on it saying he doesn’t know how the students will use the math later on. As an English teacher, I know my kids won’t always go around labeling sentence parts and diagramming sentences for their employers, but it helps them to understand the fundamentals of grammar, which they can then use correctly in resumes, cover letters, and other professional communication.

With the continual push for new technology, math is extremely important. No, not everyone will need conic sections later on, but they do need to know the basics and be able to transfer that knowledge to other content areas and real life situations. We need to give all kids the opportunity to develop their own “tool-kit” so they can decide on any career in the future and not be limited. These are the kids who will change our future, not just simply be a part of it. Or heaven forbid, the ones that use your tax dollars for their welfare checks.

Not buying the new curriculum

October 18th, 2009
3:53 pm

Re PhD_Engineer’s comment:
“Mr. Sprague’s thesis is more sinister than most here recognize. In GA high schools today, there are math tracks for business, non-college track, etc. He however advocates that the advanced math tracks be removed because of a small cohort of students who aren’t in the program! What’s next: science, english, history????”

NO, PhD engineer, in today’s GA highschools there are NOT math tracks for business, non-college track etc.
There is a one size fits all mentality, and beginning with the class of 2012 ALL students MUST earn a college prep degree. No doubt it will serve to increase drop-out rates in a state with an already dismal graduation record. The new math being taught in GA’s high schools has already been tried and rejected by New York State and North Carolina. That should tell us something.

Not buying the new curriculum

October 18th, 2009
4:02 pm

Re plc’s comment:
“No, not everyone will need conic sections later on, but they do need to know the basics and be able to transfer that knowledge to other content areas and real life situations”.

I believe that Mr. Sprague’s point is that the new curriculum is not allowing everyone to “know the basics”—the basics are being skipped over in favor of cramming higher level concepts down EVERYONE’s throat. The concepts that are being thrown at these highschool kids would confound most readers of this blog. Concepts that were formerly part of post Algebra II coursework have been pushed down to Math I (grade nine).

I urge anyone who posts to this blog with an opinion about the HS math curriculum to be sure they have actually looked at the curriculum.

Devildog

October 18th, 2009
5:08 pm

JD
They need to know how to spell, too. It’s forest, not forrest.

PhD_Engineer

October 18th, 2009
5:15 pm

To Not buying the new curriculum:

Actually I HAVE seen the GA HS curriculum, as my kids recently graduated from GA high schools. I’ve also seen the curricula offerings at many, many other high schools all over GA and the US, as I work with high school graduates. I maintain my prior comments. The problem lies in K-8 where the curriculum has been severely dumbed down to compensate for some teachers who have no business in the classroom, parents who either overcompensate or are absent, and students who have an entitlement complex. (My apologies to the many teachers – like plc – who have clearly been working against the egocentric, cookie-cutter, lowest common denominator educational mantra. The same to you students who work hard, and parents who are parents. I know you’re out there.)

It is not – and will not – be required for every student in GA to master Calculus or the highest levels of math to graduate from high school as you intimate. Gee, nothing like scare tactics to try and discredit other lines of thought is there. In fact, your argument is specious. There are math topics taught in high school that should have been taught in middle school. This would permit students time to gain maturity to deal with other, more complex subjects in high school that are now taught in middle school. Some of these topics also have more application to students across a broader spectrum of applications. The sequence of topics in a curriculum is not always predicated on their level of difficulty, but in grouping similar topics together into one course. I have noted that some of these topics are being switched in sequence in the upcoming changes in curricula you reference. This is not a bad thing and does not result in your requiring “higher level concepts” before basics. Note too, this HIGH SCHOOL; “basics” should be taught in K-8 (or really K-6). The problem is – the basics are not being learned in K-8 by some students, and other students have had to suffer because of it. So, hey, let’s do what you and Mr. Sprague advocate and lower the bar even further.

Note that I base my analyses on my experiences in observing, tutoring, and mentoring high school and college level students for the past 15-20 years, as well as my PhD in engineering which required significant graduate level work in mathematics.

What you seem to miss is that Mr. Sprague is advocating a dumbing down of the math education of the entire state because a) he doesn’t understand the usage of mathematical concepts in the real world, b) a small fraction of a minority is enrolled in advanced math. I looked him up, and if I found the correct Sprague – he doesn’t even teach the “higher level math” concepts he is referring to at all, but items like algebra, geometry, fractions, and the like. Which makes his remarks even scarier.

If our high school curriculum is currently so hard, then what is your answer to the fact that in k-12 education, the US is getting badly beaten, not only in math and science, but across the board – English, history, science, geography – by not only European countries, but India and China as well? I’m not speaking only of college-bound CSEMS students, but all groups. Don’t believe me? Check out the Dept of Education and NSF reports on the subject.

ScienceTeacher671

October 18th, 2009
5:27 pm

PhD_Engineer, if your children recently graduated, you may not have seen the NEW Georgia high school curriculum. This year’s freshmen and sophomores are taking the new curriculum, while the juniors and seniors are still taking traditional math courses (the old curriculum, which your children had).

Lee

October 18th, 2009
5:31 pm

:::shrug:::

How many times have we blogged about high school students who were passed from grade to grade, but were performing on an elementary grade level? Let’s face it, a student who can barely read and does not understand the concept of decimals or how to divide fractions will not grasp higher level math concepts.

….and it doesn’t matter if you call it algebra I or math I.

If schools were set up properly and allowed to group by ability, those students who could understand higher level math concepts would have been identified long before they got to high school. But our current system will not allow that. They still have the future valedictorian sitting in the same class as the kid with an 85 IQ from grade 1 to 8. It is not politically correct to say so, but those students who are below average in IQ will never have a need for higher level math, nor will they be able to grasp most of the concepts of higher level math.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Need I say more?