Dr. Stat

Dr. Stat is a Statistics Professor. This blog is his opportunity to share ideas and opinions about education (especially math education), politics, and whatever else comes up.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The National Math Panel

Education Week, 19 May 2006 (p. 08)
“Some Worry About Potential Bias on the National Math Panel”

President Bush has named only one K-12 teacher to his National Mathematics Advisory Panel, a group charged with exploring math teaching and learning. The lack of teacher representation on the panel has some observers questioning the group’s makeup and its objectivity.

Not me! It's great to finally see the experts on Mathematics being consulted on learning and teaching mathematics. We let that amateurs do it much too long.

The panel is weighted with experts on teaching mathematics at the college level, and does not represent “a balanced view of mathematics,” said Steven Leinwand, a principal research analyst at the American Institutes for Research. Some are concerned that the panel is biased toward one particular method of teaching math, the traditional approach that focuses on drills and computation.

In other words, experts who actually want our students to learn math instead of coming to college needing to learn fractions and decimals.

Even Vern Williams, the one K-12 math teacher on the panel, has a Web site on which he criticizes the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for promoting what he calls “fuzzy” math standards.

Another panelist, Wilfried Schmid, a Harvard University mathematics professor, has also been a frequent critic of NCTM. However, Schmid says the two sides in the so-called “math wars” have begun working more cooperatively, and are finding common ground.

Tom Loveless, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution who was selected for the panel, dismissed suggestions that the panel has an agenda.

“It’s an opportunity to cut through a lot of the noise surrounding math,” Loveless said.

We can hope!

National Board Certificate

Ha Ha Ha! I knew it!

No disrespect to those teachers who went through all the hard work of getting the National Board Certificate (many say it was a great learning experience), but I have never held any hope that it would really benefit education in America. I watched a presentation about this when it was new, and immediately concluded that it was just another "reform" program designed to get teachers to give up "old fashioned" (effective) teaching stratagies and replace them with all the latest fads.

Education Week, 17 May 2006 (p. 01)
“Study for NBPTS Raises Questions About Credential”

A year-old study only recently summarized on the Web site of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards concludes that board-certified teachers are no more effective at improving student performance than teachers without the credential.

The study, conducted by William Sanders, the statistician who came up with the “value added” method of evaluating teacher effectiveness, examined some 35,000 student records and more than 800 teachers in North Carolina.

The Sanders findings are important because the cost to date of certifying about 47,500 teachers is more than $600 million. A board spokesman said they do not intend to make the entire paper public, however.

Oh, no, we won't make all this public. There are 47,500 constituents out there who have benefited from the $600 million cash cow and they aren't going to let us end yet another boondoggle spending program.

Algebra I dumbs down

See, it's happening already...

Philadelphia Inquirer, 18 May 2006
“New method of algebra solves an old problem”

The Philadelphia school district has developed a new algebra curriculum designed to make the subject more accessible to all eighth graders.

Called Algebra8, the curriculum melds portions of the ninth-grade Algebra I curriculum with the traditional eighth-grade math curriculum. Students use manipulatives like Algeblocks to visualize problems and algebraic principles. The Algebra8 instruction is added to their daily 90-minute math period three times a week.

At the end of the year, eighth-graders will take an algebra proficiency exam. Those who pass will move on to Algebra II or geometry in ninth grade, and those who fail will take Algebra I.

Did you catch that? the new curriculum is "more accessible" (easier) for "all eighth graders" (easy enough for the bottom eighth graders). Not only that, it includes "portions" of Algebra I (hmm, I thought 8th grade math already did, but then I'm from the Dakotas) not all of Algebra I, and if students pass they move on to Algebra II--which now has to be dumbed down, as well, because the students who pass the 8th grade proficiency test haven't had all of Algebra I.

Yup, it's the appearance of raising standards without the substance of raising standards, moving things earlier in the curriculum but reducing their complexity, in other words, politically motivated dumbing-down.

Monday, May 22, 2006

“High School Exit Exam Tossed”

Los Angeles Times, 13 May 2006

Some 46,000 California seniors who failed the state’s high school exit exam may get their diplomas after all. An Alameda County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the exam unfairly burdens students who attended low-income schools.

This is the first graduating class to have to pass the exam, which consists of eighth-grade math and ninth- and 10th-grade English. Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction, called the ruling disappointing, and “a setback for students and for hard-fought school accountability in our state.”

So, our schools graduate high school students who can't read, write, or do 'rithmetic, and we respond by requiring them to pass a test to graduate. Not a high school test, mind you, just an 8-10th grade test. Then, just when we thought we had a fix for the problem, the court tells us we can't refuse high school diplomas to people who can't do 8-10th grade work. We might as well just do away with high school diplomas altogether, since they don't mean anything. Give them a certificate of attendance, if you want, but forget about the meaningless high school diploma. Students who want a real high school diploma can take the IB exam. At least we know that means something.