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Math scores for 17 year olds remain constant over the past almost 40 years

May 8, 2009
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In yet another area of our education system here in the US, we have found that more doesn’t equal better for our students taking classes:

In fact, flat scores in math for the older students have persisted since the early 1970s. That’s despite the fact that the proportion of 13-year-olds taking algebra has more than doubled—from 13 percent to 30 percent—from 1986 to 2008.

Taking more math classes hasn’t made a difference math scores, in almost 40 years here in the states, and more math has been a constant push for students to continue to improve their math scores by the time they are in high school.  But the fundamental flaw in this type of approach is assuming that more = better, because obviously it doesn’t.

What is really going on here?  Well, one commentator in EdWeek stated that some of the kids who hadn’t done well in school would have “gone to the docks”:

One reason that scores for 17-year-olds have stayed flat for more than three decades could be that the kinds of students educated today differ from those educated in the early 1970s, he said.

Back then, Mr. Winick said, “if a young person wasn’t doing well, they’d be sent to the farm or the docks.”

Now, he said, it’s possible that a greater proportion of students who might have dropped out of school in past decades to join the labor force, who perhaps are less inclined toward academics, are in schools.

So now we just have more kids in school who don’t want to be there?  Perhaps this particular commentator hasn’t noticed high school drop-out rates yet, because those are at a staggering 30% in some schools.  But, yet again, the educators here can’t resist comparing our students to those in socialized societal regimes, or even dictatorships, and then stating how our free education policies for all aren’t working:

“There’s still this great concern, particularly in mathematics, that our curriculum is a mile wide and an inch deep,” he said. “The depth of understanding isn’t there, when we look at our Asian counterparts.”

So now we measure our success by “our Asian counterparts”?  Is there a more reductive and racist measurement force for mathematics around, because that seems to make the top 3.

What is wrong with our math education here?  Look at the books.  The books used in Chicago Math, and other math series for children focus on introducing lots of concepts, but not so much practice.  And it’s well-accepted in our society that our children need to learn their addition and subtraction and multiplication/division facts, but not much else is really known culturally about what our kids need to know in math.  We parents are the product of poor math education,and therefore might not be making the most informed decisions about math curriculum or study patterns when deciding what our children should take.  Local school districts are no better, offering a few higher-level math classes but none of the extra support that the sciences have gotten to get kids involved in math.

But then again, who is writing these math tests by which we judge the nation’s student performance?  Do we not take into account the fact that the tests may not measure all that our students know?  Do the math test writers know more than the math teachers or students?  Are the test answer specifications made known to the students?  More isn’t simply better.  Forcing kids to take more math in hopes that their standardized test scores obviously doesn’t work, and look, educators have been pushing it for 40 years now.  At some point in time, you might have expected the administrators to do the math and figure out that this wasn’t working.  But, still seems above their math skills too.

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