Thursday, July 10, 2008

Once more into Eighth Grade Algebra

To California we go: the LA Times here and copied here (the Times archives it's articles).

Some years ago, California decided that all 8th graders should take algebra. While a wonderful concept theoretically, did anyone stop to think that not everyone is at the same level at the same time? Math is not like Literature. You need to understand the previous work before moving on to the following work. How has everyone forgotten this?

My theory is that the majority of teachers and education reformers are liberal arts majors. They just don't know what they're talking about when it comes to teaching math or developing appropriate math education policy.

Elementary teachers, by and large, "don't do math" and have very little sense of the topic. The middle school teachers, for the most part, are general education type folks with only a small percentage having a STEM background. Narrow your list down to MS math teachers and you still don't have just math people. You can find English majors who have covered a basic math course for a year or two. or three. You have those who can't teach Geometry or Algebra II in the high school and have drifted down to the level they can teach.

The Amsco salesman told me a joke some years ago: "I know the first name of almost every middle school math and science teacher on the East Coast," he said. When I looked at him askance, he laughed, "Coach."

The high school teachers are competent in their fields, but only a tenth of them teach math. I'm not even going to try and pretend that all HS math teachers are competent. The upshot is that virtually no one understands the teaching of math and yet everyone has opinions. Only a tiny portion of the total teaching cohort has ever taught a HS math course. Unfortunately for the math students, schools tend to be a democracy and those who know get out-voted by their principals, school boards, guidance personnel, do-gooders, loud and pushy parents, fellow teachers, and the like.

To be fair, math teachers should probably push back far harder than they do. We do tend to be quiet and just "go along to get along" sometimes.

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