Sunday, February 18, 2007

Another National Math Curriculum Statement

I posted the following comment on edspresso on 2-12-07 in response to The Poisonous Politics of Implementation by Neal McCluskey. Same old, same old??

I have been advocating for national math standards for the past three decades. Its time has come. Despite all the negativity, skepticism and distrust the bottom line is that what we currently have in ALL disciplines is chaos with the result that our children fall further behind other industrialized nations moment my moment. Fifty states with fifty different sets of standards (yes, there is overlap but they are not congruent) with fifty different sets of assessments with fifty different levels of proficiency adds up to what -- let me get my calculator to do the math...
Ultimately, most teachers, including myself, will teach essentially what is in the textbooks and will stress the content and types of questions that are on the high-stakes tests for which they are held accountable. As an AP teacher for 35 years, I am proud to say I 'taught to the test' -- one of the better quality tests I've seen constructed. However, I never felt constricted by a straight-jacket curriculum. My methods and creativity were never affected. I felt crunched by time to cover all the topics in the BC course in 8 months but somehow we got through it and I knew in the end that my students were at least as well prepared for the next level as any other student in any other BC Calc class. I knew that because of their performance in my class which was then validated by the results of the standardized AP test. I saw a reasonable correlation between a '5' on the test and an A or B in class and so on. Could I have taught the same quality course without this 'nationalized' Calculus curriculum. Quality, yes, but I don't think the content and emphasis would have been consistent with the thousands of other calculus classes around the country. Just look at how similar or dissimilar Precalculus classes are from classroom to classroom, never mind state to state. Yes, the road to a standard curriculum is a mine field but the road we're on now leads only to an abyss. I'll take my chances...

4 comments:

D. E. Richman said...

Some of your statements sound like they come straight from debates over the Articles of Confederation. Indeed, this is a call for a new federalism (among other things).

Dave Marain said...

I'm not looking for broad social reforms here. That's one mine field I will avoid! I'm proposing that a national committee of qualified experienced mathematics teachers (K-12) together with mathematics specialists and mathematicians come together and reach consensus on essential mathematics content for children through high school. I'm not addressing the issue of instruction. Many groups are currently addressing curriculum but they lack classroom teacher representation. NCTM is now attempting this, the National Math Panel is now attempting this, Achieve and its American Diploma Project is doing the same for grades 9-12.
Are you in favor of my proposal or do you believe that the primacy of states' rights must be preserved 'at all costs?'

D. E. Richman said...

I am absolutely in favor of your proposal. I think this is the sort of issue that federalism was made for: some issues just demand central coordination, without which any further carrying-on would be pointless or counterproductive. I think that our national interest should always be compared against a general human interest--we have done our best work as a nation when we have manifested the highest human ideals, and I think it has been sufficiently demonstrated that education is a highest of human endeavors. Accordingly, it is appropriate for certain aspects of education to be matters of national (federal) policy. Of course, we're also talking about teaching subjects of great technical value to a nation in a competitive and still hostile world, and it would be easy to justify uniform standards on nationalistic grounds as well.

Dave Marain said...

d.e.--
well said! thanks for your support