Monday, January 28, 2008

Why a Poll? Why Now? A Significant Sample...

One of the primary reasons I started this poll was to provide K-12 educators an opportunity to express their opinion about a central issue in mathematics education: the teaching of algorithms, multiplication in particular, as well as the issue of the expectation of mastery.

Why now? The work of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is essentially complete and their recommendations will soon be published. MathNotation's readers for the past year know that I sent numerous emails, repeatedly urging the directors of the panel to include several practicing K-12 classroom teachers on this panel, if only in an ex officio capacity. All such requests were respectfully denied. I published both my emails and the replies of the panel in full on this blog. Classroom teachers were not able to provide direct input to the Panel because they were not represented, their voices were not heard, other than the lone voice of a single 8th grade teacher who was invited to be on the panel. If interested, go to the Labels section in the sidebar and read the (5) posts tagged with National Math Panel.

Surely, the Panel, with the cooperation of NCTM, could have developed a survey of our nation's math teachers. A survey which would have allowed tens of thousands of educators to express their knowledgeable opinions of what they believe is best for the mathematics education of their students. But this did not happen...

This was an important part of why I created this apparently insignificant little poll, consisting of just one question among the many which need to be asked and answered. Just a drop in the bucket, but I believe it is a central question for our children. It addresses perhaps the heart of the Reform vs. Traditional debate in our country.

This poll is intended for all visitors, whether they be parents, students, scientists, research mathematicians, administrators, curriculum specialists, classroom educators or anyone else who cares about the future of our children. However, I particularly urge the classroom teacher of mathematics not only to use this forum to express their feelings but also to encourage their colleagues to vote. A statistically significant sample here can be used by anyone who may need data to inform curricular decisions. Perhaps others will heed the message too.

The poll ends on February 29th. Keep it alive - spread the word! We're receiving a steady trickle of votes but we need many more. I won't yet comment on the majority opinion, however, you can see the results yourself when you submit your vote.


mathmom said...

A statistically significant sample here can be used by anyone who may need data to inform curricular decisions. Perhaps others will heed the message too.

Sorry, Dave, but I think that an opt-in poll of random internet users for whom no demographics are collected or known is of little value in actually proving anything. For all we know half the respondents could be 2nd graders, or unqualified to put forth an informed opinion for a host of other reasons.

It may be fun and interesting for us to play with, but I don't think it will be useful in informing policy decisions, nor do I think it ought to be.

See for example the NYT Standards for the use of poll results, which includes this statements:

"Self-selected or “opt-in” samples — including Internet, e-mail, fax, call-in, street intercept, and non-probability mail-in samples — do not meet The Times’s standards regardless of the number of people who participate....The hallmark of any good poll is that the poll taker chooses and pursues the respondent."

Dave Marain said...

Thanks for bringing me down from my sanctimonious soapbox!
Of course, I realize that internet polls are completely unscientific. I suppose I could safely say that the results have a sampling error of +-97.5%!!

I have no idea who will respond to this survey, but, I do believe, that with enough votes, there will probably be a fairly clear sense of how people feel about this issue. Even after 45 some odd votes, one can see a trend, almost a normal-type distribution with a clustering toward the middle or less extreme choices.

My feelings about how the national Math Panel and/or NCTM could have surveyed math teachers have not changed however. My unscientific poll could have been replaced with a carefully worded set of questions which gave educators an opportunity to express what they truly feel is in the best interests of their students. In the absence of that happening, I came up with this crude attempt. I really don't expect it will be earth-shattering but, perhaps, it will lead someone to do it better next time...

Again, thanks for the reality check!