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Sandra Stotsky (The Roots of Low Achievement, 2019) points out that to close achievement gaps, a stronger curriculum is needed for all students, not lower standards. And a giant leap in expectations and better teaching.
Comment: Educators don't take academic achievement seriously enough. They inflate grades and use a curriculum that is not world-class. Students are passed on regardless of learning. Educators seem more concerned about diversity, equity as equal outcomes, social justice, self-esteem/social-emotional learning, universal pre-K, or free admission to college than academic achievement in reading, writing, history, or mathematics. For at least a decade, mathematics and reading scores have stalled. Algebra has been thrashed. Metrics, merit, and tests are attacked and labeled as racist by the equity hawks. Credit recovery is rampant in high school to boost graduation rates. 9-20-21
Paul Hill of the Center on Reinventing Public Education explains, "As schools reopen, it is less clear than ever what public education is for. States and districts resist testing students to see what they know now, and many won't judge schools on whether anyone learns. National assessments are on hold, and traditional elements of the curriculum—and even grading—are under assault as supporting white supremacy." Really? I guess learning is not important! Let's not measure it! (https://www.crpe.org/thelens/closing-void-core-public-education)
Hill guesses, "It might all blow over. In a few years, Americans might experience another Sputnik-era panic about how far our kids have fallen behind kids in Europe and Asia. Fear about our national competitiveness might rehabilitate hard subjects, rigor, clarity about results, and educator accountability. But the pendulum could swing too far, back to the narrow measurement-based pedagogy that was rightly abandoned a few years ago."
Okay, that's possible. Even so, it would be much better than now: American students have fallen significantly behind their peers in many Asia and European nations. For at least a decade, learning in math and reading has stagnated. We cannot afford to wait another few years to forcefully address achievement gaps internationally and at home.
A math program or curriculum that does not support memorizing math facts and standard algorithms of whole numbers from the get-go (1st grade) is substandard. The addition, subtraction, multiplication, and long-division standard algorithms should be learned and used by the 3rd grade. It requires practice-practice-practice. Good calculating skills are the heart and soul of problem-solving.
|If 5th graders do not know that the mark is 1/3, how did they get to 5th grade? One student said it was 1/7, and some students giggled. I taught this idea to 1st graders in a self-contained, desegregated, Title-1 urban classroom in the early 1980s. |
Ball argues, "Many taken-for-granted practices in classrooms reflect and reproduce patterns of marginalization and oppression." Ball cites a drill sheet of basic facts. Really? Memorizing math facts is essential arithmetic. Arithmetic is not racist. She seems to argue against kids learning arithmetic because timed practices like the one below can result in "marginalization, racism, and oppression." Ball cites this video as proof of her theories. Is it any wonder that kids don't learn enough math?
|In 2011, Kailey was a 1st-grade TKA student. |
Today, she is in 12th-grade taking calculus. She already has a merit scholarship.
In the U.S., K-12 math is dumbed down in the name of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Likewise, academics and merit are devaluated in many schools, but not in China or other Asian nations.
American mathematicians Deift, Jitomirskaya, and Klainerman wrote in Quillette, "Needless to say, China pursues none of the equity programs that are sweeping the United States. Quite the contrary: It is building on the kind of accelerated, explicitly merit-based programs, centered on gifted students, that are being repudiated by American educators." Sergiu Klainerman, Princeton math professor, observes, "It's very clear that there is talent in math, just like there is talent in music."
Many U.S. students lack good calculating skills--not only whole numbers but also fractions, percentages, equations, etc.
We need to teach more basic arithmetic and algebra, not less.
But, unfortunately, many of our K-8 teachers are ill-equipped to do that, explains H. H. Wu, a mathematician from U.C. Berkeley, who works with teachers and wannabe teachers. They are not appropriately prepared in education schools or required to take advanced math courses, such as precalculus or calculus. As a result, they lack factual and procedural knowledge and cannot explain math to kids using worked examples.
Automaticity! Automaticity! Automaticity!
"Learn skills all the way to automaticity!"
Doug Lemov (Practice Perfect, 2012) points out, "The power of learning things by rote is that it allows you to do them with unconscious efficiency. ... It's all but impossible to have higher-order thinking without strongly established skills and lots of knowledge of facts." Rote learning does not get in the way of higher-order thinking, as some claim. In arithmetic, students should practice getting it right. "While failure may build character and tenacity, it's not good at building skills. ... Many types of higher-order thinking are in fact founded on and require rote learning," explains Lemov. Thus, practice getting things right!
We need better teaching and methods that work, not Critical Race Theory (CRT) or other distractions. Putting students into groups (i.e., tracking) to learn math is efficient teaching. Memorization of basic facts is necessary to support the standard algorithms and problem-solving. Teachers should explain arithmetic by carefully selected worked examples. Success in learning arithmetic means practice-practice-practice. Also, Stanislas Dehaene (How We Learn, 2020) advocates that teachers should bring back flashcards. Flashcards work! Children need to overlearn and automate certain fundamentals in arithmetic and algebra. If your child has not automated the multiplication table by the 2nd or 3rd grade, then your child can't move forward with long division, fractions/decimals, ratios/percentages, etc. In short, they hit a brick wall.
Tom Loveless points out, "A decade later, scant evidence exists that Common Core produced any significant benefit." (Between State and the Schoolhouse: Understanding the Failure of Common Core, 2021)
Himari Yoshirmura, age 9, performs Paganini Violin concerto with New Japan Philharmonic.
|Himari, 9, plays Paganini with zest and the New Japan Philharmonic.|
Himari is intense when she goes into her zone. I do not know what happens in her brain, but it's on fire. She is remarkable, nailing 40 minutes of Nicolò Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1 in D major, op. 6. Incidentally, Himari, age 7, was the Grand Prize Winner at the International Grumiaux Competition in Brussels.
See Himari when she is not in her zone, click here. She is a happy child who enjoys practicing and doesn't know how good she really is!)
Question: Are we equipped to identify future violinists like Himari or very young children who are advanced in math in our typical gifted programs? In my opinion, the only justification for talented and gifted programs is for acceleration. Instead, we have project-based enrichment in many schools, so I wonder if we would be able to identify, much less train, the next Newton or Mozart? Are we wasting a lot of talent? We need highly specialized education for kids who actually display talent early. In Russia, for example, there are two major ballet schools supported by the government: Vaganova and the Bolshoi. These schools continue to produce the best ballet students in the world. At Vaganova, students must pass screening exams. The first-year class consists of about 60 4th graders (about 10 years old). If you get in, the children face rigorous dance lessons and academic studies, including mathematics and English. While thousands of would-be ballerinas audition, the school selects only 60 kids as first-year students.