"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

WASL and the Cul-de-sac Revolution?

Will Washington State's revolution against the stupidification of America's children be born in the burbs? From the blog of the Northwest Progressive Institute:

Back to basics in math

There is an interesting Washington Post article about a new proposal from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:
It says the typical state math curriculum runs a mile wide and an inch deep, resulting in students being introduced to too many concepts but mastering too few, and urges educators to slim down those lessons.

Some scholars say the American approach to math instruction has allowed students to fall behind those in Singapore, Japan and a dozen other nations. In most states, they say, the math curriculum has swelled into a thick catalogue of skills that students are supposed to master to attain "proficiency" under the federal No Child Left Behind mandate.

The report urges teachers to focus on three broad concepts in each grade and on a few key subjects -- including the base-10 number system, fractions, decimals, geometry and algebra -- that form the core of math education in higher-achieving nations. Some are calling Focal Points the most significant publication in the field since the 1980s.
I went looking for information about Washington's math standards, and found this draft PDF of grade level expectations, or GLE's, that one can download from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It's um, 40 pages.

As the debate moves forward in this state, nominally about the WASL but in reality about how best to educate children, we need to listen to teachers. They're the ones doing the work, and while we parents certainly demand and get a seat at the table, the education system has been inundated with top-down requirements, leading to greater bureaucracy and inefficiency. The national "No Child Left Behind" act has become a sort of sad lament among many parents.

The WASL is a ticking political time bomb, and perhaps an educational time bomb as well. Our family is fortunate to live in a good neighborhood with good schools, and when parents of straight-A students are concerned that the WASL might mess up their kids' lives, politicians best sit up and take note. My informal "cul-de-sac" polling may be anecdotal, but I'm telling you, there is serious and wide-spread concern out there about the WASL.

You would think most folks would be willing to take a look at a proposal that seeks to re-focus math education on a core set of skills. It's unfortunate that, in some circles, efforts to apply common sense towards standardized testing are declared "giving kids a pass." It's an easy swipe for political columnists to take, but it's too easy and ignores the reality of the situation. Our children are not guinea pigs and they're not political props.

The national math teachers' proposal raises the possibility that we're not going to get good results under the current system, because the unrealistic demands presented by high stakes testing make it difficult to develop the core skills needed to succeed.

For all you math people out there, that's called irony.

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