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

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Commentary on the National Math Panel Report

A variety of comments from The District Administration's The Pulse. Includes Minsky, Schank, Thornburg, Stager, and a real math teacher. All agree that Larry Faulkner should stick with chemistry.

One of my favorite clips from Thornburg:
Recent pronouncements from Washington regarding math education have suggested that pedagogical points of view don't matter in the teaching of mathematics. For example: "There is no basis in research for favoring teacher-based or student-centered instruction," Dr. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel, said at a briefing last Wednesday. "People may retain their strongly held philosophical inclinations, but the research does not show that either is better than the other."

Well, actually, Larry, if you read the “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” document (National Acadamies Press, 2007) you will likely be shocked to learn that, in fact, there are two methodologies proven to improve math proficiency: Statewide specialty high schools (e.g., IMSA) and inquiry-driven project-based learning (e.g., constructionism.) Now it may well be that Dr. Faulkner has more reliable sources than those at the National Academy of Science and other groups that contributed to this 591 page report on the challenge faced by the US in the areas of science and math education. However, let's assume for the moment that the National Academies tend to use fairly reliable folks to generate their reports. In this case, then Faulkner is simply flat out wrong. There IS research showing that one methodology is better than another, and I just cited it. The fact that this research was reported by the same government that claims it does not exist is a puzzlement at best, and an example of the “big lie” at worst. Faulkner's strategy seems to be that, if you lie to the American public loudly enough, it will believe you. Kind of like finding WMD in Iraq.

But maybe Faulkner just has a different measure of success in education. If the goal is higher test scores, then he might be right. If the goal is developing a latent interest in mathematics that might encourage more students into the STEM fields (where the need is tremendous), then he is wrong. . . .

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