Try Singapore Math Textbooks: Your students will learn Math

Jerome Dancis, Ph.D. (math):

Many Math professors, who have looked at the Singapore K-6 Math Books, are strong advocates of them because these books
1. Do an especially good job in training students in Basic Skills and
2. Do an especially good job in providing students with Conceptual Understanding and
3. Provide an especially good background in Arithmetic and Arithmetic word problems, for the learning of Algebraic calculations and for learning how to solve Algebraic word problems.
4. Do an especially good job in training students in non-trivial Arithmetic word problems; while American texts largely avoid non-trivial Arithmetic word problems.

Singapore Math Is “Our Dirty Little Secret”

Barry Garelick

The New York Times ran a story on September 30 about Singapore Math being used in some schools in the New York City area. Like many newspaper stories about Singapore Math, this one was no different. It described a program that strangely sounded like the math programs being promoted by reformers of math education, relying on the cherished staples of reform: manipulatives, open-ended problems, and classroom discussion of problems. The only thing the article didn’t mention was that the students worked in small groups.
Those of us familiar with Singapore Math from having used it with our children are wondering just what program the article was describing. Spending a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in Kindergarten? Spending an entire 4th grade classroom period discussing the place value ramifications of the number 82,566? Well, maybe that did happen, but not because the Singapore Math books are structured that way. In fact, the books are noticeably short on explicit narrative instruction. The books provide pictures and worked out examples and excellent problems; the topics are ordered in a logical sequence so that material mastered in the various lessons builds upon itself and is used to advance to more complex applications. But what is assumed in Singapore is that teachers know how to teach the material–the teacher’s manuals contain very little guidance. Thus, the decision to spend a week on the numbers 1 and 2 in kindergarten, or a whole class period discussing a single number is coming from the teachers, not the books.
The mistaken idea that gets repeated in many such articles is that Singapore Math differs from other programs by requiring or imparting a “deep understanding” and that such understanding comes about through a) manipulatives, b) pictures, and c) open-ended discussions. In fact, what the articles represent is what the schools are telling the reporters. What newspapers frequently do not realize when reporting on Singapore Math, is that when a school takes on such a program, it means going against what many teachers believe math education to be about; it is definitely not how they are trained in ed schools. The success of Singapore’s programs relies in many ways on more traditional approaches to math education, such as explicit instruction and giving students many problems to solve, in some ways its very success represented a slap in the face to American math reformers, many of whom have worked hard to eliminate such techniques being used.

The secret of Schmitz Park Elementary School is Singapore Math

Bruce Ramsey:

Sally made 500 gingerbread men. She sold 3/4 of them and gave away 2/5 of the remainder. How many did she give away?
This was one of the homework questions in Craig Parsley’s fifth-grade class. The kids are showing their answers on the overhead projector. They are in a fun mood, using class nicknames. First up is “Crackle,” a boy. The class hears from “Caveman,” “Annapurna,” “Shortcut” and “Fred,” a girl.
Each has drawn a ruler with segments labeled by number — on the problem above, “3/4,” “2/5” and “500.” Below the ruler is some arithmetic and an answer.
“Who has this as a single mathematical expression? Who has the guts?” Parsley asks. No one, yet — but they will.
This is not the way math is taught in other Seattle public schools. It is Singapore Math, adopted from the Asian city-state whose kids test at the top of the world. Since the 2007-08 year, Singapore Math has been taught at Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle — and only there in the district.
In the war over school math — in which a judge recently ordered Seattle Public Schools to redo its choice of high-school math — Schmitz Park is a redoubt or, it hopes, a beachhead. North Beach is a redoubt for Saxon Math, a traditional program. Both schools have permission to be different. The rest of the district’s elementary schools use Everyday Math, a curriculum influenced by the constructivist or reform methods.

Related: Math Forum Audio / Video.

Singapore Math Workbook Only Purchase Discussion (No textbooks or teacher guides) at the Madison School Board

26MB mp3 audio file. Marj Passman, Lucy Mathiak and Maya Cole raised a number of questions regarding the purchase of $69K worth of Singapore Math Workbooks (using Federal tax dollars via “Title 1“) without textbooks or teacher’s guides at Monday evening’s Board Meeting. The purchase proceeded, via a 5-2 vote. Ed Hughes and Beth Moss supported the Administration’s request, along with three other board members.
Related Links:

The Madison Math Task Force Report [3.9MB PDF] found that local elementary school teachers used the following curricular materials (page 166):

What, if anything has the Math Task Force report addressed?

Singapore Math Bill Approved in Utah

Lisa Schencker:

Some lawmakers want Utah to follow the lead of a tiny Asian country when it comes to teaching math.
A senate committee Friday morning approved a bill, SB 159, that would allow districts and charter schools to apply for grants to use the Singapore method to teach math. Singapore is one of the highest scoring countries on international math tests.
In Singapore, math students are encouraged to think visually and develop mental strategies to solve problems. They’re discouraged from using paper to compute math problems.
“We seek to create a school system that will produce a significant percentage of the scientists and engineers needed by our country,” said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, who is sponsoring the bill.
SB 159 would offer competitive grants to districts that come up with plans for teaching Singapore math in kindergarten through sixth grade and some secondary school classes. The bill would also require districts to train teachers in Singapore math and offer grants to colleges and other groups to train mathematicians to be teachers.
“I believe this will raise the math abilities of everyone in the state,” said Aaron Bertram, chairman of the University of Utah mathematics department.

At L.A. school, Singapore math has added value

Mitchell Landsberg:

In 2005, just 45% of the fifth-graders at Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood scored at grade level on a standardized state test. In 2006, that figure rose to 76%. What was the difference?
If you answered 31 percentage points, you are correct. You could also express it as a 69% increase.
But there is another, more intriguing answer: The difference between the two years may have been Singapore math.
At the start of the 2005-06 school year, Ramona began using textbooks developed for use in Singapore, a Southeast Asian city-state whose pupils consistently rank No. 1 in international math comparisons. Ramona’s math scores soared.
“It’s wonderful,” said Principal Susan Arcaris. “Seven out of 10 of the students in our school are proficient or better in math, and that’s pretty startling when you consider that this is an inner-city, Title 1 school.”
Ramona easily qualifies for federal Title 1 funds, which are intended to alleviate the effects of poverty. Nine of every 10 students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. For the most part, these are the children of immigrants, the majority from Central America, some from Armenia. Nearly six in 10 students speak English as a second language.

Joanne has more.

Singapore’s Math Results, How Do They Do It?

Dan Dempsey: Since the creation of “New Math” in the 1950s and delivery via the SMSG (School Mathematics Study Group) textbooks, the USA’s progressive math education establishments have believed that conceptual understanding is the holy grail of math instruction. Supposedly, once a child has conceptual understanding, math skills will be easier to acquire. Yet after […]

Why Singapore’s kids are so good at maths

aJeevan Vasagar: The classrooms at Admiralty are sparsely decorated. When I visit a class of 13-year-olds, there’s a single artwork on the back wall; a paper cut-out of a cherry tree scattering blossom. At the front, where the teacher stands, is a whiteboard, a projector, a Singapore flag and a clock. I am later told […]

Teaching Math, Singapore Style

The countries that outperform the United States in math and science education have some things in common. They set national priorities for what public school children should learn and when. They also spend a lot of energy ensuring that every school has a high-quality curriculum that is harnessed to clearly articulated national goals. This country, […]

(2009) What impact do high school mathematics curricula have on college-level mathematics placement?

James Wollack and Michael Fish: Major Findings CORE-Plus students performed significantly less well on math placement test and ACT-M than did traditional students Change in performance was observed immediately after switch Score trends throughout CORE-Plus years actually decreased slightly Inconsistent with a teacher learning-curve hypothesis CORE-AP students fared much better, but not as well as […]

Madison School District Middle School Math Specialist Program

Madison School District Administration (PDF): Project Description: MMSD has provided funding to support coursework in the content and teaching knowledge of middle school teachers of math. Toward that goal, a partnership was formed back in 2010 between the District, the UW-Madison School of Education, the UW- Madison Department of Mathematics, and the University of Wisconsin […]

Britons’ maths-phobia is no laughing matter

Brownwen Maddox: As Britain struggles to work out whether it is better off in or out of the EU, it might pay heed to the devastating analysis that shows the really frightening obstacles to a thriving future lie at home. The OECD, the Paris-based think-tank, last month ranked British teenagers bottom of 23 developed countries […]

The best way to learn math is to learn how to fail productively

Jenny Anderson: Singapore, the land of many math geniuses, may have discovered the secret to learning mathematics (pdf). It employs a teaching method called productive failure (pdf), pioneered by Manu Kapur, head of the Learning Sciences Lab at the National Institute of Education of Singapore. Students who are presented with unfamiliar concepts, asked to work […]

Dumping Everyday Math? The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

But I would suggest an even more important vote will occur on Wednesday, one that will decide the future of tens or hundreds of thousands of Seattle students over the next decade: the Seattle School Board’s vote on the future elementary math curriculum. As I have noted in previous blogs, Seattle Public Schools is now […]

US students rank better internationally on new problem solving test than they do on conventional math and reading exams

The Hechinger Report: Here’s a modest test result to bolster the argument of those who say the American educational system isn’t so terrible. On a new creative problem-solving test taken by students in 44 countries and regions, U.S. 15-year-olds scored above the international average and rank at number 18 in the world. That’s much better […]

Children of UK professionals fall behind Asians in maths

Helen Warrell:

The children of cleaners in Asian cities such as Shanghai and Singapore are better at maths than the offspring of doctors and lawyers in the US and UK, according to an analysis of the global Pisa test rankings published on Tuesday.
The international league table, first released by the OECD in December, had shown 15-year-olds in Shanghai to be top in maths, while the UK languished in 26th place and the US in 36th.
But fresh scrutiny has revealed that the state-educated children of British professionals are on average a whole school year behind the children of “elementary” workers in Shanghai in maths ability, and around three months behind the same group in Singapore. The gap is even wider between US professionals and Asian cleaners or caterers.

Why is Singapore’s school system so successful, and is it a model for the West?

David Hogan:

For more than a decade, Singapore, along with South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Finland, has been at or near the top of international leagues tables that measure children’s ability in reading, maths and science. This has led to a considerable sense of achievement in Finland and East Asia and endless hand-wringing and head-scratching in the West.
What then do Singaporean teachers do in classrooms that is so special, bearing in mind that there are substantial differences in classroom practices between – as well as within – the top-performing countries? What are the particular strengths of Singapore’s instructional regime that helps it perform so well? What are its limits and constraints?
Is it the right model for countries seeking to prepare students properly for the complex demands of 21st century knowledge economies and institutional environments more generally? Is Singapore’s teaching system transferable to other countries? Or is its success so dependent on very specific institutional and cultural factors unique to Singapore that it is folly to imagine that it might be reproduced elsewhere?

Solve math problems with logic

Manila Standard Today:

An educational and enrichment workshop was recently conducted by the Galileo Enrichment Learning Program where the multi-awarded mathematician and Singapore Math advocate Dr. Queena Lee-Chua together with her son Scott, shared with the participants the fundamentals of Singapore Math and demonstrated how this fun learning approach is used to solve word problems.
Multi-awarded mathematician and Singapore Math advocate Dr. Queena Lee-Chua shared with the participants the fundamentals of Singapore Math and demonstrates how this fun-learning approach is used to solve word problems.
The workshop, held at Nuvali Evoliving AVR, Sta. Rosa City, Laguna, was organized by Galileo Sta. Rosa, attended by parents and their kids, as well as by teachers from different pre-schools and elementary schools in and outside Manila. It was indeed an enlightening and engaging time for everyone as the mother and son tandem proved to the audience that complex mathematical problems can be solved with simple math logic.

Much more on Singapore Math, here.
Related: Math Forum Audio/Video.

U.S. Students Still Lag Globally in Math and Science, Tests Show

Motoko Rich:

Fourth- and eighth-grade students in the United States continue to lag behind students in several East Asian countries and some European nations in math and science, although American fourth graders are closer to the top performers in reading, according to test results released on Tuesday.
Fretting about how American schools compare with those in other countries has become a regular pastime in education circles. Results from two new reports, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, are likely to fuel further debate.
South Korea and Singapore led the international rankings in math and fourth-grade science, while Singapore and Taiwan had the top-performing students in eighth-grade science. The United States ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science and 10th in eighth-grade science.

Related: www.wisconsin2.org.

Arthur Levine – The Suburban Education Gap: The U.S. economy could be $1 trillion a year stronger if Americans only performed at Canada’s level in math

Arthur Levine, via a kind Erich Zellmer email:

Parents nationwide are familiar with the wide academic achievement gaps separating American students of different races, family incomes and ZIP Codes. But a second crucial achievement gap receives far less attention. It is the disparity between children in America’s top suburban schools and their peers in the highest-performing school systems elsewhere in the world.
Of the 70 countries tested by the widely used Program for International Student Assessment, the United States falls in the middle of the pack. This is the case even for relatively well-off American students: Of American 15-year-olds with at least one college-educated parent, only 42% are proficient in math, according to a Harvard University study of the PISA results. That is compared with 75% proficiency for all 15-year-olds in Shanghai and 50% for those in Canada.
Compared with big urban centers, America’s affluent suburbs have roughly four times as many students performing at the academic level of their international peers in math. But when American suburbs are compared with two of the top school systems in the world–in Finland and Singapore–very few, such as Evanston, Ill., and Scarsdale, N.Y., outperform the international competition. Most of the other major suburban areas underperform the international competition. That includes the likes of Grosse Point, Mich., Montgomery County, Md., and Greenwich, Conn. And most underperform substantially, according to the Global Report Card database of the George W. Bush Presidential Center.

Related: The Global Report: Compare US School Districts to the World.

Singapore vs. Madison/US Schools: Do We (Americans) Put Money into Our Children?



I read with interest Nathan Comps’ article on the forthcoming 2012-2013 Madison School District budget. Board Vice President Marj Passman lamented:

“If Singapore can put a classroom of students on its money, and we can’t even put our money into children, what kind of country are we?” asks Passman, Madison school board vice president. “It’s going to be a horrible budget this year.”

Yet, according to the World Bank, Singapore spends 63% less per student than we do in America on primary education and 47% less on secondary education. The US spent $10,441/student in 2007-2008 while Madison spent $13,997.27/student during that budget cycle. Madison’s 2011-2012 budget spends $14,858.40/student.
The Economist on per student spending:

Those findings raise what ought to be a fruitful question: what do the successful lot have in common? Yet the answer to that has proved surprisingly elusive. Not more money. Singapore spends less per student than most. Nor more study time. Finnish students begin school later, and study fewer hours, than in other rich countries.
In Finland all new teachers must have a master’s degree. South Korea recruits primary-school teachers from the top 5% of graduates, Singapore and Hong Kong from the top 30%.

Rather than simply throwing more money (Madison taxpayers have long supported above average K-12 spending) at the current processes, perhaps it is time to rethink curriculum and just maybe, give Singapore Math a try in the Madison schools.
Related:


Via the Global Report Card. The average Madison student performs better than 23% of Singapore students in Math and 35% in reading.

Madison Schools for Whites Equivalent to Singapore, Finland (!); Troller Bids Adieu

Susan Troller, Via email:

Madison schools aren’t failing, by any stretch of the imagination, for many students.
In fact, if you’re a white, middle-class family sending your children to public school here, your kids are likely getting an education that’s on a par with Singapore or Finland — among the best in the world.
However, if you’re black or Latino and poor, it’s an unquestionable fact that Madison schools don’t as good a job helping you with your grade-point average, high school graduation, college readiness or test scores. By all these measures, the district’s achievement gap between white and minority students is awful.
These facts have informed the stern (and legitimate) criticisms leveled by Urban League President Kaleem Caire and Madison Prep backers.
But they doesn’t take into account some recent glimmers of hope that shouldn’t be discounted or overlooked. Programs like AVID/TOPS support first-generation college-bound students in Madison public schools and are showing some successes. Four-year-old kindergarten is likely to even the playing field for the district’s youngest students, giving them a leg up as they enter school. And, the data surrounding increasing numbers of kids of color participating in Advanced Placement classes is encouraging.
Stepping back from the local district and looking at education through a broader lens, it’s easy to see that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have aimed to legislate, bribe and punish their way toward an unrealistic Lake Wobegon world where all the students are above average.

Remarkable. Are there some excellent teachers in Madison? Certainly. Does Madison’s Administration seek best in the world results? A look at the math task force, seemingly on hold for years, is informative. The long one size fits all battle and the talented and gifted complaint are worth contemplating.
Could Madison be the best? Certainly. The infrastructure is present, from current spending of $14,963/student to the nearby UW-Madison, Madison College and Edgewood College backed by a supportive community.
Ideally, Madison (and Wisconsin) should have the courage to participate in global examinations (Florida Students Take Global Examinations, Wisconsin’s Don’t). Taxpayers and parents would then know if Troller’s assertions are fact based.

For the Love of Math!

Helen:

You’ve heard this a million (10 to the power of 6) times, but it is frightening. In the 2009 (41 X 49) Program for International Student Assessment US 15-year-olds ranked 25th (4! + 1) among 34 (square root of 1156) countries in math falling behind Canada, New Zealand, Finland, and Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong.
To counter this sad trend, stop by The Math Salon at Mosaic Coffeehouse on February 28th from 4-6 PM:

Private school finds answers in Singapore method

Jason Wermers:

Educators at a small private Christian school in Olde Town Augusta are seeing results with a math curriculum imported from halfway around the world.
For the past three years, Heritage Academy has used Singapore Math as its basal math curriculum for kindergarten through sixth grade.
In the first year the school adopted Singapore Math, all of its kindergarten and first-grade pupils met or exceeded proficiency standards on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, as did 80 percent of second-graders.
Why use math from Singapore?

Related: Math Forum Audio/Video.

American Teens Trail Global Peers in Math Scores; But U.S. Students Show Progress in Science

OECD

American teenagers made modest progress on an international exam, but still performed below average in mathematics compared with their peers in other industrialized countries, according to results released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The test, called the Program for International Student Assessment, has been given every three years since 2000 to 15-year-old students. Last year, when the test was administered, 60 countries participated. It’s coordinated worldwide by the Paris-based Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development.
The results for American students drew a lukewarm response from U.S. education officials as they seek to boost test scores among high-school and college students. “We’re in the middle of the pack; that’s not where we want to be,” said Stuart Kerachsky, deputy commissioner at the National Center for Education Statistics, an arm of the Department of Education that administers the PISA test in the U.S.

Korea and Finland top OECD’s latest PISA survey of education performance:

Korea and Finland top the OECD’s latest PISA survey of reading literacy among 15-year olds, which for the first time tested students’ ability to manage digital information.
The survey, based on two-hour tests of a half million students in more than 70 economies, also tested mathematics and science. The results for 65 economies are being released today.
The next strongest performances were from Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan. Full results here.
The province of Shanghai, China, took part for the first time and scored higher in reading than any country. It also topped the table in maths and science. More than one-quarter of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds demonstrated advanced mathematical thinking skills to solve complex problems, compared to an OECD average of just 3%.

Making Math Lessons as Easy as 1, Pause, 2, Pause …

Winnie Hu

By the time they get to kindergarten, children in this well-to-do suburb already know their numbers, so their teachers worried that a new math program was too easy when it covered just 1 and 2 — for a whole week.
“Talk about the number 1 for 45 minutes?” said Chris Covello, who teaches 16 students ages 5 and 6. “I was like, I don’t know. But then I found you really could. Before, we had a lot of ground to cover, and now it’s more open-ended and gets kids thinking.”
The slower pace is a cornerstone of the district’s new approach to teaching math, which is based on the national math system of Singapore and aims to emulate that country’s success by promoting a deeper understanding of numbers and math concepts. Students in Singapore have repeatedly ranked at or near the top on international math exams since the mid-1990s.
Franklin Lakes, about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan, is one of dozens of districts, from Scarsdale, N.Y., to Lexington, Ky., that in recent years have adopted Singapore math, as it is called, amid growing concerns that too many American students lack the higher-order math skills called for in a global economy.

Thank you from Singapore

From: Oliver Kim
Date: September 26, 2010 5:17:44 AM EDT
To: fitzhugh@tcr.org
Subject: Thank you from Singapore
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
Thank you for publishing my essay on the Maginot Line in this year’s fall issue of The Concord Review. Receiving your letter was at once joyous and humbling.
From the rise of the standardized test as a measure of academic success, to the subordination and disappearance of the long-form essay in the high school curriculum, the humanities appear to be losing ground in education. In light of the numerous competitions and accolades available to students of math and the hard sciences, options for students of the humanities, especially history, are comparatively few. The Concord Review stands alone as an exemplar for quality writing by lovers of history.
Thanks to your hard work, my school has all freshman students write a long-form historical essay based on the model of the essays that appear in The Concord Review. All students of AP European History are required to do the same, and, even in those classes that do not require long-form essays, The Concord Review is employed as a standard of quality and academic rigor. Though I cannot speak for my whole school, I can say that, anecdotally, this project has sparked historical curiosity and illuminated unexplored talents in my classmates.
Again, thank you for publishing my essay. I hope that the Review will find a solution to its financial woes and continue inspiring future generations of historians.
Warm regards,
Oliver Kim
Singapore American School [Class of 2011]
The Concord Review.

Hong Kong pupils shine in top Asian maths contest

Lana Lam

Two primary school pupils from Hong Kong won the top awards in one of Asia’s most prestigious maths competitions.
It’s the first time that any Hong Kong pupil has won a grand champion award at the International Mathematics Contest which was held in Singapore last month. About 1,000 pupils competed in the event which sees teams from the mainland, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indonesia, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand battling it out in algebra, geometry, statistics and measurements.
Nine-year-old boy Li Ka-wing scored the highest marks in the Primary Three category and 11-year-old girl Lam Ho-yan was the best pupil for the Primary Five exams.
They both train at the Hong Kong Mathematical Olympiad School in Kowloon which offers intensive maths coaching.
“Each year, there are good results. However this year, it was very special,” the school’s principal, Pinky Lam Sui-ping, said. Every year, thousands of Hong Kong pupils applied to compete in the event by sitting online tests, she said.

Math Curricula

Charlie Mas:

I know that I’m inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don’t expand the discussion.
Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: “The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it’s doing more than a lot of older curricula.”
Here’s my question: can problem-solving be taught?
I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don’t have an answer myself. I’m not sure, I’m asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn’t it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

Related: Math Forum audio/video links.

U.S. Falls Short in Measure of Future Middle School Math Teachers

Sam Dillon:

America’s future math teachers, on average, earned a C on a new test comparing their skills with their counterparts in 15 other countries, significantly outscoring college students in the Philippines and Chile but placing far below those in educationally advanced nations like Singapore and Taiwan.
The researchers who led the math study in this country, to be released in Washington on Thursday, judged the results acceptable if not encouraging for America’s future elementary teachers. But they called them disturbing for American students heading to careers in middle schools, who were outscored by students in Germany, Poland, the Russian Federation, Singapore, Switzerland and Taiwan.
On average, 80 percent to 100 percent of the future middle school teachers from the highest-achieving countries took advanced courses like linear algebra and calculus, while only 50 percent to 60 percent of their counterparts in the United States took those courses, the study said.

Articles and Books on Mathematics Education

The winter 2009-2010 issue of “American Educator”, has a number of interesting articles. Here are two of interest for people interested in mathematics education.
Daniel Willingham “Is It True That Some People Just Can’t Do Math”
Patsy Wang-Iverson, Perla Myers, and Edmund Lim W.K. “Beyond Singapore’s Mathematics Textbooks – Focused and Flexible Supports for Teaching and
Learning”
The first has a number of useful references as well as comments. Here is one. There have been many papers written in Madison on student’s lack of understanding of the equal sign. I once asked Liping Ma if this was a problem in China. She said that as far as she knew it was not. There is confirmation of this in one of the references.
Four questions asked of sixth grade students in the U.S. and China.

The paper which includes this is “Sources of Differences in Children’s Understanding of Mathematical Equality: Comparative Analysis of Teacher Guides and Student Texts in China and the United States”, by Xiaobao Li, Meixia Ding, Mary Margaret Capraro, Robert M. Capraro. It appeared in Cognition and Instruction, vol. 26, no. 2, pages 195-217, in 2008.
The second article in American Educator has comments on curriculum, teacher induction and education and support while teaching. There is also a one page supplemental article on teacher professional development and evaluation by Susan Sclafani and Edmund Lim W.K.
In addition there have been two very interesting books on school mathematics education written by mathematicians. The first is “Arithmetic for Parents: A Book for Grownups about Children’s Mathematics” by Ron Aharoni, Sumizdat, 2007. An article by Aharoni about his experience teaching mathematics in an elementary school in Israel can be read here. This is a good introduction to his book, and more useful details are in the
book.
The second is “And All the Children Are Above Average: A Review of The End of Ignorance: Multiplying Our Human Potential” by John Mighton, a Canadian mathematician and playwright. The paperback version of this book was published by Vintage Canada. You can read about Mighton here. and there is also information about his math program JUMP here. This program was developed after Mighton learned a number of things while tutoring students who had significant problems in learning elementary mathematics. A review of this book by David Kirshner appeared in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education in the January, 2010 issue.

Madison School District Elementary Math Curriculum Purchases

Superintendent Dan Nerad [64K PDF]:

MMSD has begun a three-year implementation plan to achieve an equitable and balanced mathematics program at tbe elementary level. The plan was developed and refined through collaboration with teachers, Instructional Resource Teachers and principals over the course of the past several years. The plan includes the materials described below (details via this 64K PDF),
With the attached order, MMSD has provided each classroom teacher in the District with a Learning Mathematics in the Primary/Intermediate Grades instructional guide and the set of teacher resources from the Investigations program. The third component of the teacher materials is Teaching Student Centered Mathematics by John Van de Walle, which is in place in most classrooms but will continue to be ordered using ELM or Title I funds, as necessary. Additional professional resources have been or are being purchased at the building level to create a library available for all staff to access as needed. Those resources include Primary Mathematics textbooks and teacher guides, Thinking Mathematically and Children’s Mathematics by Thomas Carpenter, Teaching Number series from Wright, among other recommended titles.
MMSD has provided all Title I schools with the Primary Mathematics (Singapore) workbooks and Extra Practice workbooks for the 2009-2010 school year. All manipulatives have been ordered for Title I schools over tbe past two years and are in place. Non-Title I schools have been and will continue to use ELM funds to purchase tbe student components for the implementation of a balanced mathematics classroom.

Related:

Discovery learning in math: Exercises versus problems Part I

Barry Garelick, via email:

By way of introduction, I am neither mathematician nor mathematics teacher, but I majored in math and have used it throughout my career, especially in the last 17 years as an analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. My love of and facility with math is due to good teaching and good textbooks. The teachers I had in primary and secondary school provided explicit instruction and answered students’ questions; they also posed challenging problems that required us to apply what we had learned. The textbooks I used also contained explanations of the material with examples that showed every step of the problem solving process.
I fully expected the same for my daughter, but after seeing what passed for mathematics in her elementary school, I became increasingly distressed over how math is currently taught in many schools.
Optimistically believing that I could make a difference in at least a few students’ lives, I decided to teach math when I retire. I enrolled in education school about two years ago, and have only a 15-week student teaching requirement to go. Although I had a fairly good idea of what I was in for with respect to educational theories, I was still dismayed at what I found in my mathematics education courses.
In class after class, I have heard that when students discover material for themselves, they supposedly learn it more deeply than when it is taught directly. Similarly, I have heard that although direct instruction is effective in helping students learn and use algorithms, it is allegedly ineffective in helping students develop mathematical thinking. Throughout these courses, a general belief has prevailed that answering students’ questions and providing explicit instruction are “handing it to the student” and preventing them from “constructing their own knowledge”–to use the appropriate terminology. Overall, however, I have found that there is general confusion about what “discovery learning” actually means. I hope to make clear in this article what it means, and to identify effective and ineffective methods to foster learning through discovery.

Garelick’s part ii on Discovery learning can be found here.
Related: The Madison School District purchases Singapore Math workbooks with no textbooks or teacher guides. Much more on math here.

One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck: Everyday Mathematics

Via a Barry Garelick email:

“The article describes my experience tutoring my daughter and her friend when they were in sixth grade, using Singapore Math in order to make up for the train wreck known as Everyday Math that she was getting in school. I doubt that the article will change the minds of the administrators who believe Everyday Math has merit, but it wasn’t written for that purpose. It was written for and dedicated to parents to let them know they are not alone, that they aren’t the only ones who have shouted at their children, that there are others who have experienced the tears and the confusion and the frustration. Lastly it offers some hope and guidance in how to go about teaching their kids what they are not learning at school.”

U.S. students’ math, science scores deliver mixed results

Greg Toppo:

If there were a math-and-science Olympics for elementary and middle schoolers, USA students could hold their heads high — they’re consistently better than average. In math, it turns out, they’re improving substantially, even as a few powerhouse nations see their scores drop.
But at the end of the day, the USA never quite makes it to the medal podium, a dilemma that has educators and policymakers divided, with some saying factors outside school play a key role in both achievement and productivity in general.
For the first time since 2003, the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, a battery of international math and science tests among dozens of nations, are out — and they paint a somewhat mixed picture of achievement: On the one hand, the USA ranks consistently above international averages in both subjects.
On the other hand, several nations consistently outscore our fourth- and eighth-graders, with a few countries turning in eye-popping performances.

Joanne has more along with Gerald Bracey:

First, comparing nations on average scores is a pretty silly idea. It’s like ranking runners based on average shoe size or evaluating the high school football team on the basis of how fast the average senior can run the 40-yard dash. Not much link to reality. What is likely much more important is how many high performers you have. On both TIMSS math and science, the U. S. has a much higher proportion of “advanced” scorers than the international median although the proportion is much smaller than in Asian nations.
Second, test scores, at least average test scores, don’t seem to be related to anything important to a national economy. Japan’s kids have always done well, but the economy sank into the Pacific in 1990 and has never recovered. The two Swiss-based organizations that rank nations on global competitiveness, the Institute for Management Development and the World Economic Forum, both rank the U. S. #1 and have for a number of years. The WEF examines 12 “pillars of competitiveness,” only one of which is education. We do OK there, but we shine on innovation.
Innovation is the only quality of competitiveness that does not show at some point diminishing returns. Building bigger and faster airplanes can only improve productivity so much. Innovation has no such limits. When journalist Fareed Zakaria asked the Singapore Minister of Education why his high-flying students faded in after-school years, the Minister cited creativity, ambition, and a willingness to challenge existing knowledge, all of which he thought Americans excelled in.

“Rice Paddies and Math Tests”

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249
“Rice Paddies and Math Tests”
Every four years, an international group of educators administers a comprehensive mathematics and science test to elementary and junior high students around the world. It’s the TIMSS…and the point of the TIMSS is to compare the educational achievement of one country with another’s.
When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of questions, such as what their parents’ level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It’s not a trivial exercise. It’s about 120 questions long. In fact, it is so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.
Now, here’s the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire varies from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math rankings on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough to focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.
The person who discovered this fact is an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Erling Boe, and he stumbled across it by accident. “It came out of the blue,” he says. Boe hasn’t even been able to publish his findings in a scientific journal, because, he says, it’s just a bit too weird. Remember, he’s not saying that the ability to finish the questionnaire and the ability to excel on the math test are related. He’s saying that they are the same: if you compare the two rankings, they are identical.
Think about this another way. Imagine that every year, there was a Math Olympics in some fabulous city in the world. And every country in the world sent its own team of one thousand eighth graders. Boe’s point is that we could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn’t even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.
So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. [Mainland China doesn’t yet take part in the TIMSS study.] What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kind of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”

Counting on the Future: International Benchmarks in Mathematics for American School Districts

Dr. Gary W. Phillips & John A. Dossey [2.5MB PDF Report]:

Students in six major U.S. cities are performing on par or better in mathematics than their peers in other countries in grades 4 and 8, according to a new study by the American Institutes for Research (AIR). However, students from five other major cities are not faring as well, and overall, U.S. student performance in mathematics falls off from elementary to middle school grades — and remains behind many industrialized nations, particularly Asian nations.
The AIR study offers the first comparison between students from large U.S. cities and their international peers. The study compares U.S. 4th grade students with their counterparts in 24 countries and 8th grade students with peers in 45 countries.
“Globalization is not something we can hold off or turn off…it is the economic equivalent of a force of nature… like the wind and water” (Bill Clinton)
If you are a student today competing for jobs in a global economy, the good jobs will not go to the best in your graduating class–the jobs will go to the best students in the world. Large urban cities are intimately connected to the nations of the world. Large corporations locate their businesses in U.S. cities; foreign students attend U.S. schools; and U.S. businesses export goods and services to foreign nations. Large urban cities need to know how their students stack up against peers in the nations with which the U.S. does business. This is especially important for students in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. The students in these fields will allow our future generation to remain technologically innovative and economically competitive.
This report provides a comparison of the number of mathematically Proficient students in Grades 4 and 8 in 11 large cities in the United States with their international peers.
This comparison is made possible by statistically linking the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in 2003 and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2003 when both assessments were conducted in the United States in the same year and in the same grades.
After the statistical linking was completed, it was possible to compare the most recent NAEP results (from 2007) to the most recent TIMSS results (from 2003). How the United States compares to the overall international average.
At Grade 4, five countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Chinese Taipei, Japan, and the Flemish portion of Belgium) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 39% proficiency) performed better than the international average (27% proficiency) of all 24 countries (Figure 13).
At Grade 8, eight countries (Singapore, Hong Kong SAR, Republic of Korea, Chinese Taipei, Japan, Belgium (Flemish), Netherlands, and Hungary) performed significantly better than the United States (Figure 1). However, the United States (at 31% proficiency) performed better than the international average (21% proficiency) of all 44 countries (Figure 14).
….
Because of the persistent requests of urban school districts, the U .S . Congress authorized NAEP to assess, on a trial basis, six large urban school districts beginning in 2002 . Since then, more districts have been added, resulting in 11 school districts in 2007 (and plans are underway to include even more districts in the future) . The urban school chiefs in these 11 large school districts, which voluntarily participated in the 2007 NAEP, recognized the global nature of educational expectations and the importance of having reliable external data against which to judge the performance of their students and to hold themselves accountable . They should be commended for their visionary goal of trying to benchmark their local performance against tough national standards. National standards provide a broad context and an external compass with which to steer educational policy to benefit local systems . The purpose of this report is to further help those systems navigate by providing international benchmarks.

Clusty Search: Gary W. Phillips and John A. Dossey.
Greg Toppo has more:

Even if the findings are less-than-stellar, he says, they should help local officials focus on improving results.
“In that sense, I think it could be a very positive thing to use in-house, in the district, to keep their nose to the grindstone,” says Kepner, a former middle- and high-school math teacher in Iowa and Wisconsin.”If they can show they’re improving, they might be able to attract more companies to a system that’s on the move.”
Phillips says the findings prove that in other countries “it is possible to do well and learn considerably under a lot of varied circumstances — in other words, being low-income is not really an excuse when you look around the rest of the world.”

Math Forum audio & video.

Madison Math Task Force Minutes

March 7, 2008 Meeting [rtf / pdf]. Well worth reading for those interested in the use of Connected Math and Core Plus, among others, in our schools.
A few interesting items:

  • Mitchell Nathan proposed a change to the name of the Work Group to more authentically describe its intent. There was consensus to accept the change in designation for the Work Group from “Curriculum Review and Research Findings” to “Learning from Curricula.”
  • “Addresses the misconception that there is one curriculum. There are a number of curricula at play, with the exception of the narrowing down at the middle school level, but teachers are also drawing from supplementary materials. There are a range of pathways for math experiences. The work plan would give an overview by level of program of what exists. “
  • “Could say that variety is good for children to have places to plug into. Could expand on the normative idea of purchasing commercial curricula vs. richer, in-house materials. Standards tell the teachers what needs to be taught. Published materials often are missing some aspect of the standards. District tries to define core resources; guides that help people with classroom organization.” Fascinating, given the move toward one size fits all in high school, such as English 9 and 10.
  • “Want to include a summary of the NRC report that came out in favor of Connected Math but was not conclusive—cannot control for teacher effects, positive effects of all curricula, etc. “
  • “Would like to give some portrayal of the opportunities for accelerated performance — want to document informal ways things are made available for differentiation. “
  • “Include elementary math targeted at middle school, e.g., Math Masters. There is information out there to address the Math Masters program and its effect on student achievement.”
  • “Data are available to conclude that there is equity in terms of resources”
  • “District will have trend data, including the period when Connected Math was implemented, and control for changes in demographics and see if there was a change. No way to link students who took the WKCE with a particular curriculum experience (ed: some years ago, I recall a teacher asked Administration at a PTO meeting whether they would track students who took Singapore Math at the Elementary level: “No”). That kind of data table has to be built, including controls and something to match teacher quality. May recommend that not worth looking at WKCE scores of CM (Connected Math) student or a case study is worth doing. “
  • The Parent Survey will be mailed to the homes of 1500 parents of students across all grades currently enrolled in MMSD math classes. The Teacher Survey will be conducted via the district’s web site using the Infinite Campus System.
  • MMSD Math Task Force website

Math Forum audio / video and links.

Accelerated Math in Maryland Middle Schools

Daniel de Vise:

The most noticeable change is a dramatic increase in students taking accelerated math classes in the middle years, an initiative that seems to have spread to every school system in the region. Educators view math acceleration as a gateway to advanced study in high school and, in turn, to college. Higher-level math classes have helped middle schools cultivate a community of students similar to those in honors and Advanced Placement high school classes.
At Samuel Ogle Middle School in Bowie, the number of students taking Algebra I, a high-school-level course, has doubled from 60 to 120 in the past two years.

Barry Garelick references Montgomery County’s experiment with Singapore Math. About Singapore Math. More here.

What’s Missing from Math Standards? Focus, Rigor and Coherence

William H. Schmidt:

Why do some countries, like Singapore, Korea, and the Czech Republic, do so much better than the United States in math? I’ve heard all sorts of reasons; diversity and poverty top the list. But after some 15 years conducting international research, I am convinced that it’s the diversity and poverty of U.S. math standards—not the diversity and poverty of U.S. students—that are to blame.
The single most important result of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) is that we now know that student performance is directly related to the nature of the curricular expectations. I do not mean the instructional practices. I mean the nature of what it is that children are to learn within schools. (In the U.S., the curricular expectations are usually referred to as standards; in other countries they are known by various names.) After all, what is more central to schooling than those things we, as a society, have chosen to pass on to our children?
The TIMSS research has revealed that there are three aspects of math expectations, or standards, that are really important: focus, rigor, and coherence. Let’s take a brief look at each.

New Math Textbooks Irk Some Parents

Ian Shapira:

Greg Barlow, an Air Force officer in the defense secretary’s office at the Pentagon, was helping his 8-year-old son, Christian, one recent night with a vexing problem: What is 674 plus 249?
The Prince William County third-grader did not stack the numbers and carry digits from one column to the next, the way generations have learned. Applying lessons from his school’s new math textbook, “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” Christian tried breaking the problem into easier-to-digest numbers.
But after several seconds, he got stumped. He drew lines connecting digits, and his computation amounted to an upside-down pyramid with numbers at the bottom. His father, in a teacherly tone, nudged him toward the old-fashioned method. “How would you do that another way?” Barlow asked.
In Prince William and elsewhere in the country, a math textbook series has fomented upheaval among some parents and teachers who say its methods are convoluted and fail to help children master basic math skills and facts. Educators who favor the series say it helps young students learn math in a deeper way as they prepare for the rigors of algebra.
The debate over “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” a Pearson School series used in thousands of elementary classrooms, including some in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Howard counties, is one of the newer fronts in the math wars. Such battles over textbooks and teaching methods are fueled in part by the anxieties of parents who often feel powerless over their children’s education, especially in subjects they know.
The curriculum, introduced in the 1990s and updated in a second edition issued last fall, offers one answer to the nation’s increasingly urgent quest for stronger elementary math education. The nonprofit organization TERC, based in Cambridge, Mass., developed “Investigations” with support from the National Science Foundation.

Related Links:

More time in class equals better math skills

Greg Toppo:

The idea that more time in school produces better results could get a small boost today with the release of international data from the Brookings Institution. The study finds adding 10 minutes of math instruction to an eighth-grader’s day translates into a jump in math skills.
The findings come as a handful of states and school districts experiment with packing more minutes into the school day and, in a few cases, more days into the year.
The study, which examined eighth-grade math scores in 20 countries, found that five of seven that added instructional minutes from 1995 to 2003 showed improved skills. Of the 13 countries that subtracted time, 10 got worse results. The three exceptions were Latvia, the Netherlands and the USA.
Most U.S. eighth-graders got 45 minutes of daily math instruction in 2003, down from 49 in 1995, but their scores on the Trends in Mathematics and Science Survey improved slightly. Researcher Tom Loveless says that is an anomaly, and more time in class could help boost scores. But even 450 more minutes of math, or two weeks’ worth, would shrink the gap between the USA and top-scorer Singapore by less than 5%, he says.

National Math Panel Unveils Draft Report

Sean Cavanagh:

Students’ success in mathematics, and algebra specifically, hinges largely on their mastering a focused, clearly defined set of topics in that subject in early grades, the draft report of a federal panel concludes.
The long-awaited report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is still very much in flux. Members of the White House-commissioned group staged their 10th, and what was supposed to be their final, meeting in a hotel here Nov. 28, though they indicated that numerous revisions to the document are yet to come.
The panel spent most of a day debating and rewriting a 68-page draft of the report. The draft makes recommendations and findings on curricular content, learning processes, training and evaluation of teachers, instructional practices, assessment, and research as those topics apply to math in grades pre-K through 8.
“International and domestic comparisons show that American students have not been succeeding in the mathematical part of their education at anything like a leadership level,” the report says. “Particularly disturbing is the consistent finding that American students achieve in mathematics progressively more poorly at higher grades.”
The 19-member panel has reviewed an estimated 18,000 research documents and reports as part of its work, which began in 2006. But its draft document also bemoans the paucity of available research in several areas of math—including instruction and teacher training. Government needs to do more, it says, to support research with “large enough samples of students, classrooms, teachers, and schools to identify reliable effects.”
The draft attempts to define the core features of a legitimate school algebra course as opposed to one, the panelists said, that presents watered-down math under that course title. Topics in an algebra course should include concepts such as symbols and expressions, functions, quadratic relations, and others, it notes.
The working report also spells out specific concepts in math that are too often neglected in pre-K through grade 8 math instruction generally, such as fractions, whole numbers, and particular elements of geometry and measurement.
“We don’t spend enough time on them and we don’t assess them,” panel member Camilla Persson Benbow, an educational psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said of fractions. “[They’re] really not well mastered by schoolchildren.”
In arguing in behalf of a more focused curriculum in elementary and middle schools, the panel lists several “benchmarks for critical foundations” in prekindergarten through 8th grade math, leading to algebra. The goal is to develop fluency with fractions, whole numbers, and other topics. The panel drew from a diverse assortment of documents, including the 2006 “Curriculum Focal Points,” published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, as well as Singapore’s national standards and a number of U.S. state math standards.

National Mathematics Advisory Panel Website

Singapore & Vietnam to Collaborate in the Training of Education Professionals

Singapore News: Singapore’s National Institute of Education (NIE) and Vietnam’s National Institute of Education Management have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a centre to train education professionals in Hanoi. Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Training Professor Dr Nguyen Thien Nhan and Singapore’s Education Minister and Second Finance Minister […]

MMSD Math Review Task Force Introduction and Discussion

The Madison School District’s Math Task Force was introduced to the School Board last night. Watch the video or listen to the mp3 audio. Background Links: Madison School Board Discusses Independent Math Review: Audio / Video. Math Forum Audio / Video UW Math Professor Dick Askey on the MMSD’s math scores; related: State test scores […]

New Math Curriculum Draws Complaints

Connected Math textbooks for one year and the equivalent Singapore Math version.Brandon Lorenz: A recent meeting at Central Middle School attracted about 50 people to discuss concerns with the district’s Connected Mathematics Project, a new constructivist approach that was introduced in sixth, seventh and eighth grades this year. Another meeting for parents is scheduled for […]

Do Math Topics Lead to Better Instruction?

Daniel de Vise: 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 […]

Miracle Math

Typical of many math textbooks in the U.S., this one is thick, multicolored,and full of games,puzzles,and activities,to help teachers pass the time, but rarely challenge students. Singapore Math’s textbook is thin, and contains only mathematics — no games. Students are given briefexplanations, then confronted with problems which become more complex as the unit progresses. Barry […]

Return to Basics in Teaching Math

Critics of “Fuzzy” Methods Cheer Educators’ Findings; Drills Without Calculators. Taking Cues from Singapore. John Hechinger: The nation’s math teachers, on the front lines of a 17-year curriculum war, are getting some new marching orders: Make sure students learn the basics. In a report to be released today, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, […]

Math Forum Audio / Video and Links

Video and audio from Wednesday’s Math Forum are now available [watch the 80 minute video] [mp3 audio file 1, file 2]. This rare event included the following participants: Dick Askey (UW Math Professor) Faye Hilgart, Madison Metropolitan School District Steffen Lempp (MMSD Parent and UW Math Professor) Linda McQuillen, Madison Metropolitan School District Gabriele Meyer […]

“Less May be More with Math Curriculum”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim: The books are distributed by an Oregon-based company known as SingaporeMath.com, which counts a private school in Madison as the first of its growing number of clients. The biggest difference between math instruction in Singapore – a city-state with a population of about 4.4 million – and the United States is a simple […]

More on the CMP Math Curriculum

Celeste Roberts: The problems with CMP go far beyond failing to reach parents. One big problem is that the edifice of mathematics is so huge. Think of how long it took mathematicians to discover all of it. When one tries to use the discovery paradigm as the sole model for math lessons, all of the […]

Singapore Education Minister Compares Singapore and America Schools

Newsweek International Edition columnist Fareed Zakaria interviewed Singapore Minister of Education Tharman Shanmugaratnam to understand why he believes Singapore students score tops in math and science on international tests, but lacks leaders in business, academia, math and science in the professional world. Shanmugaratnam’s sees driving ambition, creativity, and adventuresomeness as lacking in Singapore students — […]

Math Curriculum: Textbook Photos

A year’s worth of Connected Math textbooks and teacher guides are on the left while the equivalent Singapore Math texts are on the right. Friedman’s latest ,where he demonstrates how other countries are “eating our kid’s lunch in math” is well worth reading, as are these www.schoolinfosystem.org math posts. UW Math Professor Dick Askey has […]

More on Math

A reader forwarded this article: Jay Mathews, writing in the Washington Post: So when I found a new attack on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the nation’s leading association for math teachers, by a group of smart advocates, I saw a chance to bring some clarity to what we call the Math […]

The Model Method

ultimath:

The model method is a very powerful problem-solving strategy extensively used in the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Singapore, sometimes referred to as “Singapore Math” by other countries. Model Method help students visualize and simplify a math problem in a pictorial way. It was developed and popularized by Mr Hector Chee, a Singapore teacher, in 1990s.
Versatile and used in various topics
It is used to teach a wide range of Mathematics topics taught in the Primary Mathematics curriculum in Primary schools (elementary schools). Some of these include arithmetic, fractions, percentage, decimals, average, ratio and of course various problem sums testing these topics. It provides the pictorial perspective of the Mathematical problems and also provides easy analysis of ‘parts whole’ and comparison between quantities

Is Teacher Union “Collective Bargaining” Good for Students?

The Madison School Board has scheduled [PDF] a 2:00p.m. meeting tomorrow, Sunday 30 September for an “Initial exchange of proposals and supporting rationale for such proposals in regard to collective bargaining negotiations regarding the Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBA) for MMSD Madison Teachers, Inc. (MTI) Teachers, Substitute Teachers, Educational Assistants, Supportive Educational Employees (SEE), and School Security Assistants (SSA), held as a public meeting pursuant to Wis. Stat. §111.70(4)(cm)”.
The School Board along with other Madison area governments have moved quickly to negotiate or extend agreements with several public sector unions after a judicial decision overturning parts of Wisconsin’s Act 10. The controversial passage of Act 10 changed the dynamic between public sector organizations and organized labor.
I’ve contemplated these events and thought back to a couple of first hand experiences:
In the first example, two Madison School District teacher positions were being reduced to one. Evidently, under the CBA, both had identical tenure so the choice was a coin toss. The far less qualified teacher “won”, while the other was laid off.
In the second example, a Madison School District teacher and parent lamented to me the poor teacher one of their children experienced (in the same District) and that “there is nothing that can be done about it”.
In the third example, a parent, after several years of their child’s “mediocre” reading and writing experiences asked that they be given the “best teacher”. The response was that they are “all good”. Maybe so.
Conversely, I’ve seen a number of teachers go far out of their way to help students learn, including extra time after school and rogue curricula such as phonics and Singapore Math.
I am unaware of the School Board meeting on a Sunday, on short notice, to address the District’s long time reading problems.
A bit of background:
Exhibit 1, written in 2005 illustrating the tyranny of low expectations” “When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before”.
Exhibit 2, 60% to 42%: Madison School District’s Reading Recovery Effectiveness Lags “National Average”: Administration seeks to continue its use.
Ripon Superintendent Richard Zimman’s 2009 Madison speech to the Madison Rotary Club is worth reading:

“Beware of legacy practices (most of what we do every day is the maintenance of the status quo), @12:40 minutes into the talk – the very public institutions intended for student learning has become focused instead on adult employment. I say that as an employee. Adult practices and attitudes have become embedded in organizational culture governed by strict regulations and union contracts that dictate most of what occurs inside schools today. Any impetus to change direction or structure is met with swift and stiff resistance. It’s as if we are stuck in a time warp keeping a 19th century school model on life support in an attempt to meet 21st century demands.” Zimman went on to discuss the Wisconsin DPI’s vigorous enforcement of teacher licensing practices and provided some unfortunate math & science teacher examples (including the “impossibility” of meeting the demand for such teachers (about 14 minutes)). He further cited exploding teacher salary, benefit and retiree costs eating instructional dollars (“Similar to GM”; “worry” about the children given this situation).

William Rowe has commented here frequently on the challenges of teacher evaluation schemes.
This being said, I do find it informative to observe the Board’s priorities in light of the District’s very serious reading problems.
This article is worth reading in light of local property taxes and spending priorities: The American Dream of upward mobility has been losing ground as the economy shifts. Without a college diploma, working hard is no longer enough.

Unlike his parents, John Sherry enrolled in college after graduating from high school in Grand Junction, a boom-bust, agriculture-and-energy outpost of 100,000 inhabitants on Colorado’s western edge. John lasted two years at Metropolitan State University in Denver before he dropped out, first to bag groceries at Safeway, later to teach preschool children, a job he still holds. He knew it was time to quit college when he failed statistics two semesters in a row. Years passed before John realized just how much the economic statistics were stacked against him, in a way they never were against his father.
Greg Sherry, who works for a railroad, is 58 and is chugging toward retirement with an $80,000-a-year salary, a full pension, and a promise of health coverage for life. John scrapes by on $11 an hour, with few health benefits. “I feel like I’m working really hard,” he says, “but I’m not getting ahead.”
This isn’t the lifestyle that John’s parents wished upon their younger child. But it reflects the state of upward–or downward–mobility in the American economy today.

Related: Wisconsin State Tax Based K-12 Spending Growth Far Exceeds University Funding.
TJ Mertz comments on collective bargaining, here and here.
Madison School Board Member Ed Hughes: Didn’t See That One Coming: How the Madison School Board Ended Up Back in Collective Bargaining.
The Capital Times: Should local governments negotiate with employees while the constitutionality of the collective bargaining law is being appealed?

Parents Seen Less Involved In Schools Report Shows Decline in Calls, Meetings

Lisa Fleisher:

New city statistics are showing a steep decline in parent involvement in New York public schools, giving potential ammunition to critics who say the Department of Education under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been unresponsive to families.
City officials attributed part of the plummet to a new data-collection system. But critics, including some possible mayoral contenders, said the numbers in the annual Mayor’s Management Report were hard evidence of long-held frustrations by public-school parents.

I wonder if Madison PTO attendance patterns have changed? During the 2000’s, most meetings that I observed or participated in typically had no more than 12 to 15 parents. Often less than 10 appeared.
One meeting sticks out. More than 50 parents attended a Thoreau PTO meeting which attempted to bring Singapore Math to the school. That was a spectacular failure, unfortunately.

Poor numeracy ‘blights the economy and ruins lives’

Judith Burns:

Poor numeracy is blighting Britain’s economic performance and ruining lives, says a new charity launched to champion better maths skills.
The group, National Numeracy, says millions of people struggle to understand a payslip or a train timetable, or pay a household bill.
It wants to challenge a mindset which views poor numeracy as a “badge of honour”.
It aims to emulate the success of the National Literacy Trust.

Related:

How Silicon Valley Plans to Conquer the Classroom

Natasha Singer & Danielle Ivory: Silicon Valley is going all out to own America’s school computer-and-software market, projected to reach $21 billion in sales by 2020. An industry has grown up around courting public-school decision makers, and tech companies are using a sophisticated playbook to reach them, The New York Times has found in a […]

Madison Teacher / Student Relationships and Academic Outcomes?

Karen Rivedal: “Kids aren’t going to be able to take risks and push themselves academically, without having a trusting support network there,” said Lindsay Maglio, principal of Lindbergh Elementary School, where some teachers improved on traditional get-to-know-you exercises in the first few weeks of school by adding more searching questions, and where all school staff […]

6 Baltimore schools, no students proficient in state tests

Chris Papst: A Project Baltimore investigation has found five Baltimore City high schools and one middle school do not have a single student proficient in the state tested subjects of math and English. We sat down with a teen who attends one of those schools and has overcome incredible challenges to find success. Related: Math […]

Notes from Monday’s Madison School Board Meeting

Two interesting notes, among many, I’m sure from Monday evening’s Madison School Board meeting: Johnny Winston, Jr. introduced a motion for the Administration to look at acquiring land in Fitchburg for a new school. This motion passed 5-1, with Bill Keys voting no (and Juan Jose Lopez absent). Ruth Robarts advocated curriculum changes as a […]

The Yin & Yang of Curriculum

Interesting timing, given Jeff’s post below about West’s intention to drop advanced biology. Doug Erickson on Madison Country Day School’s expansion announcement: Madison Country Day School broke ground Thursday on a $4.8 million expansion that will add a gymnasium, a performing arts stage and 13 classrooms. The addition, which will house the private school’s middle […]

Isthmus articles

Two articles of interest appear in the issue of Isthmus dated June 15, 2004. A small article on page 6 says “Several Madison elementary schools, including Thoreau and Glenn Stephens, will begin teaching Singapore Math next year. The change comes amid concerns that the district’s preferred math program, TERC Investigations, which stresses self-guided problem solving, […]

How Canada became an education superpower

Sean Coughlan: When there are debates about the world’s top performing education systems, the names that usually get mentioned are the Asian powerhouses such as Singapore and South Korea or the Nordic know-alls, such as Finland or Norway. But with much less recognition, Canada has climbed into the top tier of international rankings. In the […]

School for frugal innovation

The Economist: SPARK is determined to provide private education for less than the 18,000 rand ($1,200) a year that it costs to educate a state-school student. The schools specialise in “blended learning”: pupils spend some time in conventional classes and some time in a computer room where they complete lessons on the screen. The schools […]

The Bright Students Left Behind

Chester Finn & Brandon Wright: A great problem in U.S. education is that gifted students are rarely pushed to achieve their full potential. It is no secret that American students overall lag their international peers. Among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, whose students took the PISA exams in 2012, […]

Kettle Moraine stands out with high achievement, global push

Alan Borsuk: That said, I’d call the Kettle Moraine School District the real thing, for three reasons. First, the 4,400-student district in western Waukesha County has a strong commitment to get the broadest perspective on how its students are doing. Talking about student performance, Superintendent Patricia Deklotz said, “Our results are generally high, but compared […]

Deconstructing PISA: Implications for Education Reform and Fighting Poverty

Elaine Weiss and Dr. Thomas W. Payzant:

Every three years, American policymakers eagerly anticipate the release of scores for the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). While any single test, no matter how strong, can explain only a limited amount about our education system, PISA provides some unique insights, testing students’ ability to apply knowledge and skills both in and out of school. It is taken only by 15-year-olds, making it a decent proxy for the “college-and-career readiness” that is the focus of current debates.
The 2013 headline is basically that the United States falls right in the middle of the pack, as it has for several decades. The U.S. Department of Education and its allies used those rankings to argue that U.S. schools are “stagnating” and to advance specific reforms it says will fix them. However, average scores may obscure and confuse more than they inform. Indeed, scores from individual states that have their own PISA rankings offer more policy-relevant insight than overall U.S. rankings. This makes sense — U.S. education looks more like a diverse patchwork than a unified system. Public investments in schools, and in students and their families, vary greatly across states, as do other policies that may boost or depress scores. Luckily, this year, three states received individual PISA rankings — as if they were independent countries. This can help us connect the dots between those disparities and scores.
Massachusetts is the good news story. If it were its own country, it would rank sixth in reading of 65 countries and economies included, behind only Singapore, Japan, Korea, and the Chinese regions of Shanghai and Hong Kong. Its students rank just above Finland and Canada, some of the world’s best readers. Though its math scores are slightly lower, Massachusetts keeps company with Belgium and Germany and is only slightly behind Finland and Canada, ranking 16 of 65. In science, Massachusetts ranks 11th, ahead of Canada and Germany. Connecticut, the second of three states with its own scores, falls just below Massachusetts, ranking 9th in reading, 18th in math, and 17th in science.

China’s academic obsession with testing

Kelly Yang, via a kind John Dickert email:

This month, for the third time in a row, the Asians kicked American butt — academically, that is. On reading, science and math, students in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore earned the top scores on the international PISA test. U.S. students scored below or near the worldwide average, prompting suggestions that American education as a whole is failing. As a Hong Kong educator, I’m confident that the last thing the United States needs to copy is Chinese education.
Here in this city of 2 million parents , there are 2 million school principals, all ordering after-school academic courses like appetizers in a restaurant. Parents are the headmasters because our schools no longer control the education process. A 2011 survey estimated that 72 percent of Hong Kong high school students receive tutoring outside of school, often until late in the evening. So when our schools get out, the school day is just beginning for most kids.
Long before the term “tiger mom” was coined, Chinese parents had a history of obsessing over academics. The other day, I overheard two parents talking about their sons. One mom turned to the other and shrieked, “I found him in his room, just sitting there. Not doing anything!” The other gasped and shook her head in disbelief.
Their sons are 6 years old.

O.E.C.D. Warns West on Education Gaps

DD Guttenplan:

Like a school principal handing out a clutch of C grades, Andreas Schleicher unveiled the results from the latest round of the Program for International Student Assessment tests last week.
For Britain, the United States and most of Western Europe, the results ranged from “average” to “poor.” British students, for example, scored exactly average in mathematics and slightly above average in reading and science. French students were slightly below average in science and slightly above in reading and mathematics. The United States were below average in mathematics and science but slightly above in reading.
For Asian countries, the news was much more encouraging, with students from Shanghai topping the chart by a considerable margin, but with students from Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea all closely bunched at the high end.
Mr. Schleicher, the head of education at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the tests every three years to about half a million 15-year-olds in 65 countries around the world, also noted significant improvement in Vietnam. He described it as a poor country whose students outperformed peers from many wealthier nations — and did even better once differences in income were taken into account.
“On a level playing field, the British look even worse,” he said at a press conference here.
Western countries, Mr. Schleicher warned, should not to comfort themselves with the myth that Asian high performance is the result of education systems that favor memorization over creativity.

The Case Against High-School Sports

Amanda Ripley:

Every year, thousands of teenagers move to the United States from all over the world, for all kinds of reasons. They observe everything in their new country with fresh eyes, including basic features of American life that most of us never stop to consider.
One element of our education system consistently surprises them: “Sports are a big deal here,” says Jenny, who moved to America from South Korea with her family in 2011. Shawnee High, her public school in southern New Jersey, fields teams in 18 sports over the course of the school year, including golf and bowling. Its campus has lush grass fields, six tennis courts, and an athletic Hall of Fame. “They have days when teams dress up in Hawaiian clothes or pajamas just because–‘We’re the soccer team!,’ ” Jenny says. (To protect the privacy of Jenny and other students in this story, only their first names are used.)
By contrast, in South Korea, whose 15-year-olds rank fourth in the world (behind Shanghai, Singapore, and Hong Kong) on a test of critical thinking in math, Jenny’s classmates played pickup soccer on a dirt field at lunchtime. They brought badminton rackets from home and pretended there was a net. If they made it into the newspaper, it was usually for their academic accomplishments.

More here.

The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity

Paul Peterson & Eric Hanushek:

Americans are aware of public education’s many failures–the elevated high-school dropout rates, the need for remedial work among entering college students. One metric in particular stands out: Only 32% of U.S. high-school students are proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the NAEP results are put on the scale of the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA), the world’s best source of information on student achievement, the comparable proficiency rates in math are 45% in Germany, 49% in Canada, and 63% in Singapore, the highest performing independent nation.
The subpar performance of U.S. students has wide ramifications–and not just for individuals. On an individual level, of course, the connection between education and income is obvious. Those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60% more in the course of their lifetime than those with a high-school diploma, according to U.S. Census data. But there is a nexus between educational achievement and national prosperity as well.
According to our calculations, raising student test scores in this country up to the level in Canada would dramatically increase economic growth. We estimate that the additional growth dividend has a present value of $77 trillion over the next 80 years. This is equivalent to adding an average 20% to the paycheck of every worker for every year of work over this time period.

The STEM Crisis Is a Myth

Robert Charette:

You must have seen the warning a thousand times: Too few young people study scientific or technical subjects, businesses can’t find enough workers in those fields, and the country’s competitive edge is threatened.
It pretty much doesn’t matter what country you’re talking about–the United States is facing this crisis, as is Japan, the United Kingdom,Australia, China, Brazil, South Africa,Singapore, India…the list goes on. In many of these countries, the predicted shortfall of STEM (short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers is supposed to number in the hundreds of thousands or even the millions. A 2012 report by President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, for instance, stated that over the next decade, 1 million additional STEM graduates will be needed. In the U.K., the Royal Academy of Engineering reported last year that the nation will have to graduate 100 000 STEM majors every year until 2020 just to stay even with demand. Germany, meanwhile, is said to have a shortage of about 210 000 workers in what’s known there as the MINT disciplines–mathematics, computer science, natural sciences, and technology.
The situation is so dismal that governments everywhere are now pouring billions of dollars each year into myriad efforts designed to boost the ranks of STEM workers. President Obama has called for government and industry to train 10 000 new U.S. engineers every year as well as 100 000 additional STEM teachers by 2020. And until those new recruits enter the workforce, tech companies like Facebook, IBM, and Microsoft are lobbying to boost the number of H-1B visas–temporary immigration permits for skilled workers–from 65 000 per year to as many as 180 000. The European Union is similarly introducing the new Blue Card visa to bring in skilled workers from outside the EU. The government of India has said it needs to add 800 new universities, in part to avoid a shortfall of 1.6 million university-educated engineers by the end of the decade.

Big “take-aways” about teacher preparation in Wisconsin

Wisconsin Elementary Teacher Prep Rating Distribution


Wisconsin Secondary Teacher Prep Rating Distribution


National Council on Teacher Quality:

Highly rated programs — The undergraduate secondary program at the University of Wisconsin – Stout is on the Teacher Prep Review’s Honor Roll, earning at least three out of four possible stars. Across the country, NCTQ identified 21 elementary programs (4 percent of those rated) and 84 secondary programs (14 percent) for the Honor Roll.
Selectivity in admissions — The Review found that 32 percent of elementary and secondary programs in Wisconsin restrict admissions to the top half of the college-going population, compared to 28 percent nationwide. Countries where students consistently outperform the U.S. typically set an even higher bar, with teacher prep programs recruiting candidates from the top third of the college-going population.
Some worry that increasing admissions requirements will have a negative effect on the diversity of teacher candidates. By increasing the rigor and therefore the prestige of teacher preparation the profession will attract more talent, including talented minorities. This is not an impossible dream: 83 programs across the country earn a Strong Design designation on this standard because they are both selective and diverse, although no such programs were found in Wisconsin.
Early reading instruction — Just 25 percent of evaluated elementary programs in Wisconsin are preparing teacher candidates in effective, scientifically based reading instruction, an even lower percentage than the small minority of programs (29 percent) providing such training nationally. The state should find this especially alarming given that Wisconsin now requires elementary teacher candidates to pass one of the most rigorous tests of scientifically based reading instruction in the country.
Elementary math — A mere 19 percent of evaluated elementary programs nationwide provide strong preparation to teach elementary mathematics, training that mirrors the practices of higher performing nations such as Singapore and South Korea. 25 percent of the evaluated elementary programs in Wisconsin provide such training.
Student teaching — Of the evaluated elementary and secondary programs in Wisconsin, 58 percent entirely fail to ensure a high quality student teaching experience, in which candidates are assigned only to highly skilled teachers and receive frequent concrete feedback. 71 percent of programs across the country failed this standard.
Content preparation — None of Wisconsin’s elementary programs earn three or four stars for providing teacher candidates adequate content preparation, compared to 11 percent of elementary programs nationwide. At the high school level, 23 percent of Wisconsin secondary programs earn four stars for content preparation, compared to 35 percent nationwide. The major problem at the secondary level is that programs’ requirements for general science or general social science certifications do not ensure that candidates are prepared in the content of every subject they will be licensed to teach, since the states licensing test requirements do not provide this assurance.
Outcome data — None of the evaluated programs in Wisconsin earn four stars for collecting data on their graduates, compared to 26 percent of evaluated programs in the national sample. In the absence of state efforts to connect student achievement data to teacher preparation programs, administer surveys of graduates and employers or require administration of teacher performance assessments (TPAs), programs that fare poorly on this standard have not taken the initiative to collect any such data on their own.

Related: “Transparency Central” National Review of Education Schools and Georgia, Wisconsin Education Schools Back Out of NCTQ Review.
Erin Richards

  • Some of the education programs in Eau Claire, Platteville, River Falls, La Crosse and Madison received between two and two and a half stars.
  • Other programs in Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse, Madison, Milwaukee, Oshkosh, Platteville, River Falls, Stevens Point, Stout, Superior and Whitewater received between one and one and a half stars.
  • About 1 in 3 teacher training programs reviewed restrict admission to the top half of the college-going population.
  • About 1 in 4 elementary education programs reviewed prepare teacher candidates in effective, scientifically based reading instruction
  • About 1 in 4 elementary ed programs reviewed provide strong preparation to teach elementary mathematics. That’s better than the national average of 19% of elementary education programs that offer strong math prep.
  • No Wisconsin programs evaluated earned any credit for collecting data on their graduates, compared with 26% of programs that did so in the national sample.

Nationally, more than 200,000 candidates graduate from teacher preparation programs each year, then enter systems where teacher quality has long been a point of debate.

Finally, Wisconsin recently adopted Massachusett’s elementary teacher content knowledge licensing (English only, not math) requirements beginning in 2014 (MTEL).

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Anu Partanen:

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.
Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

And So, It Continues 2: “Pro Union” or “Union Owned”


Madison School Board.

Chris Rickert:

There’s also the obvious point: If seniority and degree attainment make for better teachers, why are seniority protections and automatic raises for degree attainment necessary in a collective bargaining agreement or an employee handbook?
One would think good teachers should have secure employment, dibs on choice positions and regular raises by virtue of being, well, good teachers.
I’m not drawing attention to the ridiculousness of seniority and degree-attainment perks because I think Walker’s decision to effectively end public-sector collective bargaining was a good one.
But support for these common contract provisions is one way to measure school board candidates.
There’s a difference, after all, between being pro-union and union-owned.

Focus needed on long-term educational goals by Dave Baskerville:

There is now much excitement around Madison and the state with the selection of a new Madison School District superintendent, the upcoming election of new School Board members, the expected re-election of State Superintendent Tony Evers, the rollout of new Common Core state standards, and now a vigorous debate, thanks to our governor, over the expansion of school vouchers.
The only problem is that for those of us who pay attention to classroom results and want to see our students really move out of second-class global standings, there is no mention of long-term “stretch goals” that could really start getting all of our kids — black and white, poor and middle class — reading like the Canadians, counting like the Singaporeans or Finns, and doing science like the Japanese — in other words, to close the gaps that count long-term.
Let’s focus on two stretch goals: Wisconsin’s per capita income will be 10 percent above Minnesota’s by 2030, and our eighth grade math, science and reading scores will be in the top 10 globally by 2030.
This would take not only vision, but some serious experimentation and radical changes for all of us. Can we do it? Of course, but not with just “feel good” improvement and endless debate over means to that end, and without clear global benchmarks, score cards, and political will.

www.wisconsin2.org
The New Madison Superintendent Needs to “Make Things Happen”, a Wisconsin State Journal Editorial:

Barely half of the district’s black students are graduating from high school in four years. That’s a startling statistic. Yet it hasn’t produced a dramatic change in strategy.
Ms. Cheatham, it’s your job to make things happen.
Your top priority must be to boost the performance of struggling students, which requires innovation, not just money. At the same time, Madison needs to keep its many higher-achieving students engaged and thriving. The district has lost too many families to the suburbs, despite a talented staff, diverse offerings and significant resources.
Being Madison’s superintendent of schools will require more than smarts. You’ll need backbone to challenge the status quo. You’ll need political savvy to build support for action.
Your experience leading reform efforts in urban school districts is welcome. And as chief of instruction for Chicago Public Schools, you showed a willingness to put the interests of students ahead of the grown-ups, including a powerful teachers union.
We appreciate your support for giving parents more options, including public charter schools and magnets. You seem to understand well the value of strong teacher and student assessments, using data to track progress, as well as staff development.
The traditional classroom model of a teacher lecturing in front of students is changing, and technology can help provide more individualized attention and instruction. The long summer break — and slide in learning — needs to go.

Madison School Board Election Intrigue (Public!)

he top vote-getter in Tuesday’s Madison School Board primary said Friday she ran for the seat knowing she might not be able to serve out her term because her husband was applying for graduate school in other states.
Sarah Manski, who dropped out of the race Thursday, said she mentioned those concerns to School Board member Marj Passman, who Manski said encouraged her to run. Passman told her it wouldn’t be a problem if she had to resign her seat because the board would “appoint somebody good,” Manski said.
Passman vigorously denied encouraging Manski to run or ever knowing about her husband’s graduate school applications. After learning about Manski’s statement from the State Journal, Passman sent an email to other School Board members saying “I had no such conversation with her.”
“It’s sad to believe that this kind of a person came close to being elected to one of the most important offices in our city,” Passman wrote in the email, which she also forwarded to the State Journal.
Manski said in response “it’s possible (Passman) didn’t remember or it’s possible it’s politically inconvenient for her to remember.”

And so it continues, part 1.

U.S. Should Adopt Higher Standards for Science Education

Scientific American:

Americans have grown accustomed to bad news about student performance in math and science. On a 2009 study administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 15-year-olds in the U.S. placed 23rd in science and 31st in math out of 65 countries. On last year’s Nation’s Report Card assessments, only one third of eighth graders qualified as proficient in math or science. Those general statistics tell only a piece of the story, however. There are pockets of excellence across the U.S. where student achievement is world-beating. Massachusetts eighth graders outscored their peers from every global region included, except Singapore and Taiwan, on an international science assessment in 2007. Eighth graders from Minnesota, the only other U.S. state tested, did almost as well.
What do Massachusetts and Minnesota have in common? They each have science standards that set a high bar for what students are expected to learn at each grade level. Such standards form the scaffolding on which educators write curricula and teachers plan lessons, and many experts believe them to be closely linked with student achievement.

Related: www.wisconsin2.org

Education Is the Key to a Healthy Economy: If we fail to reform K-12 schools, we’ll have slow growth and more income inequality.

George P. Schultz & Eric A. Hanushek, via several kind readers:

In addressing our current fiscal and economic woes, too often we neglect a key ingredient of our nation’s economic future–the human capital produced by our K-12 school system. An improved education system would lead to a dramatically different future for the U.S., because educational outcomes strongly affect economic growth and the distribution of income.
Over the past half century, countries with higher math and science skills have grown faster than those with lower-skilled populations. In the chart nearby, we compare GDP-per-capita growth rates between 1960 and 2000 with achievement results on international math assessment tests. The countries include almost all of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries plus a number of developing countries. What stands out is that all the countries follow a nearly straight line that slopes upward–as scores rise, so does economic growth. Peru, South Africa and the Philippines are at the bottom; Singapore and Taiwan, the top.

What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success

Anu Partanen:

Everyone agrees the United States needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? One of the hottest trends in education reform lately is looking at the stunning success of the West’s reigning education superpower, Finland. Trouble is, when it comes to the lessons that Finnish schools have to offer, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.
The small Nordic country of Finland used to be known — if it was known for anything at all — as the home of Nokia, the mobile phone giant. But lately Finland has been attracting attention on global surveys of quality of life — Newsweek ranked it number one last year — and Finland’s national education system has been receiving particular praise, because in recent years Finnish students have been turning in some of the highest test scores in the world.
Finland’s schools owe their newfound fame primarily to one study: the PISA survey, conducted every three years by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey compares 15-year-olds in different countries in reading, math, and science. Finland has ranked at or near the top in all three competencies on every survey since 2000, neck and neck with superachievers such as South Korea and Singapore. In the most recent survey in 2009 Finland slipped slightly, with students in Shanghai, China, taking the best scores, but the Finns are still near the very top. Throughout the same period, the PISA performance of the United States has been middling, at best.

ROOTLESSNESS

Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.
Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.
As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, “average is over.” That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.
If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.
Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.
Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world’s economies.
So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don’t start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.
But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, “Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!” And Sir Alexander said, “not penicillin.”
Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.
Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.
I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

Christopher Drew:

LAST FALL, President Obama threw what was billed as the first White House Science Fair, a photo op in the gilt-mirrored State Dining Room. He tested a steering wheel designed by middle schoolers to detect distracted driving and peeked inside a robot that plays soccer. It was meant as an inspirational moment: children, science is fun; work harder.
Politicians and educators have been wringing their hands for years over test scores showing American students falling behind their counterparts in Slovenia and Singapore. How will the United States stack up against global rivals in innovation? The president and industry groups have called on colleges to graduate 10,000 more engineers a year and 100,000 new teachers with majors in STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. All the Sputnik-like urgency has put classrooms from kindergarten through 12th grade — the pipeline, as they call it — under a microscope. And there are encouraging signs, with surveys showing the number of college freshmen interested in majoring in a STEM field on the rise.