Common Sense Improvements Needed in Education, Not Reform Per Se

The following post in the Silicon Valley Education Foundation Thoughts On Public Education (TOP-Ed) website caught my attention Friday night, so much so that I wrote and posted the comment shown below.

The SVEF TOP-Ed post below rang true for me as not only indicative of a problem in community colleges, but also in high school, and earlier, with our national obsession that everyone must attend college to have any sort of meaningful life.  While I want anyone to have the choice of pursuing college, I do not believe that everyone must be placed on a conveyor belt that winds its way through an education factory designed with one destination: college.  I will write more about my perspective on this later.  For now, I need to get to writing two calculus quizzes for my students tomorrow: one on implicit differentiation and the other on use of the definite integral to find the area between two functions.

College students can’t get “passed” math

Study finds community college math a barrier to success

There’s been a lot of research on the sorry rate of completing basic skills classes, but the EdSource study, Passing When it Counts, reveals that even students who are deemed ready for college math are struggling to pass. Those rates vary by race and ethnicity. African American students passed 41 percent of the time; Latino students had a 49 percent pass rate; it was 60 percent for white students and 65 percent for Asian students. But those figures only apply to students who remained in the courses; between 18 and 30 percent dropped them.

While it may lessen the need for my services, I do not believe that all students should be forced to take mathematics courses as offered in high schools today.  This is especially so if they repeatedly struggle due to insufficient understanding, whether conceptual or procedural, and have little to no interest in overcoming their struggles, or taking the course sequence in the first place.

At the same time, all students should have equitable access to courses required for college entry if that is their desire, and receive the highest quality instruction, and support, in those courses.  Furthermore, courses developing meaningful mathematics knowledge and skills, and taught in ways that students find invigorating, should be available.

These options do not have to be mutually exclusive; they complement each other.   They even allow traversal from one to the other, likely with greater results for the student and society.  They differ in that they defer to individual student, or parent, choice that more likely aligns with a students’ capabilities, interests, and desired career path than what a federal, state, or local bureaucrat may dictate, or even what a well-meaning education reformer may advocate.  More importantly, truly relevant mathematical skills remain undeveloped in the majority of high school graduates, for even those who pass many mathematics course sequences today possess only a partial understanding of the mathematics they supposedly learned.

Unfortunately, the reliance on circa 1900 structures, processes, roles, and methods, coupled with the heavy-hand of federal funding a la NCLB (ESEA), RTTT, & The Blueprint, along with the oversimplification of reality for political expediency, forces public education into a one size shoe fits all approach, which fails to satisfy nearly any objective, but remains the same since the divide between opposing sides is too vast.  Only when our nation reals from a true threat to our survival will meaningful change occur, similar to Pearl Harbor, or Sputnik.  At the same time, if we wish our children’s children to celebrate the nation’s tricentennial, we must fall back on common sense approaches to improvements, rather than continue to rely on views biased by political persuasion, or worse financial corruption in the guise of choice, philanthropy, venture capital, or free markets for educational reform.

I have so much more to say on this subject, but not enough time.  As a first year teacher, I find myself in this position all too often.  As I have heard though, the second year gets better!

About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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