Math Wars Have Their Day in Court



By Education Next 09/03/2010

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Josh Dunn talks with Education Next about a state court ruling overturning a decision by the Seattle school board to adopt a progressive math curriculum.

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For more on this topic, please see “2+2=Litigation,” by Joshua Dunn, which appears in the Fall 2010 issue of Education Next.




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  • Linda says:

    This was very interesting. I just read Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers” and it struck me as so funny that early educators actually felt that too much studying would cause mind injury. One researcher actually did a minor study that correlated educated people with insanity – in other words that too much education and knowledge sometimes caused insanity.
    Insanity is what we practice when we do the same things over and over again expecting different results. The education system is broken. A progressive curriculum will not fix it as noble as these intentions may be. Goldman brings to light the educational philosophy of 150 years ago – that too much studying injured the mind and therefore, education hours were cut. Saturday school was cut, school days were cut and of course, the sacrosanct summer vacation was implemented. ANy teacher will tell you kids forget everything they learned over the summer with the exception of upper middle class parents who have money to continue education during summer time. Math is daunting to most students. Math is math – no matter how you slice it. What is required is more time to teach, to learn, to study and to digest the concepts. Our fundamental hypothesis is wrong when we want to implement new strategies without lengthening the school day and school year. Oh, but the system might have to compensate teachers for the extra hours they put in. Boo-hoo! Common sense and other countries who have longer instruction times and do much, much better at math and science should have been a wake up to to America education and politicians, but no. It’s our fate to fail I supposed, our karma for how we’ve treated other cultures so terribly that we are caught in the quagmire of our own ignorance yet don’t really now that we are. Until we can honestly assess the failure of present system and understand that hard work creates mathematicians, not recesses. Until we can make mathematics a national mission and honorable pursuit, then we are stuck blaming teacher because they can’t be better babysitters and teachers at the same time. The public education system will never produce college graduates until we “honor” schools, teachers and students who excel – just like we do the basketall and football star and prom queen. We have to reward effort in math. Not results – but efforts. Children can understand what’s for their own good – if it’s shown to them. Adults need to mentor children. Adults they admire. Parents need to be in the classrooms. It’s been proven that charter schools are better because parents are hands-on in the process of learning. We know what works – we see it in China, Asis, Finland and other countries that whiz right past us in math and science. WHen are we doing to do something about it?

  • Public Option Supporter says:

    Courts are supposedly independent of political pressures, but I have personally seen many local trial court decisions that I would have to say were biased by local political correctness. If the podcast describes the case accurately, I’d say that the decision will be overturned in the appellate court, which is a multi-judge panel and is not generally located in the community. When a school district’s board follows the rules for hearings, open meetings, conflict-of-interest, etc., and arrives at a decision, the courts really don’t have jurisdiction to overturn the decision unless it violated higher law. Apparently, this judge found the board acted capriciously and arbitrarily even though it held hearings and a lawful vote. That doesn’t sound right to me.

    Sometimes local judges just make a decision that the local politicians and political base would like, knowing that the “hot potato” case will be bumped up to a remote court where the correct decision will be made without political blow-back against the local judge at reelection time. It’s a case of “not on my watch” with plausible deniability. I expect this decision to be reversed on appeal.

    US students are far below many other countries’ students, even among the top levels of students, in math achievement. We’re doomed unless this trend is reversed. Do other countries have a more “progressive” approach than the US does? I don’t know. Maybe their students are just less distracted, more motivated, more pushed by parents to achieve, spending more hours in class, or whatever. However, there may be something wrong with our traditional math education methods. Here’s an eye-opening lecture by a math teacher with some concrete examples of where we’re doing it wrong and how he tries to do it better: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWUFjb8w9Ps . If that’s what the lawsuit is about — “progressive” ways to teach math reasoning that are better than the traditional text books’ methods, I’m in favor of whatever has been shown to work, no matter what label you put on it.

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