Pass the Anchovies: What’s with Singapore Math and Sputnik?

By 12/21/2010

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My friend Barry Garelick has a great take on the meaning of the recent American scores on the PISA tests.  Barry is a professional mathematician who came a little late to the art and science (and foppery) of teaching math to kids, but early to the solutions (see his Education Next story on Singapore math way back in 2006).

In his recent blog, It isn’t the Culture, Stupid, Barry argues that it’s a little late for “wake-up” calls and “Sputnik moments” as the proper responses to the eye-popping poor performances of American students on the PISA math tests.

Says Barry:

[T]he wake-up call and Sputnik moment has already happened.  We’ve already looked.  The Department of Education in 2005 contracted to have a report done on Singapore’s math program….  And in 2006, a Presidential National Mathematics Advisory Panel was formed to examine how K-8 math education could be improved in the US….    Let’s hope we stop bickering about what’s happening overseas and take a look at what we’ve already done.  At the very least, it will save the taxpayers some money.  And it might even help some kids learn math.

As they used to say in the early post-Sputnik days, “Houston, we have a problem.”

–Peter Meyer

Comment on this article
  • Barry Garelick says:


    I’m shocked and horrified to see you call me a professional mathematician. I guess the time has come for full disclosure to my many fans and paparrazi . I majored in math, but do not hold a PhD in it and am not now, nor have I ever been, a professional mathematician. I do know a bit about the subject, however, despite having been taught in the traditional manner which many school boards, educrats and rest room attendants have decreed does not work for most people.

  • Peter says:


    Sorry, but as a humanaities major, I consider anyone who professess to know something about math a professional mathematician. In any case, keep up the fight for better math education.

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