What is wrong with today's math education?by : Tiffany Tunnell
posted on : 8/4/2013
According to a 2011 educational study by the U.S. Dept. of Education, 40% of 4th grade students across America were either proficient or above proficient in mathematics. For those who are decent at math, this means the other 60% were below basic levels considered proficient. A recent study called TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study) suggests “American students tend to perform worse in math and science as they age.” Not only is this an alarming statistic, it shows how poorly students are being prepared educationally for their futures. A Gallup writer summed it up: “For the first time, most Americans think it is unlikely that today’s youth will have better lives than their parents.”
Many parents and educators believe U.S. students simply are not being educated properly, especially in basic foundational concepts and techniques in mathematics. As a result, these students are not prepared and lack the confidence needed for future success.
It is important as a community that we understand the reasons why our educational system has failed and how we can improve education for the future. There are many theories as to why math and science students are struggling. Based on expert observations, combined with data and trend analysis, here are the most probable causes: Nationwide school budget cuts, lack of necessary resources, teacher turnover, ever-changing curriculums, and an overkill of standardized testing.
Across the nation, school budget cuts have been occurring for many years, but over the past five years, they have been greatly exasperated by the Great Recession. Thousands of teachers have been laid off, materials are often in short supply, and class sizes have greatly increased. In Arizona, for instance, it isn’t uncommon for classes to be approaching 40 students in middle school and high school. In extreme cases, some students don’t even have a desk. Add to that, students are expected to perform better without a textbook.
School curriculums are ever-changing. Every two or three years, it’s out with the old and in with the new. Math is the universally constant. Numbers don’t change, math today is the same as it was a thousand years ago. The only difference is major publishers need new products to make sales. Education is a business, after all.
Teacher turnover is another big problem. Nearly half of all teachers leave after an average of just five years of teaching. Various reasons have been cited: Starting families, burnout, going back to school, and teaching in short-term programs like Teach For America which only require teachers to teach for a minimum of two years in the field.
Another huge factor negatively impacting teacher satisfaction has been the push for standardized testing across the nation. Pros and cons of standardized testing can be found at http://StandardizedTests.ProCon.org/. Here are a few cons they list:
- Standardized testing has not improved math education. From 2002 – 2009, the U.S. actually slipped from 18th to 31st place in the developed world in mathematics.
- Standardized tests measure only a small portion of what it takes to be successful in life; things like critical thinking, creativity, motivation, and persistence.
- Teachers no longer teach for long-term student success, they teach to the tests with “Drill and Kill” methods.
- Classroom instruction and activities which promote learning through critical thinking have being replaced by test preparation, practice tests, and discussions of test procedures.
All of this may leave you thinking “What can I do to get more involved in my child’s education?” Here are a few suggestions. First, study the learning taking place at your child’s school when you visit for Open House or parent/teacher conferences. Are enriching activities happening regularly in the classroom, or is there a lot of talk about test preparation and test taking procedures? Consider speaking with school administrators and teachers if you don’t like what you are seeing and hearing.
Next, invest in secondary programs that teach discipline, work ethic, and problem solving. Learning centers, like MathRise® Learning Center in Glendale, Arizona, provide supplemental education by building strong foundational skills in mathematics, reading, and writing. Other great programs to consider are dance, music, martial arts, and competitive team sports.
What you shouldn’t do as a parent is solely rely on the school system to teach your child all they need to know. Teach them whatever you can to them while they are young and keep them busy learning new skills while they are growing up. Education takes commitment, practice, and effort. This leads to achievement, confidence, and high self-esteem; all of which will set up your child for a prosperous future.