Here are some thoughts on mathematics for the CATS Task Force recently named by Kentucky Commissioner of Education Jon Draud.
“Standards need to focus on a small enough number of topics so that teachers can spend months, not days, on them.” “…one illustration: in the early grades, top-achieving countries usually cover about four to six topics related to basic numeracy, measurement, and arithmetic operations. That’s all. In contrast, in the U.S., state and district standards, as well as textbooks, often cram 20 topics into the first and second grades. That’s much more than any child could possibly absorb.”
“…why do we have such unfocused, undemanding, and incoherent math standards? I attribute it to the long tradition in the U.S. of shared responsibility in curriculum decision-making, as well as a complex decentralized arrangement for schooling and curriculum development.”
“On the math portion of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, just seven percent of fourth- and eighth-graders in the U.S. attained the advanced level; in comparison, in Singapore (the top achieving nation), 38 percent of fourth-graders and 45 percent of eighth-graders attained the advanced level….”
“…the virtual absence of input from the academy (i.e., university professors and research mathematicians), make(s) defining the sequence of topics an exercise in democratic consensus making. Unfortunately, standards setting in the U.S. is more conducive to politically motivated, ad hoc approaches to content than to discipline-based ones.”
Truth time – I didn’t write these comments. Professor William H. Schmidt from Michigan State University did.
Now, here’s a surprise. He didn’t publish this in the Bluegrass Institute’s Web site. His thoughts are found in the American Federation of Teachers’ “American Educator” for Spring 2008.
AFT is the “other” teachers union we don’t hear much about in Kentucky. Maybe that’s too bad. It seems they pay some attention to improving the art and science of teaching rather than just constantly haranguing us for more money and better benefits.
Anyway, Task Force members, get reading!