Wow. Just wow. A stunningly idiotic op-ed in the New York Times today. A piece by a retired political science professor, Andrew Hacker, proclaims that math instruction has little to no value for most students.
The toll mathematics takes begins early. To our nation’s shame, one in four ninth graders fail to finish high school. In South Carolina, 34 percent fell away in 2008-9, according to national data released last year; for Nevada, it was 45 percent. Most of the educators I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.
Shirley Bagwell, a longtime Tennessee teacher, warns that “to expect all students to master algebra will cause more students to drop out.” For those who stay in school, there are often “exit exams,” almost all of which contain an algebra component. In Oklahoma, 33 percent failed to pass last year, as did 35 percent in West Virginia.
Algebra is an onerous stumbling block for all kinds of students: disadvantaged and affluent, black and white. In New Mexico, 43 percent of white students fell below “proficient,” along with 39 percent in Tennessee. Even well-endowed schools have otherwise talented students who are impeded by algebra, to say nothing of calculus and trigonometry.
Does it even slightly occur to Hacker that the problem may not be the math but the people teaching it? Maybe better teachers get better results. Gee, that couldn’t be the case, could it?
I have personally seen the decline in my local school system, particularly in the high school. My daughter had a “math teacher” who claimed that he had invented a better method for solving simultaneous equations. His method produced nonsense. When we taught our daughter the correct method for solving the problems, the teacher graded the answers as wrong. Which is why my daughter graduated with honors from another school.
Is it really surprising that bad schools and bad teachers are turning out bad results?
Understanding of math is utterly critical to modern society. This need for understanding how it works is increasing, not decreasing.
Without math, people cannot understand how the political science types are lying to them by manipulating numbers and using slanted statistics. That is reason enough to keep teaching it and reforming teaching to ensure that happens.