Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mathematics 'too hard for students and dons': British universities drop subject from science courses

Competition from the Far East is a standard boogeyman in education debates but in this case it is real. There is huge mathematical talent in China and Chinese mathematicians are already to be found in universities just about everywhere

It's not an entirely new problem either. My mathematical talents are slim to the point of invisibility but in the large Sociology Dept. where I worked during my academic career it usually fell to me to teach statistical analysis! Nobody else was willing or able to do it. Yet statistical analysis is an integral part of sociological research

Universities are dropping maths from degree courses because students – and their lecturers – cannot cope with it, a report warns today. Decades of substandard maths education in schools has led to a ‘crisis’ in England’s number skills, threatening the future of the economy, it says.

Universities are being forced to dumb down degree courses requiring the use of maths, including sciences, economics, psychology and social sciences. Students are unable to tackle complex problems and their lecturers struggle to teach them anyway, it is claimed.

The reputation of the country’s universities and graduates is now under threat, according to the report, ‘Solving the Maths Problem’, published by the education lobby group RSA.

After looking at maths education in other countries, the authors found that lessons and qualifications in English schools were ‘not fit for purpose’.

They say that classes fail to stretch the brightest while leaving weaker pupils ill-equipped to use maths for work and family budgeting, and warn of a growing knock-on effect on universities.

‘English universities are sidelining quantitative and mathematical content because students and staff lack the requisite confidence and ability,’ the report says, adding that English universities are ‘not keeping pace’ with international standards.

Some universities are no longer advertising the level of maths needed to study particular subjects for fear of putting off applicants, the report warns.

It adds: ‘Recent research suggests that universities are marginalising mathematical content in the delivery of degree courses because English students are not capable of studying it.’

The report by the RSA – formally called the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce – suggests that all students should be required to study maths until the age of 18, with the introduction of sixth-form qualifications such as ‘Maths for Citizenship’. England is just one of a handful of developed nations that fail to educate pupils in maths until that age, it says.

Only 15 per cent of youngsters study the subject past 16, aside from GCSE candidates taking resits to boost their grades.

The report also backs the introduction of a ‘double award’ maths GCSE, with one section concentrating on maths for everyday life and the other covering formal maths such as algebra and geometry.

‘Mathematics knowledge and qualifications are increasingly important gateways to further and higher education, for crucial life-skills and in order to respond to economic change,’ it says. ‘But the way mathematics is taught and assessed in England has not always kept pace with these changes or with the needs of learners and has left one in four adults functionally innumerate.’


Difficult to fire bad teachers in California too

Only the utterance of a racial slur got rid of her

The La Canada Unified school board in California voted unanimously — 5-0 — to fire a high school math teacher accused of calling a student “Jew boy.” The same teacher was also said to have mocked a disabled student’s speech impediment in June of 2011.

Now, dismissal proceedings for Gabrielle Leko are slated to go into effect Feb. 27.

After initial complaints about the teacher were filed, a substitute was assigned to Leko’s classroom in the fall so that another adult was always present.

KTLA adds:

Then, in December, the board recommended the district reach a settlement with Leko that could lead to her leaving the district. The board also decided to give students the option to leave her class. Fifteen students in her pre-calculus class and two in her advanced-placement calculus class chose to leave. Board president Scott Tracy told the La Canada Valley Sun that a settlement could still happen before Feb. 27. “The board will continue to peruse all options, including a settlement that would result in the employee’s separation from the district at the end of the current academic year,” Tracy said.

On the website RateMyTeachers Leko garners an average overall score, but some of the low scored-reviews, issued by disillusioned students, shed light on just what has been going on in the shamed teacher’s classroom, as well as insight into her mindset. Some of the negative reviews are reprinted below, several dating as far back as 2004:

The thing that makes Mrs. Leko a bad teacher is the fact that she will not answer questions. If you ask her to do a problem on the board she’l refuse and respond with a torturingly vague answer “Think about it,“ or ”Its all in the vocabulary.” Sometimes she’ll just make you feel stupid and inadequate. I have always loved math up until now, but she has made me despise it. She does not teach either, simply tells us to look at examples and scribbles on the bored. Needs to learn how to explain things

Extremely unhelpful, and rude to an incredible point, insists on insulting and bringing to light in front of everyone the shortcomings of each person.

One of the worst teachers at LCHS. Very biased. Hates Armenians, Jews, girls,parents in general, etc.

Prejudiced and raciest teacher, should not be teaching. does not fallow any rules as a teacher puts students down, doesn’t help struggling students

By far the worst teacher I’ve experienced in however many years of math. She intimidates students, points out ALL of their flaws (ex. if she doesn’t like their name, she will make a point to embarrass the student in front of the class.)

She has a terrible reputation for incredibly valid reasons. Rude to her students, very unaccomadating to personal needs and/or learning styles (everything has to be done her way), and on top of all this, a terrible teacher strictly in the sense of her instruction. Worst teacher I have ever had to LCHS. I’m a straight-A student.

I don’t hate many people, and I hate Mrs. Leko. She is so spiteful and…well, mean. She’s just mean. It took me a while before my self-esteem healed.

It seems dismissal proceedings for Ms. Leko should have commenced years ago. Why she has been allowed to remain in her position for as long as she has remains a mystery.

(Editors note: There are some grammatical errors in the student’s reviews published above. To keep their comments true to their original form, they have not been edited for grammar or spelling).


Australia: Negligent education bureaucrats in NSW hit disabled children

AN investigation into the debacle that left hundreds of disabled students without school transport has blamed senior bureaucrats at the NSW Department of Education, but cleared Education Minister Adrian Piccoli.

Former director-general of education Ken Boston today handed his report into the bungle to Premier Barry O'Farrell, who said it demonstrated a "systemic breakdown" within the department.

On the first day of the school year, 740 disabled students were left without transport, after operators pulled out of some runs at the last minute because of complaints over a new payment system.

Mr Boston's report is scathing of the department's handling of the operators' complaints. He says the department repeatedly failed to tell Mr Piccoli that some students could be left without transport, even though it had known since October there was a risk that would happen.

"The prevailing culture seems to have been one of telling senior officers, and even the director-general and the minister, what it was thought they wanted to hear, not what they needed to know," the report says.

"I criticise the Deputy Director-General, Finance and Infrastructure and the Director of Finance Shared Services for failing to deliver this $80 million program of vital importance to the most vulnerable children in NSW, and their parents.

"They have damaged the reputation of the Department of Education and Communities in the opinion of the transport operators, the community and the NSW Government." Mr Boston recommended disciplinary action be taken against both senior education officials.

Mr O'Farrell, who received the report at 11am (AEDT), said he was angered by the report's findings. "What the report details is a systemic breakdown in the Department of Education and Communities in relation to this transport scheme for children with disabilities," he said in Sydney.

"As I read the report I got increasingly angry at what was clearly a lack of focus by the department on the needs of those children and their families. "I have asked the Director-General of Education and Communities to implement the recommendations and advise me what action will be taken against the two senior staff members about which Dr Boston made specific recommendations of disciplinary action."

The State Opposition has demanded the sacking of Mr Piccoli, saying he should have acted when he was told there were problems with the contract last year. However, Mr O'Farrell defended his minister, saying his department had failed to advise him about the potential debacle despite repeated requests for information.

"Mr Piccoli and his staff have at all times sought to handle this as is appropriate," he said.

Mr Piccoli said he was angry that he didn't get the sort of advice that he should have been getting from the department. "I asked all of the questions I should have asked," he said. "I should have been given better advice and more accurate advice so that this problem could have been averted. "The advice that was given to me was insufficient, wrong.

"The Boston report clearly says that the department have let me down and the Government down, but have most importantly let those parents down of those students who were affected on the first day of school."


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