Wednesday, May 12, 2021

‘Inclusive’ Math Dumbs Down Curriculum, Fails Students Who Need Help Most

California’s new “inclusive” math curriculum promises “equity” in math. Its goal is to provide “equitable education” by “making sure all students receive the attention, respect, and resources they need to achieve their potential.”

But the state’s math curriculum is full of inefficient practices, poor standards, and an absolute revulsion for the pursuit of truth.

The curriculum serves as a guide to the rest of the state for how to teach math. The California State Board of Education developed it for the specific purpose of attracting “black, Latinx, and Multilingual” people to math, in which they are “historically underrepresented.”

But the state school board goes about this in the entirely wrong way.

First, the curriculum asks teachers to reconsider “preconceived biases” about math, particularly the idea of “one right answer” to math problems. The curriculum looks derisively at the idea that “a student can work on a question such as 18 x 5 in a textbook question, or in response to a teacher question, with the expectation that one answer is the goal.”

It suggests instead a “number talk,” where “teachers ask the class of students to work out the answer to 18 x 5 … then ask the class for the different answers that students may have found, and write them on the board,” and then ask students to defend their answers.

The problem is that in most math questions at the grade school level, there is only one correct answer; in this case, the answer is 90.

“Number talks” seem like a terribly time-inefficient way of teaching math if students are going up to the blackboard to defend answers that are ultimately wrong and would lead only to confusion and further difficulty in learning. Struggling students would be subject to a slow and indulgent math curriculum, further falling behind more advanced peers.

But it is in the weeds of this curriculum where the insidious purposes lurk.

The curriculum proposes to eliminate ability sorting, which is sorting students by their ability in math. Positing that students who have been granted a “giftedness” label that leads to “fragility” over losing that status, guidance for the curriculum suggests that to heal “racial divisions,” educators should reconsider ability sorting.

This means that a high-achieving student who would be challenged in a calculus class in high school would be forced to move back to precalculus or algebra II.

Math teacher Mike Malione, a member of the Piedmont Advanced Learners Coalition in Piedmont, California, writes: “Both algebra in eighth grade and calculus in 12th grade would be slated to go” under the new curriculum.

The so-called inclusive curriculum seems to function primarily for one purpose: to eliminate the ladders of achievement. By killing programs for gifted students and removing incentives such as grades to arrive at the right answer, the curriculum provides no incentive to do well in class. It is the kind of a “go along to get along” instruction that has failed minority students for too long.

In New York City’s public school system (which is 82% minority), such “go along” instruction has been tried for over 20 years after identity politics-infused rhetoric dismantled a substantial number of the city’s public programs for gifted students.

Now, with no accountability or incentive to perform, New York City’s black and Latino students couldn’t be more lost in the world of math. In fact, 80% to 94% of students in NYC’s public middle schools passed their math classes even though only 2% to 15% of them passed their math exams.

In some middle schools, teachers have lost the will to teach, seeing frustratingly dispiriting results as children “play hooky, skip course work, flunk tests—and still pass.” There is little doubt that as NYC students are advanced from grade to grade, their acquisition of true math skills is criminally perfunctory.

The education establishment now has a school of thought that it is OK to let these kids fail—because they were just not cut out for math.

The Dana Center Mathematics Pathways at the University of Texas at Austin offers six different “pathways” for students in teaching math; only one offers calculus I in high school. The rest—for “liberal arts” or “teaching”-oriented children (as if one can determine a person’s ultimate career goal at age 14)—lead to textbooks that teach math specifically in a way that isn’t computationally intensive.

Shannon Watkins, a higher education researcher in North Carolina, told me in an interview that education professionals “are looking to design alternative math gateway courses, because college algebra is considered ‘a stumbling block’ for these students.”

The low expectations on these students create a culture where performance isn’t valued and students leave with few math skills of use in the working world.

Yes, an achievement gap in math exists between the nation’s black and Latino students and the nation’s white and Asian students.

That is not in question. But teaching “inclusive” math directed at the very kids who most need a rigorous, high-functioning math curriculum is the opposite of an answer. Worse: It exacerbates the problem.


Falling College Academic Standards: New Evidence

My friend George Leef of North Carolina’s James Martin Center recently alerted me to a fine new National Bureau of Economic Research study showing that data suggesting there has been improved academic performance by American college students is illusionary: schools are simply lowering their standards. A primary culprit? Grade inflation.

For several decades in the 20th century, college completion rates were embarrassingly low and sometimes falling—many students entering college failed to graduate. Over the last generation or so, however, that has reversed: college completion rates are rising again. In “Why Have College Completion Rates Increased? An Analysis of Rising Grades,” a quintet of scholars now associated with Brigham Young, Purdue and Stanford Universities as well as the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), exhaustively (71 page paper) examine the issue.

As the authors point out, several things could have led to rising college completion rates: better pre-college academic preparation, rising wage premia associated with degrees, an increase in study times, falling real prices of attending college and rising state support for universities are five such factors. In reality, however, the trends with respect to these important factors in most cases suggested that over time a smallerproportion of entering students should have graduated from college within six years of entering.

But one thing that is vitally important to completing college is grades, and continued grade inflation over time has made it easier to graduate from college since students receive fewer failing or very low grades unacceptable for receipt of a diploma. According to one time Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer, in 1940, the average GPA of American college and universities students was below 2.5 on a four point scale—more “C”, “D” and “F” grades compared with “A” and “B”s. That was still true when I attended college in the collegiate Golden Age of the late 1950s and early 1960s. But by the end of the twentieth century a typical grade was “B”, and by early in the last decade the average had risen still further, with average GPAs exceeding 3.1.

At the same time, research by Philip Babcock and Mindy Marks and others show that American college students are spending far less time on their studies than they did a couple of generations ago. Broadly speaking, American college students typically are earning much higher grades than those of a half century or so ago, but doing about one-third less work. Doing less for more—but at a far higher cost.

It’s actually worse. American students enter college less prepared than counterparts in other countries or, in some respects, Americans of two generations ago. From 1972 to 2016, the average verbal score on the SAT test fell about 35 points, and on the PISA international assessment in science and math (given to 15 year old secondary students), U.S. student performance is abysmal, well below Asian standards (China, Japan, Korea) and even relatively poorer European nations like Poland.

To entice kids to go to college, the schools apply low grading standards, and wink at excessively libertine lifestyles replete with lots of sex and booze, sometimes illicit drug use.

In spite of all of this, however, fewer kids will go to college this fall than a decade ago. Here are 5 reasons:

Kids are often paying a lot of money to learn relatively little, while not exercising fully their capacity to learn;

Colleges increasingly are intolerant of those not subscribing to a woke, progressive view of the world with which many Americans are uncomfortable;

The cost of college has risen sharply, and it is a greater burden to finance it today than it was 25 or even 50 years ago;
Many graduates become severely underemployed, taking jobs traditionally filled by those with a high school education; why go to college to become a bartender?

Birth rates are low and falling; fewer babies were born in 2000 (college age now) than 40 years earlier, and 10% fewer still were born in 2020.

In the short run, the Biden bailout of colleges may get them through current tough times, but, as I have said before, huge amounts of federal largesse are not permanently either politically or economically feasible in the long run.


Australia:Teachers oppose state-wide educational assessment

They are afraid it will show them up as incompetent

Costing millions of dollars every year, education experts have told The Courier-Mail NAPLAN is outdated, misused, and causes undue angst to kids, parents and teachers.

Queensland Teachers’ Union president Cresta Richardson said the majority of teachers “loathe” the test and most feel the testing method is “broken”.

”The message from members is clear – NAPLAN in its current form needs to go,” she said.

“It is the Union’s view that in the face of a federal government that, despite the views of the profession that standardised testing is an ill-informed practice that provides little educational value to students, is determined to keep some form of the test in place, the high stakes nature of the program needs to change.”

Ms Richardson said many teachers were pressured to “teach to the test”, with NAPLAN results even used for performance management of staff.

University of New South Wales Professor of Educational Policy Pasi Sahlbeg said his own young son, set to undertake NAPLAN for the first time this year, was “afraid and doesn’t want to go to school”.

“On his first day of school this year he heard about NAPLAN – it’s been such a traumatic experience already and it’s affecting his learning,” he said.

“Australia is the only country to hold onto a census high stakes assessment – we are a bit of an outlier.

“We need clarity on the aims and the purpose of NAPLAN. “The original intent of NAPLAN was to be a low stakes assessment – not anymore.”

Professor Sahlberg said a more effective way of taking the pulse of students’ literacy and numeracy skills would be a sample-based assessment – an idea the teachers’ union also backs.

“Parents should opt in for their students to participate in NAPLAN and the withdrawal form should be made more easily accessible for parents, not hidden behind firewalls as has been the practice this year,” Ms Richardson said.

University of Newcastle Associate Professor Jess Harris said students often felt anxious about the NAPLAN tests.

“It (has become) a high stakes test and it can have significant stress impact on teachers, members of the school and on individual students,” she said.

But the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting authority who oversee NAPLAN say this year’s test may be the most crucial one to date, given it was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief executive David de Carvalho said the test provided key information on how well students were learning the essential skills of reading, writing and mathematics.

“With the cancellation of NAPLAN last year and the interruption of schooling because of COVID the community is eager for information about the impact on learning in literacy and numeracy and the effectiveness of remote teaching and learning,” he said.

“Literacy and numeracy are critical elements of learning and it is important to understand how each student is progressing in establishing these foundations.

“The NAPLAN tests provide valuable information to all schools about the performance of their students, and support the ability of schools to focus teaching on areas of need.

Mr de Carvalho said it was up to the adults in children’s lives, including their parents and teachers, to ensure kids keep “NAPLAN in perspective”.

“The best way you can help your child prepare for NAPLAN is to reassure them that NAPLAN tests are just one part of their school program, and to urge them to simply do the best they can on the day,” he said.




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