Friday, July 11, 2008

Algebra part II

Amazing. The Sacramento Bee editorial actually got something right on public schooling. The described the dire straights of California math teaching.
http://www.sacbee.com/editorials/story/1075230.html
And, they were responsible rather than glib about alternatives they so often suggest.
I said that I would offer more on the Algebra decision.

I actually prefer their statement to my own.
They start in reality. We should expect the School Board to do what political appointees do- make grand statements. Then someone has to do the work of improving math education, including algebra.
If we start with this reality, then we are not disappointed at political grandstanding.
They note that California currently ranks 47 out of the 50 states in math achievement. Perhaps that should give the School Board something to do.
In addition to their list of ways to begin to address the math/algebra problems, I offer one more.
Notice that Math Departments at colleges teach math to all of our teachers. And, you can not major in Education in California.
Therefore, almost all of the teachers who are not being successful in teaching math k-8, have taken their math courses from our Math Departments. That is, the Math Departments did not teach the teachers. They failed.
They Math Departments need a little more humility.
In addition, as the Bee editorial calls for, we need more math majors to teach math and Algebra in grades 8-12.
But, why do we not have more math majors. Well, part of the problem is that our Math Departments are not doing a very good job of teaching math to college students. Perhaps we should take their advice on teaching with a few grains of salt.
In interesting effort called The Algebra Project has been quite successful in preparing young people in Algebra, African American, Latino and white. They approach Algebra from a hands on- experimental approach.
By the way, this is the same approach found to be successful in our best engineering schools such as my alma mater Carnegie-Mellon University.
Math Departments have a lot to they could learn from them, if they would be willing to listen and to learn.
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