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A Wish List (Goal List) for Mathematics Education in This Country
Everyone knows that math education in this country is a mess. On the national news recently (November 9, 2010), it was announced that Harvard released a report that American high school students ranked 31st out of 56 countries in math. The report also states that only 6% of our high school students take advanced math courses; and this is true for both private and public schools. Then the report, as always, blamed the teachers. He indicated that more qualified teachers would solve our problems. If only it were easy.
Over the next two weeks, I’ll describe the various major attempts that have been made to fix math education and why they haven’t worked (so we won’t repeat them); analyze the horrible failure rate in first-grade algebra; outlining some new teaching techniques that will make things better slightly in math classes right now; and, finally, outlining the major paradigm shift that I believe must occur before real progress can occur.
Sure, being competitive in the global market is a necessary goal, and “being number 1 in the world” can be a desirable goal, but these are by no means the only things to worry about. The following objectives, in no particular order, are all as important as the two mentioned above. When we have achieved these goals, we will be much further along the path to successful mathematics education.
1. That No Child Left Behind will end and no further federal testing will be required.
2. That the desired high school graduation requirement of 4 years of higher level mathematics (algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, and calculus, for example) becomes realistic and a reality.
3. That all teachers are familiar with and use the latest brain-based teaching techniques.
4. That math anxiety will be eliminated.
5. That every child has the foundation necessary to succeed in high school mathematics.
6. That the algebra failure rate will drop from 50% to 0%.
7. That all girls will want to take math and science classes and will do well in both.
8. Never again will a student say “I hate math.”
9. That the perseverance shown by young children in learning to walk, talk and read be extended to mathematics.
10. That the almost innate understanding of our young children that they are clever sufficient and able learning to walk, talk and read will also become true for learning math.
11. Never again will a math student say, “That’s too hard. I can’t do that.”
12. That students begin to LOVE math because they find it easy and understandable.
13. That parents feel confident in helping their child with math as they do now with language.
14. That public schools and local governments assume the necessary role of helping parents help their children with mathematics.
15. That no parent will ever say “I wasn’t good at math either.”
16. Let everyone come to understand the importance of mathematics in all of our lives.
17. That all “gaps” — male versus female, white versus black, poor versus rich, etc. — will disappear.
And so on. Did I miss important goals? Probably. I know that many of these goals are impossible until this major paradigm shift occurs; but I also know that we can work on some of them right now. The more we can accomplish now, the closer we get to solving our math teaching problems. We cannot afford to fail.
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