Saturday, August 11, 2007

How Discouraging...

There has been much press of late about the watering down of upper level mathematics courses in US high schools and the ill-effects of reform math that permeate K-12 education. Most recently we learned that the US will likely sit out the advanced TIMSS. The bar is being lowered right before our eyes.

We are not alone, however. I suppose misery loves company.

It seems that in the UK and Australia, students are being discouraged from taking upper level math to boost academic averages. Instead, students pad their last couple years with subjects they can do well in with less effort.

As the number of year 12 students enrolled in advanced and intermediate maths continues to slide, the chairman of the national committee for mathematical sciences, Hyam Rubinstein, said because maths was viewed as a difficult subject in schools, only the best and brightest were encouraged to pursue it at an advanced level.

"If a school wants to maximise their performance, they may feel that 'if we encourage weaker students not to take maths, our results will look better'," he said.

Upon entering university studies, these students require remedial math, of course. This also makes a career in science, technology, engineering or math quite unlikely. If you listen very carefully you can almost hear the doors of opportunity closing.

Compare this to China where math is a required course through age 18 and the end result is predictable. Unless we pick that bar up soon and turn things around, countries like China, Singapore and India will continue to develop the talent that every country requires to assure economic growth.

Discouraging students from taking challenging math courses that require effort, discipline and sweat equity not only results in remediation and lost opportunities, but it sends the wrong message. Forget the road less traveled, take the shortcut instead.

Discouraging indeed.

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