Sunday, January 6, 2008

National Math Panel Preliminary Report

The Preliminary Report of the National Panel is out, but that doesn't mean we have a clue what their findings of the final report will be. I read through it hoping to find a suggestion of something, a shred of hope, a ray of light. But no. The report was absolutely, frustratingly diplomatic. They're walking on eggshells, it's true, but there's so much at stake I was expecting more.

Just take a look at this:

The discussion about math skills has persisted for many decades. One aspect of the debate is over how explicitly children must be taught skills based on formulas or algorithms (fixed, 2 step-by-step procedures for solving math problems) versus a more inquiry-based approach in which students are exposed to real-world problems that help them develop fluency in number sense, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. In this latter approach, computational skills and correct answers are not the primary goals of instruction.

Those who disagree with the inquiry-based philosophy maintain that students must first develop computational skills before they can understand concepts of mathematics. These skills should be memorized and practiced until they become automatic. In this view, estimating answers is insufficient and, in fact, is considered to be dependent on strong foundational skills. Learning abstract concepts of mathematics is perceived to depend on a solid base of knowledge of the tools of the subject. Of course, teaching in very few classrooms would be characterized by the extremes of these philosophies. In reality, there is a mixing of approaches to instruction in the classroom, perhaps with one predominating.

Just when you think they're committing themselves to the importance of a "solid base of knowledge of the tools of the subject," they start talking about "mixing of approaches to instruction in the classroom, perhaps with one predominating." Which one is predominating and why is it better? That's what I want to know.

Clearly, algebra readiness is the focus.

...the Panel sees its role as addressing all aspects of teaching and learning in mathematics from pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) through grade 8 or so, but not so fully with teaching and learning in algebra per se. While readiness for algebra is the central concern, the Panel also will address, with lesser intensity, elements of early-grade mathematics that may be needed in preparation for higher mathematics distinct from algebra, such as geometry or statistics.

I think that this is a very good thing. This is where the the focus should be because as far as I can tell, this is where the breakdown has been occuring. If these children aren't meeting international standards by eighth grade, it doesn't matter what you're doing or how much money you're spending in high school (are you listening Mr. Gates?). It's way too late by then.

Perhaps if I read the prelim report a couple more times I could speculate on where the panel is headed. However, that time would be more wisely spent teaching my own children Singapore Math with a little Saxon thrown in for good measure. There you have it. A "mixing of approaches to instruction" right in the comfort of my very own home.

Guess I'll just have to wait until March for the final report, just like everybody else.

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