It’s all math’s fault

Posted: August 3, 2012 by aliceaitch in Anklebiting rugrats, Edumakashun, WTF Is Wrong With Colorado

Since when is mastery of algebra a “lofty mathematics bar”? (warning, NYT link)

I am so tired of teachers complaining that they’re being required to teach to the test.  In the case of mathematics, especially, there’s no excuse for not teaching to the test – there are clear concepts that demonstrate mastery, the answers are not vague and ethereal and open to interpretation.  Instead teachers try to slide on the idea that some students are too stupid to learn algebra, when I think an argument can be made that everyone from normal intelligence up should be able to learn first-year algebra.  It’s not just about the math, stupid, it’s about understanding how pieces of the world fit together.  It’s about learning to think critically and logically – something a writer for the New York Times likely doesn’t understand.

Hacker tries to argue that math is the reason kids drop out of high school and college.  I believe the real reason math is so problematic is math teachers – too many teachers who never loved math are in the position of teaching that apathy to their students. Sometimes students could learn more on their own using a Math blog or self-motivated research and learning. Students who do well in math go on to be engineers and scientists and take other geeky jobs that pay much better than teaching.  There’s no distinction at the K-12 level, though, for paying math and science teachers notably more to entice math achievers to go into teaching.  In some cases, such as the state of Colorado’s retirement plan, the system has been designed to discourage career math and science workers from going back and teaching later in their careers by leveraging harsh penalties on retirement pay for taking the teacher salary’s pay cut.*

I’m curious to hear what our three readers think – do you feel math and science teachers should be paid a salary that is maybe not comparable to what they’d make in the private sector, but high enough that they’re going to have to eat love of teaching for dinner?  Or should anyone who wants to teach just be willing to make that sacrifice?

*I know the retirement thing makes no sense unless you’re in it, so I’ll try to explain further – I know a systems architect (that’s a high-level computer nerd, for those of you who aren’t geeks) who works for a school district.  His plan when he started working for the district was to work in IT until he hit 63, then teach for five years or so during the years when a geek’s not likely to be at the top of his game but isn’t entirely useless.  He’s been in a mentoring role in his department for a long time, he’s demonstrably good at teaching, so having him bring his actual job experience into a classroom would be valuable for the kids. The Colorado retirement system restructured a few years back to pay retirement based on the last three years of employment, not the highest three years.  Because of this, his retirement pay would be taking as much as a 70% hit if he chose to teach for any of the last few years of his career.  Because all the state school districts and colleges use the same, failing, retirement system, there’s no option to retire at a normal retirement age and then teach elsewhere unless he moves out of state or waits a couple of years and then goes back into the system.

  1. squidgrunt says:

    Only when teachers are rewarded for merit and not for time served will our education improve. Your example is a prime example of this. For this individual would demonstrate his superior ability to teach the subject well, with real-world examples. And the more junior, tenured union folks would look incompetent and that just can’t happen. Free the schools up to reward quality teachers, and then you will see our children being challenged, not just in SMET subjects, but in civics, debate and english. What passes for advanced courses today are nothing more than the standard of 25 years ago.

  2. doubleplusundead says:

    Basically what he said.

  3. MikeD says:

    All this “math is too hard” crap pisses me off. This country put men on the moon with kids taught “old math” (where you actually had to KNOW the answer) using fucking sliderules. Are you aware kids are allowed to use calculators in their SATs now? What in the fuckity-fuck? With that little addition I’d have aced my Math SAT.

  4. Jimmy don\'t play that says:

    Let us not forget these are products of the collegiate education system that values methodology over content. As though the constructivists left the fundamentals in the dust and took the whole “preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference” to the hilt, and refrained from soiling themselves with any actual knowledge of the subject matter; preferring instead to let the environment do that while they retreat to the teachers’ lounge to extol the “holistic, humanism approach to education” which, Montessori style, absolves the teacher from any responsibility of, you know, actually understanding any of the actual subject matter. So, like, yeah, mafs be hard &sh*t. Especially if the teaching establishment values teaching at the expense of the subject.

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