Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Good News on Math? (re-posted from June, 15, 2007)

Today the New York Times published this editorial. I have abridged it and then I have a few questions to think about.

Good News on Math

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the teachers of New York are rightly proud of the city’s performance on this year’s state math tests. New York City students showed gains in every grade tested, outpaced students in most other of the state’s big cities and edged closer to the state performance average.
The new scores, which showed that 65.1 percent of city students are performing at or above grade level — are up from 57 percent last year.
The news is not as good for the city’s eighth graders. Only 45.6 percent of them were found to be proficient in math. These disappointing results suggest a need for stronger instruction in the sixth grade, where students may not be getting the skills they need to master more complex, middle school material.

And now for my questions:

1. Why is Mayor Bloomberg proud?
2. How would Mayor Bloomberg do on these math tests?
3. How would the writer of this editorial do on these math tests?
4. Why is the goal to prepare students for more complex middle school material?
5. What does mastering middle school math prepare students for?
6. Assuming the answer to #5 is high school material, what does that prepare students for?
7. Assuming the answer to that is college material what does that prepare kids for?
8. Given that most students never use the mathematics they learn in high school ever again the rest of their lives, why are we playing this silly game?
9. Could the answer to that be that Mayor Bloomberg wants to be able to say he did something important in education even if by any reasonable standard he clearly didn’t?
10. Since when does 35% of students failing constitute success at anything?
11. If every student in New York were good at mathematics in what way would our society be better off?
12. Why is the goal to beat other cities and states?
13. Is New York in competition with other cities and tests in some math contest we don’t know about?
14. What good happens in New York if it wins that competition?
15. What good happens to Mayor Bloomberg if New York wins that competition?
16. Why does the New York Times care about any of this?
17. Does the New York Times realize that every time they crow about nonsense such as this they make mathematics more and more important in the curriculum?
18. Are all the people at the New York Times experts in mathematics?
19. If they are experts in something else, like say writing, thinking, working at deadlines, preparing coherent reports, reasoning about hard political problems, and such, why wouldn’t those be important parts of the curriculum?
20. Could it be that when we emphasize mathematics we de-emphasize the very things the people at the New York Times are good at?
21. Does anyone care that the system is now totally insane?
22. Does the New York Times realize it is making matters worse in education with editorials like this?
23. Does Mayor Bloomberg or the New York Times actually care about education?

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