Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Trimming math topics to improve student performance

With some elementary math text books topping 700 pages, and state math standards specifying that students learn and master upwards of 40 topics each year, perhaps it's time to scale back and focus on the math skills that really matter.

That's the thinking behind an article in yesterday's Washington Post, "Local Schools Study Whether Math - Topics = Better Instruction."

Another in a long line of media coverage on a new set of recommendations from the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM), this article examines how states -- Virginia and Maryland*, in particular -- are approaching these new guidelines. State math leaders in both states are meeting this week to discuss how the NCTM's "Focal Points" document should impact their math curricula.

Stanford math professor (and huge critic of current math instruction in the United States) R. James Milgram says, "the 41-page report aligns teaching 'with what is being done with unbelievable success' in other countries." According to many prominent mathematicians, that's a good thing, as students in countries such as Singpore and Korea routinely outperform their American counterparts on international math tests.

I'm hoping Ken DeRosa at D-Ed Reckoning and Catherine Johnson at Kitchen Table Math have some insight, as they're way smarter than I am at thinking about teaching math. Sure to be interesting....

*Flashback to Barry Garelick's article, "A Tale of Two Countries -- And One School District," to see how high hopes may not be warranted in Maryland. So much potential for good -- but such weak will to accomplish it.


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