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4 Secrets about Math Education that Impact Your Children

Sep 24, 2017

The education system is far from perfect. Many kids are graduating without math competency. Others have mastered the skills but they don’t like math. Why haven’t these problems been fixed? Here are four secrets about math education that policy makers would rather you didn’t know.

 Secret #1: Math classes haven’t changed much since the early 1900s.

Sure, there have been a minor advancements. The curriculum has been modified a bit. Physical math books have been replaced with e-books and chalkboards have been replaced with white boards and SMART boards. But the basic structure and teaching methods today are remarkably similar to those of our grandparents’ generation.

Students still typically sit in rows with about 30 kids. The math teacher lectures in the front and gives assignments. Kids work to get the answers to a set of problems. Frequent unit tests evaluate student mastery and a grade is given.

Then the class moves on to the next topic. Even when students get an unsatisfactory grade they don’t get the remediation and extra time to master the concept.

Teachers are under pressure to stick to the pacing set out by the state and the school district. Kids who need extra practice regularly end up with massive learning gaps

 Kids get discouraged about math and develop anxieties or pretend they don’t care.

 Why hasn’t this been fixed?

The math curriculum is just too big for the teachers to remediate students who need it. Individualizing instruction and pacing would take a huge paradigm shift and a higher teacher to student ratio. That would cost a lot of money. The inability of the schools to individualize instruction is a critical issue for both accelerated learners and those who need extra time. This is the biggest problem Mathnasium of Poway solves. We maintain a low instructor to student ratio.

Secret #2: Teachers don’t have proper diagnostic tools

Kids take plenty of tests. Unfortunately, many of the tests are not designed to help teachers understand student learning needs. Standardized test results don’t give the right kind of information. By the time the teachers get the results, they have often moved on to other math topics, or even have a whole different class. The standardized tests change from year to year, making an individual’s growth difficult to assess. Unit tests only test material taught in the last month or so. They fail diagnose a learning gap from previous grades or gaps in foundational knowledge. For example, an algebra teacher won’t know if a student never mastered fractions, but the lack of mastery will impact the student’s ability to understand the quadratic equation.

Why hasn’t this been fixed?

The proper diagnostic tools would be useless, unless teachers could modify the pacing and the curriculum to fit the needs of the individual child. Special education has better diagnostic tools. They also have more control over the pace of instruction than regular education. If you think your child may have a math learning disability, like dyscalculia, advocate for your child at the school and bring them into Mathnasium of Poway today.

Secret #3: There aren’t enough good math teachers.

Many elementary teachers are not properly trained to teach math. Decades of ineffective math instruction has had a negative impact on the abilities of math teachers. Often their own negative personal experiences with math affect the children’s view of math.

Why hasn’t this been fixed?

There is a shortage of qualified teachers in general. Politics, low wages, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2016/06/20/teacher-pay-around-the-world/ negative public image of teachers, and other factors make teaching a less desirable profession for many would-be teachers. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/10/18/americas-growing-teaching-shortage-how-it-looks-state-by-state/?utm_term=.c32e6bafcfaf The voters and policy makers would need to make a major shift in resources and attitudes to attract and retain more teachers. Finnish teachers get more respect, more training, and more money than U.S. teachers. https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/17/highly-trained-respected-and-free-why-finlands-teachers-are-different Consequently the Finns have more teacher applicants and can choose the top 7% of applicants. See: Don’t Blame the Teachers that Math in Elementary School is in Shambles

Secret #4: Many math students don’t get the encouragement and support they need to excel in math. 

Despite overwhelming research to the contrary, the myth that girls and some minority groups have less of a “math brain” than other people persists. Cognitive scientists, psychologists, and educators refute the idea of a “math brain”, and insist that most everyone is capable of mastering advanced math concepts. It just takes time, effort, and a plan for success.

Why hasn’t this been fixed?

There are concerted efforts from experts to change the attitudes. Unfortunately, shifting people’s attitudes and stereotypes often takes generations and a concerted public awareness campaign. Mathnasium of Poway joins with many others to break down barriers.

What Can You Do About these Problems?

You are already on the right path. You are learning. You can also help spread awareness about the challenges our schools face. Vote about things important to math education and education in general. Find time to volunteer in the classroom to help kids who are struggling. 

If your own children are struggling in math, support them, encourage them, and incorporate math into your daily life.

And of course, bring them into Mathnasium of Poway to get them the help they need!