Groundhog Day and a New Push for the Basics

[EDDRA is dedicated to analyzing reports, dispelling rumors, rebutting lies about public education in the United States. It represents an online version of the work that Gerald Bracey has been doing since 1991.]

An article from today’s (11/14) Times (As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics, By TAMAR LEWIN) seems like a good subject for EDDRA commentary.

First of all wouldn’t one have thought that not once again could we have been subjected to “a New Push for the Basics.”  For how many times can one write about this and expect to be noticed and read, let alone believed?

As I skimmed the article I right away thought that we were one more time caught up in the situation depicted in the movie Groundhog Day. We were to again live through the same day, knowing it was a repeat of the day before, while the other actors on the set with us, Tamar Lewin et al., seemed convinced that they were living the day for the first time.

We know better. Jerry Bracey himself reminded us on an earlier occasion how common it is among those who write about the schools to repeat, seemingly unaware, what past writers on the same subject have said: “About schools, the media report the present with no apparent historical awareness that it’s the same story once again.”

In the movie Phil Connors (the actor Bill Murray) finds he’s doomed to repeat Groundhog Day — again and again — until he learns that his actions can affect the outcome.  In regard to math education in our schools is there some way that we also can break out of the cycle of repeating, in this case the same reforms over and over again? Is there an action that we might take that would change the outcome, move us onto something new, something that would restore our confidence in the way math is taught in the schools? Well, evidently not yet. As of this time our groundhog day movie has no resolution,

Perahaps EDDRA might want to comment on the accuracy of a number of (unsupported) statements in the article, as well as the general applicability of a number of the quotations from the various people interviewed. Is this Misinformation?Disinformation? [What’s the difference between the two?]

“students’ lagging performance on international tests”

‘We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity.”

“…recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to ‘mile wide, inch deep’ state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade.”

“Many point to California’s standards as a good model: the state
adopted reform math in the early 1990s but largely rejected it near the end of the decade, a turnaround that led to rising math achievement.”

“…at a time of increasing globalization, the math skills of children in the United States simply do not measure up: American eighth-graders lag far behind those from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an international test.”

“It [traditional math, whatever that is] produces people who hate math, who can’t connect the math they are doing with anything in their lives,…”

“In Asian cultures,” she added, “the assumption is that everyone learns mathematics, and of course, parents will help with mathematics.”

“….the whole country has been in denial about mathematics, and now we’re sort of at a second Sputnik moment.”

Now I realize as I take certain statements from the article, that it’s really the whole article that is mis-, disinformation. Furthermore it probably could have been written with few or no changes in any year since when, the sixties?  If I hadn’t seen it in today’s Times I’d be probably unable to say when it was written. Just as Phil Connors woke up again and again to the same day, I’ve been reading this article throughout some 45 years spent in or close to education.

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