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28 July 2014



George, as a math professor I've conversed with for two decades wrote about that piece, "Other than "Americans Stink at Math", almost everything she says is wrong. Decades-old (century?) math ed mythology."

Another math prof wrote "I really want a copy of those “endless lists of equations” that students memorize and practice."

The president of the NCTM in the mid-90's when my son was in first grade was one Jack Price, who famously said when interviewed on a San Diego radio program ""What we have now is nostalgia math. It is the mathematics that we have always had, that is good for the most part for the relatively high socioeconomic anglo male, and that we have a great deal of research that has been done showing that women, for example, and minority groups do not learn the same way. They have the capability, certainly, of learning, but they don't. The teaching strategies that you use with them are different from those that we have been able to use in the past when ... we weren't expected to graduate a lot of people, and most of those who did graduate and go on to college were the anglo males."

The Grass Valley School District enthusiastically purged White Male Math from their curriculum and embraced NCTM's Whole Math in time to greet my son in the 1st Grade. By the time his cohort made it through the 3rd grade, fully half of them were in the bottom quartile in math and language. A complete meltdown.

When he was still in the first grade at Hennessey, I tried to get Linda Brown, Principal (and Ass't Superintendent to Jon Byerrum) to pilot the Saxon books as Saxon was providing free books for the purpose. Brown's reaction was similar to a movie Dracula when exposed to a silver cross... "That's just 'Drill and Kill'. The NCTM Standards are key."

The Pleasant Ridge district chose Saxon after returning Mathland to the publisher (after trying in the classrooms for a month) and adopted Saxon, and when those STAR exam results came out, virtually all their pupils were in the top two quartiles.

The Common Core State Standards rollout is enabling a Whole Math Meltdown part deux on a national scale, and it is not going to be pretty.


More about Japanese math teaching.

First, about Japanese teachers, a presentation of Prof. James Stigler to a UCLA audience about his research into Japanese teaching methods... "while describing this difference between preparation of teachers, especially elementary school teachers, he picked up on a fidgety Asian-looking lady in the audience and wondered if he was overstating his case. He interrupted himself to ask. Hardly overstated. Seems that the lady had failed the test to be an elementary school teacher in Japan and, rather than wait the year to retake it, she accepted the offer to pursue her PhD in education here in the US."

In other words, the Japanese have a higher standard for elementary school teachers than we have for Ph.D. Professors of Education. It should also be noted that Japanese primary schools are only half of their system; long ago the cram schools, or juku, came about to make up for the shortcomings in their public schools. All that "drill and kill" that isn't used in the public schools are used in the juku that virtually all of the college bound attend, and the Japanese I've known attribute most of their actual knowledge to the juku classes, iirc usually taught by moonlighting public school teachers.

Account Deleted

It's not just math. Look at American history. American farmers outdid the world without formal education. Yes - advancements in chemical fertilizers and machinery were accomplished with pretty bright folks, but were implemented with millions of hard-working yahoos that were willing to pick up and run new ideas. But those farmers didn't have and didn't need a formal education. Our factories pumped out the best mechanical products the world had ever seen. The vast majority of the work force to make that happen didn't have to have the brains needed to do much more than pour beer out of the opening in the top of the bottle. Along comes the information age. It had actually started long ago, but now was in a full throated roar. The farmer of today has a degree and starts his work day on the computer or smart phone. I won't go into the full work day, but believe me, the average farmer of just 10 years ago is left standing in the dust. The average factory worker of 10 years ago priced him or her self out of the market thanks to the govt and the unions. The average factory worker of today is one lucky SOB and had better thank the stars for his job, if he has one.
Sadly, the citizens of the US of A came to believe that a good living without the need for a good education was a birthright. The grand idea that everyone in America was equal under the law was perverted by the politicians, advertisers and the left into the idea that you were equal to everyone in all ways no matter what choices you made or how well educated you were. Everyone gets "a living wage" no matter how useless you are to society became the rallying cry. Becoming an educated person requires great effort on the part of the person getting educated.
This is a problem for a lot of folks. Just like losing weight and staying in shape requires discipline and will power. The folks with more will power and a desire to strive and achieve will outpace those that 'party' and lay about. The left will point to the GI bill after WWII as something we need to expand to all and provide a 'free' college education to everyone that can fog a mirror. The GI bill was used at the time as a way to reward those that had openly risked their necks and had interrupted their prime years with service to our nation. Also there was the problem of how to absorb the sudden influx of tens of thousands of able bodied men back into a work force that was facing a huge crimp in jobs. It only worked because the rest of the world was picking themselves up out of the rubble of the war. All we had to do was build toys and party. Worked great for a while until the rest of the world caught up. And surpassed us in more ways than one. They are better educated in ways that produce goods of real value and an attitude of can-do. You can't get blood out of a rock and you can't get value out of a place-holder sitting at a desk.
A good well-rounded education is available in this country for an expenditure of very little money, but a sizeable amount of work.
Oh - there's that word again. WORK. The dirtiest four letter word in the English language to the left.

Russ Steele

it is the culture I tell ya, it is the culture of learning that is the driver of success. Oh, yea and a little luck never hurt, but then again success goes to those prepared to take advantage of that luck. Some just squander the opportunity.

In 1921, Terman initiated the Genetic Studies of Genius, a long-term study of gifted children. He found that gifted children did not fit the existing stereotypes often associated with them: they were not weak and sickly social misfits, but in fact were generally taller, in better health, better developed physically, and better adapted socially than other children.

However, when you look deeper into the data, only 10% of these gifted students became recognized as major social and economic contributors. Over half lived normal lives doing little to utilize their high IQs. The least successful came from a culture that did not value learning and academic accomplishments. The key parameter for high success was a culture of learning. Children from families that value the culture of learning will be more successful than those that do not support that culture.


"However, when you look deeper into the data, only 10% of these gifted students became recognized as major social and economic contributors. Over half lived normal lives doing little to utilize their high IQs."

So what? Just because someone is a "Genius" why would they naturally choose an occupation that only a "genius" could attempt? If a genius likes cars, why shouldn't they choose a career in auto repair? Do you really only want dullards working on your car, your plumbing, your air conditioning, construction? Law enforcement? Or music, art? Even the military could use some IQ and for women who wish children, well, there's a reason IQ tends to follow the IQ of the mother more than the father and that's because Mom tends to spend more time with the kids. Mom really is a fine profession all by itself... isn't raising smart kids a good thing?

Research borne of early 20th century eugenics probably isn't worth spending much time on, and that includes Terman's.

Culture is key to the problems discussed in the "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?" article by Ms. Green, but it's the dysfunctional culture of our Colleges of Education and education bureaucracies that are the cultures keeping our math education in its doldrums.

Bonnie McGuire

Maybe the difference in stats has more to do with less emphasis on the three R's and more on social engineering. Ever notice the terrible spelling and writing now days. When I used to visit with the last local Indian Chief Louis Kelly ....his handwriting and spelling was beautiful.


"Maybe the difference in stats has more to do with less emphasis on the three R's and more on social engineering."

Bonnie, in a word, no. The two basic problems in education in general and for math education in particular are: "You can't teach what you don't know any more than you can come back from where you ain't been" (thank you, Will Rogers) and that the pedagogy pushed by Colleges of Education and the NCTM expects kids to discover on their own knowledge that took a millennia to formulate.

Constructivist methods have reduced student achievement time after time. They are, as a Harvard University president once said about their graduate College of Education, "a kitten that ought to be drowned".

Ben Mavy

I think the focus on culture here is key. Kids are willing to "drill and kill" when they have intrinsic motivation. That motivation is unlikely to come from a single teacher supervising 30+ kids for 30+ hours a week. My bet is that the Japanese parents are the ones really driving achievement, not the juku or the public schools.
I also think a huge failing in the systems most American schools use is that they focus entirely on following series of steps instead of teaching mathematical concepts and then giving kids puzzles they need to figure out on their own. Common Core gives lip service to the concepts approach, but as you'd expect from a bureaucratic behemoth that thinks the ability to answer multiple choice questions is the apogee of all human knowledge, they mangle it beyond all recognition. Here's a great article about the inherent problems in attempting to mass-produce educated children - http://alternativestoschool.com/2014/07/30/schools-can-create-stupidity/

Ben Mavy

Ben and I pretty much share a brain, but I should probably note that this is his wife, Megan, speaking. He's busy using his stem skills to keep bacon on our table.

George Rebane

BenM 921am - Agree with your focus on culture of the parents as being the determinant in a child's education. Welcome Megan!


George, I searched into the recent past to this thread in order to post this very to the point insider answer to the question posed in the NY Times:

"Why Do Americans Stink at Math? Some of the Answer." Wayne Bishop, PhD Mathematics, California State University LA


It's worth mentioning that Dr. Bishop was one of Jamie ("Stand and Deliver") Escalante's CSULA professors as he worked to earn math teaching credentials Escalante needed to teach math in California, and the two remained friends.

George Rebane

Gregory 452pm - thanks for the sleuthing.


No sleuthing required, I've been associated with the likes of Dr. Bishop for nearly 20 years through the old Mathematically Correct group that helped pull the California Content Standards into place.



I am a Japanese and have read the NY Times article "Why Do Americans Stink at Math?", which discusses a lot about Japan.

However, I have to say that Ms. Green's account of Japanese education is very misleading, as pointed out also by Dr. Tom Loveless in the Brown Center Chalkboard blog.

So I wrote her a letter and put it in my blog: http://jukuyobiko.blogspot.jp/2014/08/big-doubts-on-ny-times-article-why-do.html

I would like to correct misunderstanding, because it is very sad to see that many people are discussing on the basis of the misleading report.

Thank you.

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