I was reading this article about why Massachusetts’ schools are better than Rhode Island’s and came to this rather intriguing paragraph:
“Schools have to embrace a new way of teaching, he said, where learning is hands-on, extends beyond the classroom and is geared toward the needs of the individual learner.
“There is a more personal, real-world approach that defines the current edge of education reform,” he said. “It’s time for both states to move forward on this front, not double-down on a solution that was appropriate 20 years ago.”
I’ve heard this argument before. First of all, 20 years ago takes us to 1996, which is a time when NCTM’s standards were gaining a strong foothold and inquiry-based, hands-on learning was becoming a mainstay of lower grades math instruction. But ignoring that, the question in my mind is why the traditional teaching methods that were in use for many years and deemed to be appropriate are now suddenly deemed inappropriate. Is it because of the usual “Traditionally taught math never worked” trope, or are there other reasons?
Is it because we have to prepare students for jobs that haven’t been created yet? Or because everything can be answered with Google, so students have to learn how to learn rather than acquire knowledge and skills? Is it about having fun and liking math? And is the college trig class and other math requirements considered non-essential even for engineers?
Or perhaps there are other reasons often overlooked in articles such as these, and in discussions among the edu-literati. One reason why the Mass. schools outperformed others over a certain period could be because of adoption of a content-based curriculum called Core Knowledge. The same thing happened with math in California with the 1998 curriculum which resulted in definite improvements compared to how students were performing with the 1992 framework (which drew heavily on NCTM’s standards.) But that couldn’t be the case because everybody knows that such improvements are short-term unlike the current slew of hands-on, PBL and student-centered approaches.