SteveH, a frequent commenter on issues relating to math education, left a comment on the piece below on “Hidden Figures” that is worth reading. So I’ve reproduced it here:

Traditional education pushes and values incremental mastery of skills along with understanding. That still happens in high school AP Calculus tracks, but not in K-6. Facts are “mere” and skills are “rote.” Add to that the use of social promotion and full inclusion where curicula like Everyday Math “trust the spiral” and assume that kids will learn when they are ready. Meanwhile, STEM parents and those who know better hide the tracking at home and ensure mastery of basic skills so that their kids are ready for a proper algebra I class in 8th grade. CCSS has now officially made K-6 a NO-STEM zone (PARCC actually states this) and educators claim that students can catch up by taking summer classes or doubling up in math in high school. Right. I had to work with my math brain son in K-6, but didn’t have to do a thing for his traditional AP Calculus track high school classes. Not a thing.

Is math a natural learning process in K-6? Does reform math provide a better “understanding” base for faster improvement later on? There is absolutely no proof of that. In fact, after 20+ years of reform “understanding” math, quite the opposite is shown – that if one fails to get on the advanced (algebra in 8th grade) math track, then any sort of STEM career is all over. I got to high school calculus in the old traditional K-6 days with absolutely no help from my parents. I had algebra I in 8th grade followed by geometry, algebra II, trig, and calculus. What’s different now? K-6. The women in the movie would have a much more difficult time of it now.

CCSS officially increases the academic gap. Parents who make up the difference at home and with tutors hide this systemic K-6 failure and those educational pedagogues never, never ask us parents what we had to do at home even though it would be a very simple task. (All of my son’s STEM friends had help outside of school.) They just claim that their process works, point to our kids as examples, and then blame the other kids or claim that they just need more hands-on real world engagement. They do not understand the importance of pushing and nightly individual success on homework problem sets. That’s the fundamental problem I see with the students I tutor. They don’t value homework. When you get to college, it’s ALL about the P-sets. My son stays up all night to finish them if he has to. This is likewise true for programming classes. It’s ALL about doing everything you can to finish your individual (not group) program with no errors. THAT is where true understanding is achieved. Back when I taught college math and CS, it was NEVER about engagement or any sort of group or class work. It was about the hard, individual work put into P-sets and programs. Success on homework and tests REALLY helps engagement, not in-class group work that does nothing for grades.

In this age where we can’t have any sane, fact-based discussion on health care choices, let alone understand even what insurance means, I have no hope for change in education, especially when some claim that it’s a liberal/conservative issue. Some of us are actually unaffiliated and quite willing and able to separate issues from political party ownership. I push educational choice, but that apparently means that I believe in all sorts of other baggage. Some people alter reality to fit their simplistic view of the world. You can’t argue with these people. We can only appeal to parents who want to understand what’s going on.

Wow, lots of nails hit on heads.

You gotta get SteveH to do a guest column from time to time. I’d be interested in what he would write about — his comments on other people’s articles are very astute and informative … but what is simmering in his own mind he’d like to raise?

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