Update on Rebuttals Heralded as Truth, Dept.

It turns out that the blog that criticized Barbara Oakley’s NY Times op-ed has run Oakley’s comment, which was featured here a few days ago.  The blogger responded:

“Thank you so much for taking the time to respond to my post and also for including references as well. I have edited my original post to include reference to some of the more extensive research programs on children’s mathematics learning.”

It’s hard for me to tell what she changed in the blog post, but she did bold the following statement:

 “It is true that traditional ways of teaching mathematics have been shown to be harmful for all students, and even more harmful for non-dominant populations, including girls. This phenomenon has been widely documented by professors of mathematics education such as Rochelle GutierrezJo Boaler, and others.”

Really? All students? What research has shown this to be true?  She cites Boaler who has gone on record as saying that learning times tables can be injurious to students.  And she cites Gutierrez who claims that minorities and girls don’t do well in math because of the way it’s taught. Probably just me, but I don’t consider her sources to constitute strong evidence.
I wrote an article some time ago about traditionally taught math and showed data

from the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (for grades 3 through 8 ) and the ITED (high school grades) from the early 40’s through the 80’s for the State of Iowa.

The scores (in all subject areas, not just math) show a steady increase from the 40’s to about 1965, and then a dramatic decline from 1965 to the mid-70’s. One conclusion that can be drawn from these test scores is that the method of education in effect during that period appeared to be working. And by definition, whatever was working during that time period was not failing. And this was at a time when traditional math teaching was the mainstay.

The blogger also states that:

“Oakley’s characterization of “the way we teach math in the America” is backwards. Whereas she says we have foregone drill and practice for conceptual understanding, our problem in the United States is understood by learning scientists to be precisely the opposite. “

I think one can point to the last almost-three decades as seeing more reform methods being used in math, thanks in large part to NCTM’s questionable math standards that de-emphasized practice and memorization.  Why is it that 30 or 40 years ago, students entering high school knew math facts and how to work with fractions and percents, whereas now we see many students who have significant deficits in such areas?  Because math has been taught traditionally?
Unfortunately, the math reform crowd seems to hold sway, even though they claim that poor math performance is due to traditional methods.  The reform thought leaders continue to ride this wave and have quite a lot of followers.

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