Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Math is Hard: Grade School Edition

This is an article explaining why parents should not be upset with the new common core making the math more complicated. The common core is just trying to help the children understand how math works in a better way.
It's reasonable that parents will be confused by the new way of doing things, says Meyer, the former math teacher and Ph.D. student. But he says that parents' education wasn't particularly effective, even if they're confident in their arithmetic.
But that is why the common core is largely not going to work. If the parents' math education wasn't particularly effective, it is the same math education that the teachers had. So if the parents are confused can we expect the teachers to do any better?

Those who understand and are good at math usually end up majoring in something like physics, math or engineering, not math education. Usually the math education majors are not the same caliber as the math majors. But from the examples I have seen of common core math problems, the math education majors should be able to handle them.

The problem is that math education majors are often shooting for jobs as high school math teachers and the common core has to be taught in grade school as well. Grade school math teachers teach everything else as well and they come from elementary education majors. Unfortunately education majors tend to come from the bottom half of college students and tend to score particularly poorly on math. The mean SAT scores in math for education majors are below the mean scores for those majoring in things like English, theology, acting, trucking, and journalism (none of which are noted for math ability).

Before the common core, I ran into otherwise good elementary school teachers who did not understand math well. Trying to get these teachers to teach tricky ways of dealing with math problems seems to me to be a recipe for disaster.

I am in favor of better math education. I am in favor of children understanding math better. I am dubious that trying to get people who do not understand math well in the first place to teach unusual approaches to basic problems is the best way to do it.