My personal musings about anything that gets on my radar screen--heavily dominated by politics.


Old Math, New Math, Red Math, Blue Math

I always have an eye out for education stories, particularly ones that show the folly of "modern" approaches to education--most of which turn out to be philosophically dubious and largely ineffective.

So this story buried in the WaPo caught my eye. Read the whole article and learn little, until you get to this paragraph:

In an effort to help bring clarity to the math wars, the Mathematical Sciences Education Board of the National Academy of Sciences reviewed 147 studies done on the effectiveness of 19 math programs used in schools today. The conclusion, released this summer: Not one study had been carried out well enough to prove a program's effectiveness.

"Don't believe a thing said to you associated with the phrase 'research shows,' " said W. Stephen Wilson, a Johns Hopkins University mathematics professor.

Gotta tell ya, from an educator's standpoint, that's not very encouraging news. So, really, what makes the difference?

There are programs successful in some schools, but there isn't a single best one, according to experts, who emphasize it often comes down to teachers: how well they understand math and how much they have been taught about the program their school is using.

"All the program can do in the best case is be correct, efficient and accessible. Then it is up to the teacher," Schmid said.

Oh. So, teaching is actually important? It's not just something for people who can't make it in the real world? And it matters whether they're good or not?

While this article is about math, it's lesson can be applied across the curriculum--There Is No Magic Bullet. Period. The best planned curriculum in the world still has to be delivered in an effective way by a highly skilled and motivated teacher who is often grossly underpaid (though the benefits, I gotta say, are killer good!) for what they are asked to do.

And perhaps this is where charter schools have a great advantage over the more conventional public school: a charter school teacher may have the opportunity to select materials and curriculum that suits them and their teaching style best to convey to the students their materials. And while public school teachers have learned to be much more creative since the advent of required testing, I think there are still a great many restrictions--both structurally and culturally--to real innovation.

By the way, one innovation that charter schools can implement if they choose which would make all the difference: merit pay. Just a thought.

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