Monday, September 26, 2005

Why Johnny can't calculate

Only 11% of L.A. Unified's eighth-graders scored "proficient" or "advanced" in algebra I on the 2005 state standards exam, compared to 34% statewide. The corresponding percentages within the LAUSD for 10th-grade geometry and 11th-grade algebra II are 5% and 4%, respectively, about one-third the pass rates statewide.

Only a third of the students in the whole state can do math.
That's so bad it isn't even failing. That's definitely Troll grade.

Why on earth is this so bad?

LAUSD teachers and math coaches are wrongly instructed not to use time-tested, standard methods of arithmetic. High school teachers are steered away from conventional and powerful techniques in algebra and directed to use unreliable "guess and check" methods and physical objects instead. Even elementary school teachers are discouraged from following their high-quality state-approved math books and from teaching the best methods of calculation, the standard algorithms of arithmetic.

Confirming our own observations, the head of one of the stronger LAUSD high school math departments lamented: "The mandatory 40-hour algebra training was worthless. We had to teach the trainers how to do algebra … the people in charge of making final decisions on math [in the LAUSD] don't know math!"

This is just sad but it isn't any great surprise, is it? Students haven't been good at math for a very long time, and now they at getting jobs. Why would they be good at math now?

And it isn't as though algebra is hard, all it is is the general form or arithmetic. It is just all those rules like communitive property and distributive property that allows you to move things around so you can find the answers to the things you don't know.

So many people complain that they never use algebra in real life. We use it all the time, we just don't realize that we are doing several steps in our head to make it easier. For example if we are doing a budget we all start out knowing the answer: how much money we can spend? Then we divvy it up by known costs, e.g. mortgage payments, and some semi-knowns like the telephone bill, and unknowns like new tires for the car.

We have to use algebra to figure those things out. But we don't even think about it as algebra because we do it all the time without thought.


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