Thursday, April 5, 2007

A failing grade for math program changes

As a parent of two children in the school system, I listened with great interest yesterday to Education Minister Joan Burke's plan to improve the provincial math curriculum. The province is going to spend $11 million in a pointless attempt to fix the curriculum, rather than scrap it altogether. This is a major mistake, and I can say this based on personal experience with my own children, and from talking to teachers and parents at school. The program puts too much emphasis on problem solving while giving short shrift to learning basic fundamentals.

Education Minister Joan Burke (above, CBC photo) admits there are problems and flaws with the curriculum, but says it can be fixed by hiring 25 specialists to help teachers better understand it.

In this CBC story, university professor Sherry Mantyka - who has closely studied math performance - said the government is making the wrong decision.

"This curriculum, in its design, is fundamentally flawed," she told CBC News. "There's no amount of teacher professional development that's going to correct that."

As one who has pulled his hair out, trying to help his child figure out complex problems before that child has even learned his mathematical tables (as one example), I agree wholeheartedly with Mantyka. Even teachers have quietly confided, over the last several years, that the curriculum is fatally flawed.

Burke, of course, has a phalanx of education experts advising her that the parents are wrong, the teachers aren't properly trained and the solution is to dig the hole deeper. It makes you wonder who is actually running the department...


Edward G. Hollett said...

Every government goes native at some point.

That is, the government takes responsibility for every existing policy and defends it as if it were holy writ. No changes allowed since the fundamentals are sound.

This particular provincial administration went native on Day One, a new indoor record.

What we have here is a cabinet minister totally controlled by her officials. She either can't form an alternative point of view or has already bought into the techno-babble coming from her officials.

Either way she's wasting public money.

It's really obvious.

Only the natives can't see it.

Anonymous said...

There's the old joke about those whose education leads them to specialize, learning more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing. The mathematics curriculum in provincial schools these days has taken the opposite approach and has students learning less and less about more and more until they know nothing about everything.

I'm a post secondary faculty member and I do private tutoring in mathematics and physics. My favourite is when I see intelligent, capable kids working on a problem involving integration, sequences and series, parallel resistors, etc. having to pick up a calculator to add two fractions. Yep, a little teacher training will clear that right up.

I had a pretty dismal view of the high school curriculum in general when I graduated 16 years ago and sadly it only seems to have gotten worse. Sadly it seems that the Department of Education has its collective head jammed firmly into a location that biology class taught me that should be impossible. As such I have little hope of seeing any improvement.

For once I won't be blaming the Dan-istas for this one. Governments of all political stripes have been bungling this for a long time now, and it is the students who are paying for it.

Boyd Pynn

Mike said...

I've watched my daughter cry over the frustration she had in learning this new math. From grade 12 and 1st year University it was a total nightmare. Others told me it was the curriculum and that it was a mess. I didn't know. Now I do. I apologize to my daughter and condem the bureaucracy that allows this farce to continue

Mark said...

For most of the 80s and 90s, governments obsessed over the "dropout rate" as the prime statistic by which to measure success in our education system. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. And a decade's worth of policy and curriculum changes to reduce that "dropout rate" has had the perverse effect of making nobody any smarter, but everyone more "successful".

Our province spends, per capita, as much or more on health and education as/than any other province, yet our health and learning outcomes continue to lag far behind other provinces which spend less.

Of course, educating our kids isn't as worthy of government's attention as a fight with some big bad outsider, nor is it as critical as next week's announcement of a photo op precursor to the meeting to discuss the possibility of a presentation about a dialogue with a possible interested party in Churchill Falls...

So it'll just have to wait.

Like everything else.