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Education Math United States

Professors: US "In Denial" Over Poor Maths Standards 688

thephydes (727739) writes "The maths skills of teenagers in parts of the deep south of the United States are worse than in countries such as Turkey and barely above South American countries such as Chile and Mexico. From the article: '"There is a denial phenomenon," says Prof Peterson. He said the tendency to make internal comparisons between different groups within the US had shielded the country from recognising how much they are being overtaken by international rivals. "The American public has been trained to think about white versus minority, urban versus suburban, rich versus poor," he said.'"
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Professors: US "In Denial" Over Poor Maths Standards

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  • by Noah Haders ( 3621429 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:37AM (#47063083)
    if you teach kids to add, pretty soon they'll start wanting to think for themselves and only bad things can come of that.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:06AM (#47063193)

      I tried to explain the income distribution to a community college student and she had no clue what the hell I was talking about. The one percent can sleep easy knowing fewer and fewer kids even know what a percent is!

    • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:42AM (#47063329) Journal

      Addition is a gateway skill -- it tends to lead to multiplication.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:27AM (#47063639)
      Apparently we have a problem with the geographies too. I wasn't aware that Mexico is a South American country.
      • by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:33AM (#47064429) Homepage

        In reality the real problem is the US's love affair with advertising, it has taken over the US mindscape, it matters not the way things are, all that counts is the way things are seen. Disingenuous distortions flood the US social landscape, where perceived delusions are preferable to reality as long as everyone can be socially forced to agree. Challenge it with truth and reality and you are attacked from every direction, media, politicians, corporations, law enforcement, religious fundamentalist groups etc. Not light attacks but solid and sustained ones including slanders, death threats and even direct violence. In fact the delusion is so great, so accepted, so powerful it is considered un-American to challenge the idea that the US is not number 1 in every regard, whereas the reality is the US is failing in many areas, except in the generation of bullshit, were is most certainly number 1 by a long margin likely beating out the rest of the world combined.

        • Whenever I see articles like the OP and comments like these, it always reminds me of this...


        • by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:57AM (#47066181) Journal

          I think advertising is only one of the symptoms, a part of a pattern of lies and bull. We've made educational achievement worth less than it used to be. Kids aren't stupid. When they see the straight A student not getting the job, the girl or boy, or any kind of reward, and indeed see this student vilified for being nerdy, spoiling the curve, and making everyone else look bad, what are they to think? At least the hate shows that people value intelligence if only in a backhanded way. But then the nice jobs go to the bosses' relatives and friends, the football coach is the highest paid employee of the school system, the teachers (many of whom were themselves poor achievers when they were the students) show jealousy and prejudice against intelligence, and many rich kids behave horribly and irresponsibly, maybe getting high and drunk and accidentally mowing down a hapless pedestrian with their high end sports car, and are let off easy. As adults, many move on to Wall Street, cheat and make a killing, then when the economy crashes, buffalo the entire nation into letting bygones be bygones because they're Too Big To Fail. Meanwhile, the intelligent kids who make a mistake get the book thrown at them because they're smart and should have known better.

          There still has to be a pretense of a reason for making an unfair decision, but the veneer is pretty see-through thin.

      • I wasn't aware that Mexico is a South American country.

        The US is going so downhill that even Mexico wants to distance itself from us...

      • by Agent0013 ( 828350 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @11:47AM (#47066839) Journal
        Well, Mexico is south of America! Everything south of America is a South American country, everything north of America is a North American country. That leads to everything east of America being an East American country and everything west of America being a West American country. See how simple that makes everything.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:39AM (#47063089)

    No wonder other countries count better, they don't just have math, they have maths!

  • by Ultra64 ( 318705 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:40AM (#47063091)

    "South American countries such as...Mexico"

    • by bledri ( 1283728 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:50AM (#47063135)

      "South American countries such as...Mexico"

      No, the quote from the article did not contain the words "South America," so it's the submitter or editor that is poor at geography. And quoting. And the first sentence was not attributed to the Professor in the article nor in the summary.

    • by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @06:32AM (#47064201)

      "South American countries such as...Mexico"

      In other news, professors in US are in the Nile over poor geography standards.

  • by vikingpower ( 768921 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:41AM (#47063097) Homepage Journal
    Other countries than the US do not only count better, but more and more other countries are beginning to count more....
  • Geography too.. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:41AM (#47063099)

    When did Mexico become a South American country?

    • When did Mexico become a South American country?

      Mexico is south of Americuns. You typo natzis really needs to Goetz overs yourselfs.

  • Coded Racism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by KalvinB ( 205500 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @12:42AM (#47063105) Homepage

    Morgan Spurlock made the idiotic comment about how Norway is "homogeneous" right before transitioning to his piece on a charter school with minority students who were excelling.

    SES or "Socio-Economic Status" is the most common race bait thrown around in the education system. Anyone who has experience outside the public education system figures out real quick that you can't look at the skin color or bank account of a student to see how well they're doing.

    Racism is the last excuse that our failed public education system still clings to. That and "we don't have enough money."

    It's just one of the many reasons why despite being certified to teach high school math, I have no intention of ever teaching in a public school. I'm more interested in helping out at my daughter's small private school. My summer project is overhauling their library system. I've already fixed all the laptops as well as they can be. If possible I'd like to go into a part time teaching role to help out.

    The school is filled with students from a variety of racial backgrounds and financial circumstances and oddly enough I can't judge their grades by any of that.

    • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:14AM (#47063219)

      Sounds like "fuck the poor" to me.

      Socio-economic status never stood for race, you're just conflating the fact that minorities are more likely to be poor than wealthy with the correlation between SES and educational outcome. The relationship between SES and economic outcome has been extensively studied, and in my opinion boils down to one thing: opportunities. Low SES kids can't afford basic school supplies, can't move to good school districts, can't study abroad, can't intern for free, etc. etc.

      You can't pretend that a lack of money doesn't cripple your chances of receiving a quality education.

      • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:46AM (#47063513)

        No, it has little to do with the fact that being poor means you don't have opportunity. Being poor means your parents probably don't value education, so you probably don't value education, so you probably don't get an education.

        If you are rich, you probably got that way by being educated, so you value education, so your children value education, so your children get an education.

        It's not like opportunity has no effect, just that opportunity doesn't mean education. In other words, throwing money at the problem doesn't solve it. That's not to say money doesn't help, but it's better spent on giving the poor kids breakfast or community outreach than school supplies.

        I've always believed that a child who wants to learn will find a way to learn. The hard part isn't teaching them -- it's getting them to want to learn in the first place! And that starts in the home, not in the school


        • Re: Coded Racism (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's closer to the truth but a poor way of putting it. It makes it sounds like poor families affirmatively choose to be poor.

          The difference between your average poor family and average rich family is two fold: 1) time and 2) modeling habits.

          Take, for example, bed time reading. A rich family has more time to spend every night reading to their kid. They probably also grew up that way, as well as all their friends. They feel compelled to do it the way most of us feel compelled to brush our teeth.

          As both kids

    • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:20AM (#47063241)

      It's not the schools that need more money; it's the families. Children are behind from the beginning (kindergarten) and don't catch up because in general, their environment is not conducive to learning. Parents often can't get involved because they have to work multiple jobs (or don't speak/read English well enough...). There is also more trouble from violence, gangs, drugs, etc. Socio-economic status has a lot to do with it.

      (Of course, there will still be stellar children who succeed in spite of it all, but they are not the norm.)

      You know, maybe you should try teaching in a school that is almost completely made up of children from a very poor socio-economic status before you claim to know it all and spout bullshit.

      • Re:Coded Racism (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:35AM (#47065259) Homepage

        Exactly. A ton of effort is being made to change the educational system so "no child is left behind" or so we can "race to the top." However, all of the educational gaps go away when you account for poverty. A poor kid who is worried if he'll get to eat dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow, who is worried that his dad has been out of work for months and they might lose their apartment, who is worried that his older brother had to drop out of school to get a minimum wage job to help support his family... that kid is not going to be very focused on learning. Take away his worries about money/food/etc and he'll do just as well as any other kid who doesn't need to worry about those things.

        But it's easier for the politicians to just blame teachers for not teaching hard enough and then order more high stakes tests to "hold the teachers' feet to the fire" or threaten to shut down public schools because poor kids can go to those expensive private schools instead, right?

    • Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:28AM (#47063267)

      I spent a couple of years teaching in the Boston Public Schools. Your analysis is too simplistic. I had students who had recently immigrated from Cape Verde, who were fluent only in Cape Verdean Creole and whose parents never completed the 8th grade. I also had a student who had been in foster homes her entire life. I discovered after awhile that she couldn't see the board and that her foster parents were unwilling to pay out of pocket to buy glasses - she had broken two pairs of glasses and hit the limit for what MassHealth would pay for that year.

      You can't just ignore the impact that these experiences have on a child's ability to learn. It's completely unfair to compare outcomes from private schools, which would never accept a student who barely spoke English or a sullen, resentful product of the foster care system (not that these children would ever apply) to schools that are required to accept all comers.

      There are many problems that public schools create for themselves and have nothing to do with students, but the idea that socio-economic status doesn't effect student outcomes is just not accurate. c.f. this NYTimes article on the University of Texas for a week ago:

    • Re:Coded Racism (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:39AM (#47063311) Journal

      Racism is the last excuse that our failed public education system still clings to. That and "we don't have enough money."

      White flight is extremely real. Resources are distributed very unevenly.

      And yet "racism" doesn't begin to encompass the range of reasons that some schools end up with 90%+ minority populations and with low funding.

  • Despite quadrupling per-pupil costs of public schools since 1962 [] (inflation-adjusted), the education remains the same or is getting worse. In some particularly well-managed cities, the costs are even higher and the results — even worse [], than national average. This article is about Math, but ability to read remains rather sub-par as well — with only 30% of 8th-graders, for example, considered "proficient" readers [].

    Clearly, we need to spend more money...

  • by MouseTheLuckyDog ( 2752443 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:06AM (#47063189)

    It was law that every high school student had to pass algebra, geometry, trigonometry before they could graduate.
    They also had to take a class on the constitution.

  • No surprises (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Vyse of Arcadia ( 1220278 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:20AM (#47063239)

    From the article:

    Southern states Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are among the weakest performers, with results similar to developing countries such as Kazakhstan and Thailand.

    Yeah, I teach math at a large university in the deep south, and this doesn't surprise me at all. Students are unprepared for college math classes, and I see a lot of behavior that I wouldn't have expected in a math class. For example, I always have students that try to memorize their way through class, mostly in calculus 1. They don't practice any problems, they don't try to understand the material, but they've got flash cards and highlighted notes and sticky tabs out the wazoo.

    It's like they all had a bunch of "study skills" drilled into them in high school and no one ever bothered to explain that these are supposed to aid actually understanding the material. They're so used to just regurgitating things onto tests that I guess a lot of them really do think memorizing is understanding.

    Now I realize the following is just anecdotal, but I know several people who teach high school math throughout the deep south, and all of them say the same thing: they aren't really allowed to teach. School administrators have a death grip on teachers' jobs. Teachers are told what, when, and how to teach the material. They're basically reading scripts. And of course they're all teaching to the state end of course tests too, probably because those are used to measure administrators' performances.

    • Re:No surprises (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:42AM (#47063327)

      Teachers are told what, when, and how to teach the material. They're basically reading scripts.

      This is the real problem here. We need to abolish whatever part of the system is generating those demands, to free the teachers to actually teach. Some might do worse in a free-form system but I'll bet lots could do better when they could tailor teaching to the kids they have.

    • Not only in the US (Score:4, Insightful)

      by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:00AM (#47063551)
      When i was in high school back in the early 90ies in France, it was the same : people were trying to remember stuff by rote learning, not only in math but also in physic. With the predictable result that by the next year , for many very little was left of it. I have come to think that the few of us which aced the math/physic, we did it because we understood the problem and how to solve it, rather than learn the solution. And once you understand something, it is incredibly easy to remember how to do it. I don't think this is a special problem from south Alabama or where ever, I think it is a general problem in many country that many student are firstly taught rote learning in small school, and later in middle/high school are never taught to understand a problem properly.
    • Re:No surprises (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:07AM (#47064319) Journal

      Welcome to standardized testing for everyone. They drill the kids on facts because the learning standards testing is primarily fact based. They've forgotten that half the students won't be working a cash register or a driving a hammer or pipe wrench, and have completely eliminated critical thinking as a skill - mainly because it's not an easy-to-test condition. 70% of humans will never understand abstract critical thinking, so its unfair to test everyone on it when the purse strings are attached to 90% pass rates. So they don't test for it, but the panic to hit that 90% threshold means everything becomes secondary to drilling for those tests.

      As you say, there are exceptions. Great teachers, great students, great schools do exist. But the vast majority - the administrations and teachers who just want to keep their jobs to feed their families, and the students (who, let's face it, at 15 or 16) just want to get a good grade and go do something fun the 6 hours they're not locked in school - are streamlining the path of least resistance and maximum results for the path that is laid before them by legislators who have never held a piece of chalk.

    • Re:No surprises (Score:4, Interesting)

      by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @09:58AM (#47065513)

      And of course they're all teaching to the state end of course tests too, probably because those are used to measure administrators' performances.

      Parent of 3 school-age kids here, and this right here really bugs the bejeebers out of me. For normal school tests, the ones that count for my own kids grades during the year, and their own ability to get into college, etc., I don't hear a peep out of a teacher ever. I don't even know they are happening unless I interrogate my kids every day.

      But when those EOI tests [] come around, which are important for the teachers and schools but don't do squat for my own kids, they damn sure let me know all about it! I get voicemails. I get emails. I get robocalls. Their grandparents get called. I messages sent home with the kids. All informing me how important it is that this one day they get lots of sleep and a good morning breakfast.(!) Even worse, the kids come home all stressed about it, so I know the teachers have been beating on them about it at school too. Over a test that doesn't help them at all.

      This is actually one of the "better" school districts in the state too. But after a 15 years of this, its pretty clear that the system is not set up in a way that makes my kid's grades a priority for the school or for their teachers. Its gotten to the point that I've set the caller picture for the school's robo-calls to the album cover for Queen's News of the World [], so I can instantly recognize them.

  • by Chas ( 5144 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @01:37AM (#47063301) Homepage Journal

    Seriously. I've looked at the problems CC curriculum presents as "math".
    The way they lay out and ask you to solve problems is insane. Absolutely and utterly BONKERS (and not in a good way).

    If you think the US is bad at math NOW, wait until CC has had a few cycles to sink its hooks in.

    You're going to have people actively HATING math in a way that'd be ludicrous even today.
    And these people who'd be able to solve even a SIMPLE concrete math problem to save their lives.

    • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @10:57AM (#47066169)

      As I understand it, the problem that CC is trying to solve is that most kids don't have a gut-level understanding of what numbers actually *mean*.

      I went to school with a lot of people that just memorized the rules, but didn't really have a feel for them. And so when the circumstances changed they couldn't adjust the rules to deal with the new circumstances. (Dealing with binary or hex, for example. Or curved space, or alternate coordinate systems.)

      So with CC they're trying to give kids a more intuitive feel for numbers. That said, the alternate techniques are supposed to be *in addition* to the ones that we all learned, not instead of them. And the alternate techniques are not as efficient as the traditional techniques (which are optimized for the common case) but they're more flexible. So some questions (like those involving large numbers) don't mesh well with techniques involving counting/drawing/reordering/etc.

      Lastly, some of the issues are due to bad question design, bad teaching, etc. We've got centuries of experience teaching the traditional techniques, not so much with the new stuff.

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @02:04AM (#47063417) Journal

    Scientists and techs are portrayed as either evil or socially inept in the movies. Why would anyone value any form of education that led to that? As long the perception exists people aren't going to value maths, or any other, education that lead them to be enablers of society.

    And those perceptions are bought to us by the same people who want DRM everywhere so they continue to harvest money for crap movies that have nothing new.

  • Frank Zappa (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Swampash ( 1131503 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:06AM (#47063573)

    I don't think it's any accident that the educational system in America has been brought to its current state. Because only a totally uneducated mass of people will be baffled by balloons. And yellow ribbons and little flags and buzz words and guys saying "new world order" and shit like that, I mean, only a person who has been dissuaded from any kind of critical thinking and doesn't know geography, doesn't know the English language - I mean if you can't speak English, then this stuff works on you. One of the things that was taken out of the curriculum was civics. Civics was a class that used to be required before you could graduate from high school. You were taught what was in the U.S. Constitution. And after all the student rebellions in the '60s, civics was banished from the student curriculum and was replaced by something called social studies. Here we live in a country that has a fabulous constitution and all these guarantees, a contract between the citizens and the government - nobody knows what's in it. It's one of the best kept secrets. And so, if you don't know what your rights are, how can you stand up for them? And furthermore, if you don't know what is in that document, how can you care if someone is shredding it?

    circa 1988

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 22, 2014 @03:07AM (#47063579)

    The US is Number One! Anyone who disagrees is a communist!
    The US has an insanely powerful culture of avoiding self-criticism.

  • by mark_reh ( 2015546 ) on Thursday May 22, 2014 @07:02AM (#47064303) Journal

    deny our performance relative to the rest of the world?

    We deny the age of the earth.
    We deny the existence of climate change or global warming and man's effect on it.
    We deny the concentration of wealth and power among a few and its potential and real harm.
    I could go on...


  • I have a series of math text book from the 50's that I bought at a garage sale for $10, when I was homeless high school drop out. I used them to brush up on Algebra Trig and Calculus as preparation for teaching myself higher mathematics, compiler theory, and etc. CS theory. They are far superior to today's mathematics books.

    A few years after me, my younger brother became a sophomore in high school and was struggling with mathematics. I tried to help him with his homework, but the terminology was wickedly alien. I said, "Is this even algebra? What the hell are they on about?" I showed him how to solve the problems using the methods that worked for me but he said, "No, you don't get it, I can't do it that way I have to do it the way my teacher wants or it doesn't count." That's asinine, if the solution fits then it's equivalent. However, I had experience with such oppressive systems myself, so I knew the only thing to do was start from the first chapter and re-learned their bullshit terminology so I could show him the book's particular way of performing and wording the calculation. I realized that the textbook sellers changed the wording and methods of teaching mathematics over the years, not only to yield more book sales for newer curriculum and re-assert copyright anew, but also to make mathematics more in line with the (supposed) way girls learn.

    It's unconscionable for teachers to remain willfully ignorant that boys and girls think differently in general []; Only a complete moron would think that brains were immune to sexual dimorphism that had such drastic effects on the rest of the human body. It was common knowledge that men and women have different personalities in general, but strangely research was lacking in the area of sex differences in behavior. [] However, the feminist mantra that men and women are not different drowns out opposing facts. [] Strange when you consider that they lobbied for changes to the way mathematics and sciences were taught to make them more easy for girls to learn them. Drop the damn stereotyped learning, everyone goes at different rates and different methods are better for different folks, and yes, sexual dimorphism will cause a trend in certain graphs, but that doesn't mean we can't embrace outliers too. Just consider the student as individuals for once: If a boy or girl is having trouble learning via one method, then teach them the other. If that means you wind up more girls or boys in the class that teaches more event based and auditory methods vs visual and hands-on methods then THAT'S OK. If you want to end sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. you have to consider the individual's experience regardless of any group you classify them as being; Stop using identity politics, they only create more inequality in the name of equality.

    The feminists leveraged their sexist ideology and identity politics quite effectively by pointing to the disparity in female enrollment and graduation from college, especially in STEM fields. What they failed to realize is that my mom was in the slide-rule club in high school, and she didn't need sex tailored teaching. Their changes didn't help girls to learn, they merely made it harder for some to learn than others. The textbooks I have from the 50's and 60's teach mathematics in concise and plain terms. They don't use too many ridiculous analogies and mental gymnastics. Word problems weren't a focal point past elementary levels. It wasn't that all girls learn different than all boys, it was that there are different methods to teaching that individuals are better at understanding, and there is a trend in which methods boys and girls favor. However, these changes just muddled the methods and muddied the waters.

    Another problem has been brewing in education for a wile now too: Standardized Testing AKA Poor Penalization.

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp