Mathematics Topics

Higher Standards (NCTM)

There has been a tremendous push and a great deal of exposure recently for higher standards in education for American students.  In general I am quite supportive of these endeavors.  We were well ahead of the game in mathematics because the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics had already worked for ten years on producing a document stating the standards for students of today.  These standards are pretty much being adopted by states in their quest for higher standards because they are sound.  They are quite challenging, but I believe American students are capable of accomplishing them.

We need to be careful, though, before we buy in to most of the media hype and political rhetoric having to do with higher standards, especially when the issue of accountability is mentioned.  So far, in the State of Florida for instance, most accountability issues have to do with classroom teachers, individual schools, and school districts, which already have the least control over funding or standard practices.  Legislators do not seem very concerned with a myriad of problems their mandates produce for educators.  Instead, they seem most concerned with finding reasons to cut funding to schools to enhance their chances for reelection.  This is understandable, but sad.  There are all sorts of "stakes" for teachers and schools, but none for students, other than retention, which I have already mentioned as unrealistic and counter-productive.  Businesses complain about the caliber of the education of their entry-level workers, but they continue to hire them without any concern for transcripts or diplomas.

There is a general and misleading perception in the public arena that the educational system is highly inefficient.  Education-bashing appears to be a popular pastime these days.  Business leaders and politicians constantly point to abuses within the system as an excuse for dismantling it.  The truth of the matter is that most businesses having five thousand plus employees, as our district has, have many of the same problems.  In many of these business there are "Fat Cats" at the top, making outlandish salaries, middle management, who are constantly in fear for their jobs, and the lowly worker, who has the least input and the most responsibility for production. Sounds like the school system to me.  Please don't get me wrong, we also have some very supportive business leaders who are doing a great deal to help in reorganizing the system to make it more efficient.  It's just that the other group is just so "vocal."  I keep hearing business leaders from this group, along with politicians, bemoan the fact that our school system does not prepare students to enter the work force.  So what's new?  It never did.  Twenty-five years ago when I prepared to graduate from college I was told that I was not prepared completely to enter the business world.  I was told that any business willing to hire me would probably count on taking at least a year to train me in their way of doing things before I would be considered a contributing employee.  It does not sound so different from today to me.

We in the school system are also often compared to other countries, sometimes fairly and sometime not.  As an example, the Japanese system of education is often praised, and rightly so.  They are very efficient, and their students appear to be very bright by almost any standard.  However, to compare American teachers to Japanese teachers is hardly equitable.  Japanese teachers spend only about forty percent of their time in classroom instruction.  Sixty percent of their time is spent in preparation, consultation with colleagues and parents, and one would assume training and self-improvement.  Compare this to the American teacher, who spends eighty-five to ninety-five percent of the time in direct supervision of students.  It's hardly a fair comparison.  I do think we can learn things from observing the practices of Japanese teachers.  Some of my instructional practices are modeled after what I see as effective strategies employed in Japan, but I do not feel it's fair to directly compare the two systems for efficiency until we are on equal footing.

I am convinced that higher standards can be accomplished by American students.  I find my students just as capable as any in the world.  We all have to get together, however, and stop laying blame. If we are committed to higher standards, like the NCTM "Standards," and if everyone involved has high stakes for seeing that the standards are reached, our students will respond by meeting them.  If my experience as a classroom teacher has taught me anything, it is that students will accomplish whatever standards you truly expect them to accomplish.  I very much believe in my students' potential for production.  They have not let me down in the past, and I don't believe they'll let me down in the future.

Key Topics

Calculator Use
Cooperative Learning
Student Progression
Assessment Practices
Higher Standards