Scientists: “Alarmed over recent trends in K-12 math education”

It’s oft reported that the U.S. is 25th (or lower) in the world in math & science … and things aren’t getting any better.

Case in point: Last week we posted study results indicating that K-8 students’ standardized math scores have fallen by about 10% since the pre-pandemic levels.

That’s ringing alarm bells for scientists and mathematicians.

So says a letter boasting about 500 signatories, including:

Four winners of the Fields Medal in math; two winners of the Turing Award in computing; a Nobel laureate in physics and another in chemistry; 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences; and faculty at Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, MIT and every top U.S. university for hard science.

As the WSJ opines: “When mathematicians, physicists and engineers speak up to defend the integrity of their fields, Americans should pay attention.”

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The scientists buy-into making math more inclusive (i.e. more “welcoming” to women and black / brown minorities) and more relevant (e.g. injecting practicality and social meaning).

My take: Their issues seem to revolve around:

> “Slow rolling” … the elimination of “tracking” in favor of one-size-fits-all courses that get watered down for the general student population (think: common denominator)

> Performance measurements …  the elimination or diminution of standardized testing … intended to reduce students’ anxiety and potential loss of esteem … at the expense of clear metrics re: achievement and progress, individually and collectively

> Subjectivity …  minimizing “right” answers … in favor of ones that are   “directionally correct” or simply “nice tries”

Weighing in, in absentia, is Albert Einstein:

“One reason why mathematics enjoys special esteem, above all other sciences, is that its laws are absolutely certain and indisputable, while those of other sciences are to some extent debatable and in constant danger of being overthrown by newly discovered facts.”

> Methodology … ditching road-tested protocols and procedural documentation in favor of “many ways to skin a cat” and informal or mental “scratch-padding”.

Again, quoting Einstein:

“Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of expressed logical ideas.”

> Diminished “higher math” … delaying algebra until high school … and squeezing calculus offerings in high school … reducing students’ preparedness for college and making colleges responsible for skills’ remediation.

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The signatories largely dodged the remix of education emphasis away from hard sciences and math towards social and political discourse.

Einstein would be disappointed on that count:

Yes, we have to divide up our time like that, between our politics and our equations. But to me our equations are far more important, for politics are only a matter of present concern. A mathematical equation stands forever. Albert Einstein

But, he signatories’ did issue a strong warning:

“The erosion of math and science education is threatening America’s prosperity and survival in a competitive world.

Those disciplines are centuries old and arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.”

Amen.

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