The Evil that Schools Do

Anyone who has paid the least bit of attention to education reforms in the past 20 – 30 years knows that rote memorization, or drill and kill, are the single worst things a developing child can be exposed to.   Not only does rote memorization take the joy out of learning, it undermines children’s ability to understand numbers and arithmetic operations.  Teachers forcing children to memorize math facts to automatic recall are committing what can only be characterized as educational malpractice.  In this modern era the focus in education is on deeper understanding, critical thinking, and developing 21st Century skills, not on creating a generation of robots who mindlessly repeat steps they don’t understand.

Too bad those promises aren’t based on actual science.  You know data, from actual studies, conducted by actual scientists and peer reviewed, that show that rote memorization undermines learning.  Because the studies, the actual science and data, show the opposite.

The Journal of Neuroscience recently published a study conducted by two professors of neuroscience from the University of Ontario. The scientists observed something rather amazing during their study:

Students who performed well on the math section of the PSAT showed more activity in brain areas linked to memory of math facts. Those with lower math PSAT scores had less brain activity in those areas and more in areas associated with processing number quantities.

The findings suggest that the high-achieving students knew the answers by memory, while lower-performing students were calculating even low-level problems.

Amazing, isn’t it?  Children who knew their math facts to automatic recall, or rote, did better in math than those who didn’t.  College professors and high school math teachers have observed this for years, but have been scoffed at, belittled, and worse by the folks peddling programs they claim foster deeper understanding and critical thinking.  Turns out the college professors and high school math teachers were right.

I don’t think anything will change as our country has sold it’s soul to the promise peddlers and has spent literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars developing techniques employed by these folks to undermine parent opposition to their programs.  Virginia has fully embraced these programs and openly advocates giving calculators to children, starting in kindergarten.

There’s just too much money and too much influence at the highest levels of government for anything to change.

Virginia Virtucon recently noted that students in Prince William County lag far behind students in Fairfax and Loudoun in their performance on the PSAT and in the number of students who qualify as National Merit Scholars.  Virtucon wanted to know why.

Prince William County is run by folks who honestly believe mastery of math facts and the standard algorithms are dangerous as they undermine student learning and critical thinking skills, and they teach that to our teachers.  The science says mastery of math facts and the standard algorithms actually improve student learning.  Virtucon, I think perhaps we’ve found part of the answer to your question.

I don’t expect anything to change.  Education in the United States and Virginia is run by folks who are making money by the boatload selling programs that they claim help students develop deeper understanding, critical thinking, and 21st Century skills.  Unfortunately, what they claim their programs offer will actually leave our children even further behind.  The evil that our schools do will live after them.

Why Johnny Can’t Subtract

Many parents and teachers have complained to me that their children can’t subtract.  While most of us managed to get through grade school generally getting subtraction, the whole concept seems to be beyond our children’s abilities.

In the past I’ve blamed Math Investigations and it’s approach to teaching subtraction.  But those complaints have continued this year, even with our new instructional resource.  In fact, the complaints have gotten louder, with many parents upset that Connects moves through material quickly and doesn’t give kids the time to understand and learn procedures.

This pace, which is leading to frustration and a profound lack of understanding, is intentional.  Not because of Connects, but the PWCS Math Department.

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The VA DOE Loves Calculators

The VA DOE loves calculators, because arithmetic is hard and having calculators means teachers don’t have to teach arithmetic and the DOE doesn’t have to test for arithmetic fluency.

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Trust Nothing You Hear from the Education Establishment

When it comes to education we parents have to trust that the teachers and education administrators in our public school systems won’t do anything that will harm our children.  While I think most of our classroom teachers have our children’s best interests at heart, I doubt everything I hear from the education administrators & bureaucrats.

I’m sorry to say that, but I have seen far too much evidence that the education administrators at the local, state, and federal level are corrupt and will willingly and knowingly lie or distort facts, to trust a word they say anymore.  Unfortunately, debunking their lies usually requires a degree of professional skepticism coupled with a willingness to dig into and understand details, something our elected officials are unwilling or unable to do.

The net effect is that the corrupt liars are setting education policy in this county, state, and country and our children are suffering because of it.

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Blame the Teachers, Part (3)

Blame the teachers.  That’s the advice from PWCS for anyone with concerns about the Math program.

I think PWCS is wrong.  I don’t think our teachers are at fault for the problems that continue in our elementary level math program.  I don’t think our elementary level teachers have the autonomy the school division says they do because they have to teach to the test.  Not the SOLs, the CFAs. Read the rest of this entry »

Blame the Teachers, Part (2)

Blame the teachers.  That’s the advice from PWCS for anyone with concerns about the Math program.

During the Math informational presentation at the January 2 2013 school board meeting PWCS staff made a number of statements that I felt deserved a bit more clarification.  This is part (2) of that series.

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Blame the Teachers

Blame the teachers.  That’s the advice from PWCS for anyone with concerns about the Math program.

According to PWCS staff, teachers developed the assessments and have the authority and autonomy to select and use any materials they want in any order no matter what the recommended pacing might suggest.  Teachers can even disavow instructional materials entirely, if they so desire.  Lesson pacing is just a suggestion, not set in stone, and teachers can teach lessons in any order they want based on what they believe will best meet the needs of their diverse community of students.  Our teachers teach the curriculum, not a textbook.

Any concerns or questions anyone has with what’s being taught, the manner in which it’s being taught, the order in which it’s being taught, what’s being tested, or how responses are being graded needs to bring those concerns to the attention of their child’s teacher.  Central office, and the Math Department, exist solely to create learning environments to enhance teacher professional development and student learning.

Got that teachers?  According to PWCS, when it comes to Math, it’s all on you.

If any teachers are feeling like they just got thrown under the bus by PWCS, watch out for the tires, they sting.

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