Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Fuzzy Math", Afterschooling, and the Achievement Gap

There's a very interesting article in today's Washington Post about how parents in Prince William County are fighting back against the introduction of "fuzzy math" into their kids' elementary schools.

What struck me most was the increase in "afterschooling" as a result of the new program. Because the government-run schools are failing to teach the kids how to actually calculate, parents now have to spend their time and money supplementing. The afterschoolers cited in the WP article are engineers and former math teachers- what about those parents whose own math skills aren't as strong? If they can afford it, there's always online courses such as Johns Hopkins' CTY ($1825/yr) and Stanford's EPGY ($1485/yr) or tutoring at the local Kumon center ($110/mo). But what about families who don't have that kind of cash?

Prince William County already has a significant racial and an income achievement gap. While 88% of Caucasian students passed the state standardized math test in 2007, only 72% of African-American and Latino students passed. Only 68% of poor students passed compared with an overall student passing rate of 81%.

The children who will be most hurt by the "fuzzy math" program are those whose parents are less educated and less affluent (who are also disproportionately African-American or Latino). These families also have less ability to simply move to a town with better schools or to enroll their kids in a private school.

Let's hope that the parents in Prince William County succeed in their attempt to eliminate "fuzzy math" from their schools!

1 comment:

Greg said...

I'm Greg Barlow and just stumbled across your site. Yep, I'm that dreaded engineer/AF fighter pilot who was interviewed in the WashPost last month - fighting fuzzy math. Much as I love working w/ my kids on their homework, really hate having to "unteach" the garbage that comprises the TERC fuzzy math program in PWCS. And though our fine School Board members are quick to point out that math education should include "all learners" I gotta say that there are a lot of PWCS families who are ill-equipped to make up the difference at home...or who can't afford the tutoring that my family is blessed w/ being able to afford. What's fascinating about this program is that it effectively takes the parents out of the parent-teacher-student triangle. And truthfully, it's as remedial paced as one could get and intentionally doesn't teach children the skills they need to go on to higher math. Math Investigations doesn't actually teach standard algorithms (it "studies" them but never teaches); doesn't teach the concept of lowest common denominator, and doesn't ever teach the concept of long division...that's what the calculator is for.
We're finding it's unfortunately, the pedagogy of choice in undergrad and grad Education disciplines, and if only parents would give them enough victims (our children) they could prove it will work.

Anyhow, good reading your blog.
Greg Barlow