New York Times Editorial Series on Education – They Don’t See the Elephant in the Classroom

(Go here to see the newest piece, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/opinion/sunday/in-math-and-science-the-best-fend-for-themselves.html?hp&rref=opinion )

I am concerned that even the Times doesn’t see the problem.  Maybe they just have trouble believing how bad the integrity problem is.  Anyway, I commented on their recommendations, and I made a general comment.  Here they are.

On the Times recommendation for more government support

As a former math professor, I agree with it only if it governments demand a strong accountability provision. I have personally seen PhD’s essentially handed out to unqualified candidates in response to well funded – but not well monitored –  “national need” grants.  You (the editors, I hope) can read about a case of this, and how such unscrupulous behaviors effects high school math teaching in the category “University Education Dumbs Down High School” on my blog inside-higher-ed.com. Until a way is found to hold universities accountable, we will continue to see poor results in high school.  Universities are where teachers should, but don’t, learn their subject well enough to teach it in an interesting, yet challenging way.  Math is exciting, but not if the teacher was not given the understanding to teach it well. Until the public is education about higher education, we will not have change.

On their recommendation for more AP courses (and their trusting the College Board to give it to them)

Accelerated learning for those who can, yes.  Decelerated tests, which is what we have been getting, no.  Here is Caltech’s math department on AP tests, “…the AP tests… are woefully inadequate in… testing, why things work and how to justify one’s propositions…” (http://www.math.caltech.edu/~2011-12/1term/ma001a/#des)  You can see how these tests become watered down by reading my comment “On Mark Bauerlein’s Commentary in “The Chronicle of Higher Education””  There you can read about how the chair of an AP Committee said they “…examined the results of a curriculum survey of college..departments…If enough colleges regarded something as important…we incorporated it into the standards…”  The “…if enough colleges…” is the operative term.  With colleges dumbing down material to pleas their customers (once quaintly called “students”), we don’t need to be looking for a common denominator.  We need to be looking at what should be learned.

In general

I am a former math professor at an “elite” university.  Until people see the elephant in the room, no amount of “…identifying the…ingredients of a high-performing educational system…” will help.  Universities market to “customers” wants, not their needs.  Some of those “customers” become teachers.  How can we expect them to interest and challenge their students in exciting STEM subjects when they were taught by a (to paraphrase Clark Kerr) “me generation” of professors who don’t care whether students learn, just whether they don’t complain, so that the marketing department (that is, the administration) doesn’t complain and take up the professors time.   The elephant is obvious to many of us in higher education but until people see it clearly, and leaders address it, many high-school teachers and STEM majors will be cheated of their education.  And so it will go.

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