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Iowa Core math revisions are necessary

Published: Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013 11:59 a.m. CST

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The Iowa Board of Education has taken a positive first step in attempting to raise Iowa student achievement by considering some deviations from the Iowa Core regarding reading, but a similar step needs to also be taken regarding math. 

Understanding the history of how the situation got so bad is crucial to applying good critical thinking and problem-solving skills for results.

For thousands of years, math has been based on concepts to properly explain relationships, assess them, and correctly process information about them for meaningful and useable results in all disciplines using high-level critical thinking and problem-solving skills to develop logic networks in the brain.  About 100 years ago the U.S. took its public education system off of this; about 50 years ago public education removed the concepts. 

The replacement of concepts with memorization could be termed the “fake-it-and-call-it-good” system. The choice is either properly exercising your brain (learning concepts) or sitting by and watching someone else exercise (memorizing). Fifty years of the fake-it-and-call-it-good system has resulted in Iowa student achievement being stagnant and now falling behind other states that are beginning to figure out that fake-it-and-call-it-good has a plateau – especially compared to students actually using concepts to develop logic networks for high-level critical thinking and problem-solving.

Two very important factors have been “screaming” at Iowa educators for 50 years, trying to tell them there was a serious problem, but they failed to figure it out.

First, the number of Iowa students failing to respond to the “fake-it-and-call-it-good” system jumped exponentially, creating an entire industry known as Special Education. A conservative estimate of lifetime earnings denied to these unfairly labeled students amounts to over $400,000, and a conservative estimate of the costs to the state of Iowa for the program is more than $3 billion.

Second, the assessment tests (ITBS and ITED) have been routinely dumbed down about every four years when 50 percent of the students could not pass them.  This is like deciding you do not like the results of an X-ray so you touch it up to avoid dealing with the consequences.

No other country in the world does this – only U.S. public schools.  When the scores are deflated, they fall into line with those of NAEP and PISA.

All of those “research-based” reports educators like to cite in an effort to support their “fake-it-and-call-it-good” system have been using faulty data bases, they have failed to assess all of the factors involved in the relationship of education (such as a memorized curriculum versus concept-based, teacher training programs that failed to train to effectively teach concepts, and a system that believes some students are defective), and they used the wrong math (favoring their own algorithmic memorized approach over the concept-based that engineers and scientists use to properly assess all factors involved).

Iowa educators are continuing their determination to use the fake-it-and-call-it-good system by taking the concept-based national Core Curriculum and adding memorized requirements for both reading and math (thus dumbing it down), while calling it an improvement. As a rule of thumb, if students are memorizing facts, they are not exercising their brains properly by learning the underlying concepts.

Publishers furnishing materials to schools have been slow to pick up on the significant changes this means for math because they are continuing with a memorized approach for elementary (thus failing to build a proper foundation for higher-level math). Only the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics has a proper concept-based math for all grade levels (as of now).

If the Iowa Board of Education is serious about improving Iowa student achievement, they must first recognize the source of the problem. Put the engineering process specialists in charge of the process, and results will follow.

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