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Board of Education should allow math comparison

Published: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 11:33 a.m. CDT

Iowa’s teacher training programs continue to be graded as failures, according to the annual surveys of the National Council of Teacher Quality.  

The program that comes the closest to meeting standards for math is ISU (high school level only), but then they are seriously docked for utterly failing to provide the necessary foundation at the lower grade levels that is necessary to support the work at higher levels. What students do with memorizing activities (the replacement for foundational concepts) is assign their own meaning to help them get through it.  

Sometimes (rarely) they are spot-on with the underlying concepts; sometimes they are close enough to muddle by; and sometimes (usually) they are hopelessly lost.  As evidenced by the number of job opportunities going unfilled because applicants lack the problem-solving and critical thinking skills developed by foundational concept-based math, few students are able to reason their way through the muddle of a loser math curriculum.

Iowa Core Mathematics, broken down into chunks on the Iowa Department of Education website, does little to help move educators out of the quicksand of their own lack of foundational concepts. Publishers, anxious to sell a math program to schools, will also sell some one-time training in the program — for a price.

As with students lost in a morass of something they do not understand, some educators will be able to find their way through this; some educators might get close to an understanding; and many will be lost. Just as with the rest of the job market, the education sector is also a victim of its own lack of foundational training of the past 50 years.  

The National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (cited several places in the math curriculum report) not only offers a concept-based curriculum for K-12, it also offers an ongoing membership for math teachers to be in regular contact with them through their website.

They have weekly activities for all grade levels to help improve the understanding of concepts and their applications across a variety of disciplines — as has been the case with mathematics for thousands of years, developing cognitive skills. Only when this country made a conscious decision to drop this connection across disciplines, and then to drop the underlying foundational concepts did it fall so far behind the rest of the world.

If Iowa’s teacher training programs are not going to rise to the level required for a concept-based education, then another source must be found so educators can learn and then teach the foundational concepts they did not have in their own education.

Iowa educators continue to strongly believe the fault lies with the students (indicating how badly they are trained, as well as their lack of critical-thinking and problem-solving skills), they refuse to be evaluated on  students’ proficiencies.  

This refusal means Iowa will not be granted an extension of continuing to use the 41st national percentile as the student proficiency standard (when the 65th national percentile is grade level) by the U.S. Dept. of Education.  

The Iowa Board of Education should take action at its January meeting to allow Iowa schools the choice of using either the national curriculum or the Iowa curriculum and let a side-by-side evidence-based evaluation decide which one can achieve results.

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