For those who ponder why finding a math tutor has been a perennial topic on our Nextdoor, and who are puzzled by the persistent achievement gap in PAUSD, I'd like to share an article that might offer a clue: "My Childhood Schooling in the Soviet Union was Better than my Kids’ in U.S. Public Schools Today."
It's uncertain whether this article is sufficiently politically correct in our progressive Palo Alto, but its criticism of math and English language literature education is worth a careful read.
Not many Americans, including many very successful people, are aware of the huge divide between two camps of math academics—mathematicians (those who earned their Ph.D.’s from math departments) and math education professionals (those who earned their degrees from Schools of Education), and how the latter camp of people have led astray U.S. K-12 math education for decades.
Eminent math education professors from top U.S. universities have been preaching to teachers and parents that the most important thing about learning math is to find at least 10 ways to solve simple problems like 5*18—which would supposedly cultivate creativity—and to tell a story about, or draw a diagram, to solve problems like 3/4*1/5 that is supposed to induce “conceptual understanding.” They claim that brain-science experiments show that reciting multiplication tables and practicing basic arithmetic—the so-called “lower-ordering thinking” according to the Bloom Taxonomy—would causeneuro-cells to disconnect and thus damage kids’ mental abiity to learn math. Lured by the promises of “critical thinking,”“brain science,”“21st century skills,” “higher-order thinking,” and so forth, and dizzied by the glorious fame of the world’s top universities withwhich these math education scholars are affiliated, few teachers and parents actually apply critical thinking to those immensely appealing ideas churned out by those math education professors.
But the explanation of the persistent math travails of American kids is starkly simple: the romantic approach, the mile-wide and inch-deep curriculum, and the downplay of practicing the basic arithmetic skills have rendered most American kids with poor numerical fluency and fuzzy understanding of basic concepts which, in turn, makes students ill-prepared to process algebraic expressions and hence algebra and any higher-level STEM courses become insurmountable for them. A panel discussion by three distinguished mathematicians in 2008 elucidates the profound problems in U.S. K-12 math curriculum and approach Web Link (big file).