Paul presents a case that when international test scores are viewed with regard for *curricular productivity*, the U.S. fares well in the comparisons.
One interpretation is that, in truth, U.S. scholastic productivity in mathematics education actually is quite good. Another is that, in truth, the top producing countries are doing not much better than the U.S. ... and most others are doing worse or much worse.
International comparisons are a form of grading on a curve. The score comparisons might be of interest to those who are focused on how the nation's well being depends on its comparative STEM-power. But the rubber hits the road at how well the U.S. is doing at meeting its own people's needs for personal educational health in mathematics.
It is hardly comforting to surmise that few other nations are doing a better job at math-educating their students than we are with ours. 25% of American students drop out of school ... and mathematics is the primary academic cause. Basic algebra has become a major stumbling block for high school graduation. 35% of American students "graduate" from high school (commonly as mathematics illiterates) but do not go on to higher education (mathematics being the primary academic cause). Another 20% drop out of college (mathematics being the primary academic cause). Relatively few college graduates major in math-dependent fields. Roughly half American adults are victims of at least latent MLD ... that they earlier contracted during childhood. (MLD: Mathematics-Learning Distress: apprehension, anxiety, depression, fear, phobia, etc.) Multitudes of college graduates are unable to help their own kids make common sense of school mathematics. American colleges do not educate students for mathematically parenting children ... quite the opposite!
So, curve-grading the U.S. via international comparisons badly fails to disclose the realities of nationwide personal mathematical health ... and how it is affected by curricular education. If the mathematical health of the nation is judged with regard for the personal mathematical health of its constituents, the U.S. is in very bad shape. If the rest of the world is in equally bad shape, or worse, it might be because other countries are trying to teach math in the same, futile ways that long have been used in the U.S. The default mode is parrot-training ... which culminates in educational disaster.
" It has to be one or the other, ..." [... either American students are poor, or their teachers are].
Its not quite that simplistic. Most teachers of school mathematics try to do what they have been trained to do, and think they are expected to do and are paid to do. Much the same is true of their students. Neither population can be blamed for not knowing how to do something else that is better ... or even for not knowing how better to do what they now are trying to do.
American students have not been educated in *how* to learn mathematics. Most teachers of mathematics have been so misguided about the natures of mathematics ... and of education in mathematics ... that they are unable to make it mathematically common-sensible to their students (or even to see the crucial educational-health need for doing so). Apparently, some nations are better at that ... and some are worse ... but the curve of international test scores is probably not a reliable indicator.
Because the American scholastic curriculum has (for generations) largely failed to make school-level mathematics common-sensible to the students, themselves, American children, teachers, and schools rely on students' abilities to memorize and parrot what their books and teachers say and do. Because that is how most American adults were reared, most have been trained to think that parrot-training is what mathematics "education" is all about (a la NCLB, Khan, Saxon, ALEKS, Kumon, et al).
We do know that those parrot-trained students who are scholastically successful enough to persist with curricular mathematics eventually acquire conceptual understanding of what they earlier "learned" (usually a year or more after "learning" it). That kind of persistence ... for scholastic success through parroting ... is more consistent with the modes of "well disciplined" cultures that strongly honor subservience and conformity than it is with the modes of cultures whose youth are more free-wheeling and self-directed. That difference is seen as much within the U.S. as between nations.
Myopic leaders and educators are oblivious to the fact that in modern democratic nations, parrot-training is only short-range expedient and is long-range disastrous. They have badly failed to nurture the advent of a scientifically reliable knowledge-base for the education of career educators.
As a result, most American teachers of mathematics are woefully under-educated for developing students' functional personal mathematical intelligence. Instead, most have been trained mostly by whatever textbooks they have used (since their own childhoods), and by other teachers whom they choose to emulate. They are expected, paid, and commonly required to "implement" curricula as directed ... without being educated to judge how healthy or unhealthy a particular curriculum is for the students, or how to improve it. Most are so trained to function only as instructional technicians. Only a very small minority are educated to effectively function as instructional technologists. [Very few mathematics educators are competent mathematics instructologists.]
It does seem that the richer the mathematics teachers' knowledge within and about the mathematical arts ... and within and about the psychology of mathematical comprehension ... the better they are at making curricular mathematics common-sensible to students. For sure, there are countries whose teachers ... in the norm ... are better educated in both of those areas.
So, it would seem that American teachers might already be about as good as could be expected ... in doing what they are trying to do (implementing parrot-training curricula) ... with "undisciplined" American students who know only how to try to do what (parroting) they are trying to do. The tragedy is that (try as they must) the students presently cannot learn curricular mathematics as mathematical common sense ... because the curricula that teachers implement are not scientifically designed to be mathematically common-sensible to students.
- -------------------------------------------------- From: "Ken Abbott" <email@example.com> Sent: Friday, March 23, 2012 3:31 PM To: <firstname.lastname@example.org> Subject: Discussion: Do US Math Teachers Suck?
> Does America leads the world in math education? Nope. The US is being > kicked in the groin by China and most other countries. The USA is a joke > in Math. I've travelled around and hear the jokes. Why is this? Is it > because US Math teachers suck so bad? Or is it because US math students > suck so bad? It has to be one or the other, because the US in Math is a > world joke.