American consumers can’t add well enough to manage their money, writes Bob Sullivan on MSNBC’s Red Tape Chronicles. He cites the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Adult Literacy:

*Only 42 percent were able to pick out two items on a menu, add them, and calculate a tip.

*Only 1 in 5 could reliably calculate mortgage interest.

*1 in 5 could not calculate weekly salary when told an hourly pay rate.

*Only 13 percent were deemed “proficient.” Worse yet, only 1 in 10 women, 1 in 25 Hispanics and 1 in 50 African Americans made the grade.

Twenty million Americans “pay someone to file their 1040EZ, a one-page tax form with around 10 blanks to fill out.”

Johnny can’t calculate because Johnny’s teachers don’t know math, Sullivan suggests.

*In 18 U.S. states, not even one elementary math class is required for certification.

*Some teaching colleges allow admittance as long as students have math skills equal to their future students — that is, as long as they could pass a 5th grade math test.

*It’s possible in some states to pass the teacher certification exam (Praxis) without answering a single math question correctly.

*In Massachusetts, there’s a special program to reacquaint teachers with math. The man who runs the program says half of teachers can’t answer basic questions involving fractions and has concluded that many elementary teachers are “phobic” about math.

High school seniors who say they want to be elementary teachers have below-average math scores.

Innumeracy has led consumers into disaster, Sullivan argues.

It’s a dual problem – many teachers start out deficient in their understanding of math, but also, states relax their requirements when the market needs more teachers. They never require that teachers meet the new standards once the crisis is over – grandfathering is the norm.

Right now, with the elementary teacher over-supply, states might start raising the level needed for beginning teachers – however, that won’t solve anything if they don’t also make the teachers they already have employed meet the new requirement.

I’m not mean – I’d say – give the older teachers perhaps 5 years to meet the standard. Provide some assistance in the cost of taking the classes. Offer professional development.

BUT – have a teacher high-stakes test at the end. No passy, no continued employment. No exceptions.

For some teachers, they would rise to the challenge. For others, well, they would either retire, or find some other field of employment. It’s just not fair to the students to keep teachers employed who don’t know enough to do their job (and, yes, I think mastery of basic high-school level math is necessary for even elementary teachers).

I thought of myself as Bad At Math throughout school. It didn’t help that I was the anchorman in my high school’s fast math track – I always had the worst grade in the class.

When I started teaching and giving grades I discovered deep innumeracy. I had to (and still have to) explain how I figure grade over and over again. Very few of my students – whether public high school Latin students in Georgia or art history students at a nice liberal arts college – seem to be able to understand an average of a stack of grades.

Linda F — five years is too long. These teachers have already done damage to countless kids. They need to acquire the math skills, pass the test and be ready to go by the next academic year. If they cannot do this they need to go.

Colleges need to do a better job of screening students and oh yeah..eliminate the school of education.

With more and more people looking for a second career considering education…I bet there are countless highly qualified people just waiting for an opportunity to oust ineffective and ill-prepared teachers.

School districts need to take advantage of these strange times and make some excellent hires from outside of the field…these people will be better educated than the teachers they are replacing and I bet better teachers too

The solution to this sort of elementary innumeracy is to drill. Sit the kids down in rows when they are in kindergarten through fourth grade and make them memorize their addition and multiplication tables.

Give them worksheets with forty problems EVERY NIGHT. For four years.

The key to being fluent in basic mathematics is to have the *really* ground-level fundamentals not just learned, not just mastered, but assumed on a habitual, almost unconscious level. You need to know 17+14 with the same degree of certainty and involvement that you know the location of your hand.

Of course, that’s the key to fluency in anything, isn’t it?

I have considered what it might take to remove incompetent teachers regardless of tenure, and it looks like math might be the key. They cannot teach arithmetic, long division and simplifying fractions if they cannot do those things, so imposing a math curriculum which requires those to be taught would force them to develop those skills or be “insubordinate”.

The three examples provided involve more than adding:

Calculating a tip usually involves decimal multiplication (× 1.15, for example).

Mortgage interest usually involves more than adding.

Hourly->weekly *can* be done with adding … but is more reasonably solved with multiplication.

I don’t think it helps advance the argument that American’s have poor math skills, by mis-representing the problem.

-Mark Roulo

Uh-oh, and journalist/bloggers can’t spell “led” — sound the alarm!

Innumeracy has lead consumers into disaster, Sullivan argues.

To be fair on the tax forms, the US tax code is such an insane monster that it’s not innumeracy that leads people to professional tax preparers, but fear of missing something that could get them into trouble. From where I stand, it’s an indictment of the tax code, not education.

Ms. Jacobs, when you blast teachers as incompetent you get dinged extra when you spell an easy word wrong in the very same post. I propose a penalty in such cases — $100 donation to Parents for Public Schools-San Francisco, say? You can donate via the website, http://www.ppssf.org

So, where do we propose to find all these brilliant, math-savvy teachers to replace the ignorant “incompetents” who supposedly can’t do math? We sure aren’t going to replace them with the numerous journalists being displaced by the collapse of the newspaper business — as a veteran copy editor at the Mercury News (1982-’96), I can attest that my urban-public-school-educated kids’ math skills by about 4th grade had surpassed those of most of my newsroom colleagues. (We copy editors were required to recheck reporters’ calculations of percentages, which was pretty hysterical since they were almost never right — I should have kept a running tally.)

We can probably find some bright-eyed, math-savvy newbies in the Teach for America ranks, but ample experience shows us that we’re lucky if they stick with teaching for more than a year. San Francisco’s Balboa High School, which many of my kids’ friends and friends’ kids attend, landed an eager young math teacher through TFA at the beginning of last school year — but he left within the first month.

If it’s true that you can create people competent in arithmetic by drilling them in arithmetic, you can separate the existing teaching staff into a group which already knows arithmetic, a group which is willing and able to learn arithmetic and thus can teach it, and a group which is either unwilling or unable to learn arithmetic and can be let go.

If there are a number of time-servers with lots of seniority on the payroll, letting them go will free up money for other staff. There’s no excuse to have anyone on the payroll who can’t handle the tasks in their job description.

There are also plenty of people who know arithmetic quite well but are poor at teaching it. And there are teachers who know their math and can teach it very well to the kind of students who pick it up easily, but are not great at — or patient about — reaching students who struggle and need extra help to grasp the material. I have known problematic math teachers in my kids’ school careers, but never because the teachers didn’t know their math.

The most problematic ones would definitely be the ones whom get-tough types think are great.

It’s not as simple as it looks.

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

Doesn’t choosing to pay someone to file a one-page tax form have to do more with common sense than math skills?

Caroline

“Uh-oh, and journalist/bloggers can’t spell “led” — sound the alarm!

Innumeracy has lead consumers into disaster, Sullivan argues”

led from answers.com

v.

Past tense and past participle of lead.

Sorry; the correct spelling of the past tense of the verb “to lead” is “led.” You can find all kinds of mistakes on the Internet, so by the standard that “if it’s on the Net it must be correct,” there IS no such thing as a correct spelling and anything goes! I have a feeling that that’s not the standard that Ms. Jacobs and those who agree with her would apply when it comes to teachers. A little more flexible about our OWN standards, are we?

Normally I am not a stickler at all when it comes to online postings, including by bloggers or by commenters on blogs, including me. However, in teacher-bashing posts, there’s a moral obligation to avoid any lapses in literacy and, if applicable, numeracy — and I reiterate my proposed penalty of a $100 donation to Parents for Public Schools.

Calculators, calculators, calculators.

Before about 1981, all the students who took the ACT/SAT did so without the assistance of a calculator.

Of course, a 1981 high school graduate would now be in his/her mid-40s. Do these studies show that far more people older than their mid-40s can competently figure out the meal cost and the tip, the dollar amount of mortgage interest and a person’s weekly pay rate, as compared with those younger than their mid-40s?

Frankly, I think that’s hooey. I see no indication whatsoever that my generation (I’m 55) is more competent with math than my kids’ generation (they’re 15 and 19) or the generation(s) in between. I scanned the links and I don’t see that they’re showing that either. Au contraire — my kids are doing harder math, earlier in school, than our generation did.

I’ve got a brilliant idea: let’s find and use textbooks that have got all of the conceptual teaching and skill practice printed right inside them. So teachers and students can go line by line, page by page, and learn math together.

Let’s discard curricula premised on teachers teaching students how to discover mathematical concepts the teachers themselves do not apparently understand.

There are still textbooks out there that integrate concepts with attendant skills and plenty of practice. They have not all been burnt. Yet.

It’s too expensive to make a million teachers wise in the ways of mathematics through in-service training.

It’s pretty cheap to find one wise textbook and distribute it.

What’s good enough for a ten-year-old should be good enough for a thirty-year-old to learn by, too.

Why do we put so little faith in books? In the printed word?

Just asking.

Calculators definitely add to the problem.

Of course the knuckleheads….er….educational leadership…see calculators as “technology”, and a stepping stone to rocket science.

BTW, the most positive thing I ever heard my AP say about me was that my students were using GRAPHING calculators during class. They were using graphing calculators because that’s what they had.

Among the negative things the knucklehead…AP…had to say was that I spent about an hour drilling kids on problem solving when she happened to pop in.

Bonnie –

If it were that simple, then yes. But again, the tax code has so many traps and loopholes that make trying to figure out what tax forms to file if you have any deviation from single, employed at a single job a minefield. I pay $40 a year for online tax prep precisely because I’ve got deviations from that standard situation. And yes, it makes perfect economic sense if I consider the value of my time in finding all the answers I need in the tax code vs. having the software do it for me.

Also, I think Ex-PhysicsTeacher’s last comment really captures it. Once any sort of drill went out of fashion with educationists, quite a few skills started to diminish. Off the top of my head, math, spelling, and grammar have all diminished, and many people are tempted to trust the calculator, spell check, or grammar check. (Sadly, in the case of the latter, people will actually believe that little green line in Microsoft Word to the point where they take a perfectly good sentence and knock it out of whack to appease the program.)

Ah, the Redmond-induced moronization of written communications. A trend I know and loathe.

I strongly prefer face-to-face instruction for my children, to such an extent that very soon, they will all be attending private schools. However, do not attempt to pass off the old canard that “one doesn’t need to know a subject to teach it.” That doesn’t pass the giggle test, especially when the topic is arithmetic.

If I had the choice, I’d take a mid-40s engineer, changing careers, or a former artillery sergeant, rather than a fresh ed-school graduate in her early 20s who doesn’t understand fractions. Maybe that’s just me, but I don’t think so.

If teachers want to be regarded as a profession, then they must behave like other well-respected professions, and maintain professional standards, including tossing out the incompetent. Even if the incompetents are only 10 years from retirement. In the course of 10 years, an innumerate teacher can do immense damage. Math literacy is easily ascertained. It can and should be done, for the good of the profession.

If the teaching body does not step up to this task, they will greatly regret it. Online entrepreneurs will eat their lunch.

For many people these are not “real world problems”. They can not afford to eat out and will never be able to buy a house because a job with an hourly wage is unattainable. So why bother to learn how to do the math.

“To be fair on the tax forms, the US tax code is such an insane monster that it’s not innumeracy that leads people to professional tax preparers, but fear of missing something that could get them into trouble. From where I stand, it’s an indictment of the tax code, not education.”

What you say has some truth to it. I prepare my daughter’s EZ form using a software program–but most of the difficult questions are the ones that lead the software to the conclusion that EZ is the appropriate form to use. But, the real reason that folks are paying others to prepare their EZ submission is the proliferation of companies that make big bucks by filing and then advancing high priced loans on the refund amount–in other words the immediate refund (less a cut to the preparer). The gov’t provides some free services to discourage folks (particularly recipients of Earned Income Tax Refunds–intended to help out really low income folks) from getting ripped off before they even receive any cash. But the preparers invest more in advertising and have the advantage of offering “instant cash.”

As I think about it–perhaps some instruction in practical math to understand the extent to which one is getting ripped off (example: eighty dollars today vs one hundred dollars in three weeks) would be in order.

I think this is another argument for scripted lessons – if we want to teach something thoroughly to nearly every student, and it hasn’t been taught well in the past, then people are going to struggle to get enough competent teachers at that subject.

And given my experience with asking my Dad for homework help, I don’t think that just because someone has a lot of maths at university means they’ll be a good maths teacher. Dad just didn’t appear capable of understanding or remembering what it was like to be learning a new mathematical concept.

When wielded by teachers who lack content knowledge, scripts won’t help. In our children’s educational adventures, we’ve found the best math teachers were those who understood math, and liked it. At the most basic level, in order to teach well, one needs to recognize a wrong answer.

An online program, with some human remote instruction, would be more effective than a scripted program in math. A system such as ALEKS’s adaptive analytic routines would be more effective. If you don’t get the right answer, you can’t proceed. You must read a new explanation of the skill you lack, and then you must demonstrate mastery. Repeated failures should flag a student who needs longer explanations.

I fear the model of the future will be, for many students, large “computer lab” type settings of some 60 to 80 students (at least), monitored by an instructor of some sort who can provide alternate explanations to those who need extra help.

I do not find this to be desirable, but we’re more than halfway there. States and municipalities must balance their budgets somehow. Declaring bankruptcy gets them out from under union contracts, or at least allows them to fire large numbers of teachers. During the emergency, they will turn to online content providers. Online content providers may turn out to do as well as or better than classroom instruction, particularly in districts which are burdened with teachers who are not proficient in math. By the way, they can prove that they hold their own, due to the mandatory yearly state tests.

Once those teacher positions have been cut, it will be very difficult to bring them back, particularly as this will solve the problem of mainstreaming. If you receive your instruction at a computer terminal, whether you receive that instruction in one classroom or another doesn’t make any difference.

For those who believe that drill and memorization is the answer to our math problems, I believe the research shows that drill by itself does not lead to knowledge and understanding of math. It doesn’t even necessarily lead to memorization of the facts in a way that is helpful.

Think about it. If all it took was a couple of days (or weeks) of drill, there wouldn’t be much math to do in math in elementary school, as the curriculum, for the most part, consists of memorizing about 50 addition facts, 50 multiplication facts and four algorithms. Couldn’t we be done with this in a month? And yet, we aren’t done in a month.

Young brains don’t seem to work this way. Some of it is poor teaching, but much of it probably has to do with the way that math development occurs. While kids may have trouble memorizing the facts, they may be able to learn things about numbers, relationships, and larger mathematical ideas. Sometimes I wonder if we fixate on the 100 facts and four algorithms because that’s all that many adults (and teachers) understand of math.

When wielded by teachers who lack content knowledge, scripts won’t help.It depends on the script. If we are talking about a good, field-tested-and-improved script which has been field-tested against the right goals, then they do seem to help.

In our children’s educational adventures, we’ve found the best math teachers were those who understood math, and liked it.In my educational adventures, I’ve found that the best maths teachers are those who understand math, who like it (or at least act like they like it), and who know where their students can fail to understand it. My Dad meets your first two criteria, but bums out entirely on the third. I had a few professors at university who were similar to my Dad. The best maths teacher I did have at high school meet all 3 criteria, he said he had struggled with maths at school (he did have a maths degree too).

As for your online example of ALEKS, isn’t that roughly what the scripted maths programmes in Direct Instruction do? See http://www.specialconnections.ku.edu/~specconn/page/instruction/di/pdf/math_sample_lesson_a.pdf for a sample Direct Instruction maths lesson.

I also don’t understand why you think that if a kid doesn’t understand a short explanation, then they need a longer one. What is the research base behind this statement? Doesn’t a longer explanation risk bringing in extraneous material that would just confuse a kid who was already struggling? Mightn’t it be wiser to provide the kid with more worked examples? (I’m not religiously committed to the althernative hypothesis, it’s just that your suggested approach strikes me as counter-intuitive).

When I was in high school and college in the 70’s and early 80’s, it was common knowledg that those students who majored in education were generally too stupid to be able to get a degree in anything else. There was no requirement to have to know about a field in order to get an education degree in that field – they truly believed, and indoctrinated a whole generation of teachers to believe, that you only need to know education theory and you can teach anything. Total nonsense.

I have just retired after nearly thirty years working in the fields of chemistry, engineering, and quality management. I not only like math, but it has been key in providing me with a successful and lucrative career. I have had ongoing responsibilities for both interviewing potential new employees and also with providing in-house technical training for my employers for most of my career. And I can confidently say that the gap between those who do know math and those who don’t is getting larger and larger all the time. My daughter has had several teachers in school who repeatedly tell their classes that “math is really hard, so don’t really expect to be good at it” – they don’t know math, don’t have training in it, don’t like it, and they are indoctrinating our kids to hate it, because they are the math teachers. Fortunately, she doesn’t believe them, and has decided that she loves math and wants a career that involves math (she’s angling toward architectural engineering). Of course, she’s been around her father and I both showing our love of math and our comfort with it, so I suppose that offset the continuing negative messages from her teachers over the years.

The commenter who said that being able to do math is no guarantee of being able to teach it is correct, however – at least in our experience. My husband is much better than I am at very advanced mathematics (as in beyond differential equations). Yet he has trouble trying to explain simple concepts to our daughter. While I tend to try more than one explanation until I find a style or approach that works for her, my husband often falls into the trap of repeating the same thing over and over (and sometimes louder), thinking that that will get the idea across better.

I have often considered teaching, simply because it is something that I love doing. But upon making inquiries, I have been told that having a graduate degree which included teaching at the college level, nearly 30 years work and mentoring experience, and over 20 years designing and teaching technical courses in an industrial setting does not mean that I know anything about teaching – in order to be qualified to teach, I have to go back to school and get a teaching degree or certification, thus ensuring that I am fully indoctrinated into the proper mindset of political correctness that will undo all of the ‘dangerous’ ideas I learned in the real world. I suppose by those ‘dangerous ideas’ they mean the ability to actually teach something rather than just insure kids acquire the proper attitudes toward political correctness. I have yet to figure out what attitudes and emotional opinions are supposed to have to do with math…. So I will teach my own child, and ensure she is a critical thinker.

Maybe Robert Heinlein had it right: “Anyone who cannot do mathematics is not fully human. At best, he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear clothes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.” I can hear the screaming from the PC Left already….

In high school, my chemistry teacher had written the textbook. Asking her to explain a concept wasn’t very useful, as the explanation was too similar to the textbook’s explanation. For me, turning to Barron’s notes on chemistry helped to look at the problems from a slightly different angle.

Most computer programs aren’t set up to catch a lack of understanding caused by a misunderstanding of an underlying concept. A complementary explanation, given by a human, could help.

Tracy W: How long ago was Project Follow Through? Do you know the relative math proficiency of the teachers in the study?

Using DI takes an enormous amount of teacher training, compared to other curricula. I don’t know if any school system could force their entire teaching staff to use DI “faithfully”, outside the confines of a large, well-funded study.

ClaireB, have you tried contacting any private schools in your area? They are free to hire teachers without teaching degrees. I don’t think any of my children’s teachers in their private schools have a teaching degree. They all majored in subject-area disciplines.

Some people who are proficient may not be good teachers. That does not mean that anyone who is not proficient at math (especially at the low levels set by NAAL) would be better at teaching math. That is a wholly unwarranted assumption.

I only know that if I ask my students to use 10 percent or 50 percent of a number, they just look at me.

ClaireB: But can you teach Margo’s son?

Claire B wrote:

When I was in high school and college in the 70’s and early 80’s, it was common knowledge that those students who majored in education were generally too stupid to be able to get a degree in anything else.Things have not changed.

I loved your post.

Andrew –

It’s not that drill is the solution, but that lack of drill is the problem. There needs to be something between front-of-the-mind, effortful understanding of certain procedures, and back-of-the-mind, automatic execution of the same. The problem I see happen without drill is the “out the ear” syndrome, where students hold things in their conscious minds, but then it slips away when focus is moved elsewhere.

Memorization fails in isolation. Memorized facts become hammers applied indiscriminately. Conceptual teaching without memorization is just as bad, leaving students without any skills to build upon. There must be both, and combined well.

I am not at all surprised at the assertion that American consumers can’t add — or subtract, multiply, divide or reduce fractions or calculate percentages. I came to that conclusion several years ago while taking classes to obtain a real estate license.

I was amazed at the difficulty a number of folk seemed to be having, especially younger folk, with the arithmetic involved. The arithmetic is basically eighth-grade stuff, much of it even simpler than that. Yet a number of people, many of them college graduates and even a smattering of teachers, seemed to be struggling with examples such as those as basic as determining and adding perimeters, then subtracting some quantity from that total.

There were others who had problems with the language, but they were by and large people whose native language was not English. That was especially true when it came to mastering concepts that were determined — as much of California real estate law is — by court decisions. But the stumbling and fumbling with eighth-grade math astounded me.

Cranberry – Project Followthrough was the 1970s. I don’t know the relative math proficiency of the teachers in the study but I know of nothing to suggest that the teachers at the DI schools were relatively better at maths than the teachers at the other schools. The DI programme, or other ones, was selected by the parents attending the school. Possibly the teachers in the DI schools did tend to have more maths skills, this is why I said “seem to help”, not “does help”.

Using DI takes an enormous amount of teacher training, compared to other curricula.Well enormous amounts of teacher training is fine if in return we churn out more thoroughly educated kids than before (adjusting for any changes in the incoming quality of the students). Can you please name these other curricula which achieve as good results as DI, with less teacher training?

I am also still curious as to why you think that if a kid doesn’t understand a short explanation they need a longer one?

I don’t know if any school system could force their entire teaching staff to use DI “faithfully”, outside the confines of a large, well-funded study.Nor do I. This is an institutional problem that I don’t have a solution to. But I also am skeptical that there are enough people out there with really good maths skills, really good teaching skills (including good enough English) and who want to be school teachers to be able to fill every needed maths teaching position in the country. After all, if education outcomes in maths have been low for decades then there is going to be a shortage of people with the right maths background.

I just have to say that at some point maybe people need to start looking at the results of schooling on people and maybe start asking if the poor results might not be, if not the intended result, then at least an acceptable one.

Consumers who can’t do math pay others to do it for them. Consumers who can’t do math pay too much for things. Consumers who can’t do math do math don’t understand the limits their salaries might pose when it comes to consumption.

It’s really not such a b

I just have to say that at some point maybe people need to start looking at the results of schooling on people and maybe start asking if the poor results might not be, if not the intended result, then at least an acceptable one.

Consumers who can’t do math pay others to do it for them. Consumers who can’t do math pay too much for things. Consumers who can’t do math do math don’t understand the limits their salaries might pose when it comes to consumption.

It’s really not such a bad state of affairs if you’re in the business of selling something.

Dawn – consumers who don’t do maths means that you can’t sell them maths puzzles and games. Consumers who don’t do maths means that you have to work harder to persuade them that your product is cheaper or better than the competitors. Consumers that don’t do math are often also employees that don’t do math, thus limiting their career options and raising the relative salaries of those who do do maths, cutting into your profits. Workers who don’t do maths are more likely to miss mistakes in production, increasing your costs.

Generally we see business on the side of lobbbying for better education in the terms of reading and arithmetic at school, I think this is because the costs they see as employers is more vivid and obvious than any gains from less-mathematically-able customers. Of course some businesses are motivated by self-interest in the push for technologies in schools, and businesspeople often push for silly policies because of lack of knowledge about education, but overall, I think the business incentives are for better basic education at schools.

Quincy,

Lest you worry, schools (at least around here) do LOTS of drill — it’s easy to hand out worksheets. The concern I have is that students can’t seem to do math DESPITE the drill. Something is missing. I bet the adults who couldn’t do the problems that were in the original post could tell you that 12 – 4 = 6 and 6 * 7 = 42.

Best,

Make that 12 – 4 = 8, of course 🙂

“American consumers can’t type” is so much less worrisome than the alternative. 😉

Andrew –

Thanks for reading my whole comment before replying. Except for the part where I indicated that you have to teach something before drilling it, that is. Handing out worksheets is easy. Teaching is hard. Devising drills that support teaching is even harder.

Quincy,

I think we are in agreement. Didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

Best,

God, you all are vicious!

“Claire B wrote:

When I was in high school and college in the 70’s and early 80’s, it was common knowledge that those students who majored in education were generally too stupid to be able to get a degree in anything else.

Things have not changed.”

The teachers who have educated my children through their urban-public-school experience have generally been intelligent, educated and caring people (I’m restraining myself from comparing them to the teacher-bashers).

I assume this hatefest comes from people with bitter memories of their own education and little — or inordinately negative — contact with schools currently.

The teacher-bashing here is really unconscionable, Ms. Jacobs, and it’s hateful and destructive of you to feed and encourage it. As a New Year’s resolution, you might consider do a little soul-searching about the harm you do to schools and children when you encourage such relentless bashing, should you have a conscience at all.

ClaireB writes:

“Maybe Robert Heinlein had it right: “Anyone who cannot do mathematics is not fully human. At best, he is a tolerable subhuman who has learned to wear clothes, bathe, and not make messes in the house.” I can hear the screaming from the PC Left already….”

I don’t know, Claire, I think that people who claim that lack of knowledge makes others not fully human are the real subhumans. Do you think that people who don’t know math should be sold into slavery? Put into camps? Treated like animals?

Exactly what do you mean?

One doesn’t have to be “PC Left” to recognize that believing others are subhuman has a long and sordid history in this country and others.

And it pretty much devalues your whole argument.

A few weeks ago I posted on my Facebook page an apt, if disheartening, quote from Oakland activist/blogger Sharon Higgins:

“The voices aired most often by the media these days are those of the teacher-haters and clueless idealists who believe the fundamental reason for low academic achievement in our cities is because every urban public school teacher is incompetent and lazy. This is the sour attitude behind the dominant education reform movement and it is just plain wrong.”

And a teacher friend responded to my Facebook post (reposted with permission):

Yep – I stink.

I am a day laborer who gets paid less most other professions in the world that require constant re-education and re-certification and ultimately graduate school.

I spend hundreds a year of my own personal money on materials. Me and every other teacher.

I am responsible for the social, intellectual and emotional health of 42 people per day.

I do not take a lunch break. I tutor and catch up kids instead.

I leave my home at 7:00 AM and often return at the 10-12 hours later.

I am LUCKY if I am not there on the weekend.

I am a citywide emergency worker, which means when the big one hits I am not protecting my family; I’m protecting yours.

I love my job and I love my students and I deeply resent how teachers are trashed.

But guess what? No one can steal the pure joy that takes place in Room 19! No one!

##

Caroline again: I would hope that some of you haters and bashers would find it within you to have just a little shame — to search within yourself for a bit of decency. Starting with you, Ms. Jacobs.

Caroline –

One, for someone who feels the need to blast others on spelling, your inability to understand a paraphrase is startling.

Two, it’s perfectly legitimate to ask why people who self-select as teachers on average have poorer math skills. Letting people who don’t understand math well teach even elementary math can have lasting consequences for students. Note Andrew’s example above, teachers passing out drill worksheets without making sure the kids understand them.

The education of young people is, frankly, too important to worry about the self-esteem of educators. Educators make and break futures, and with that responsibility comes dealing with the pressure to do it well and the fact that one will constantly be questioned to ensure that it is. You’re not doing teachers or students any favors by circumscribing legitimate questions as “bashing”.

Ah, Caroline, such a heart-warming tale of caring people in the trenches. Aspiring teachers still have the lowest SAT scores of college entrants, and American consumers still can’t add, but that makes it all better. Right?

Nurses are also expected to be caring, but they are also required (not expected) to be competent. The nursing licensure exam is real and must be passed and advancement into specialty practice is also based on passing an exam, among other criteria. Failure to demonstrate competence in clinical practice correlates with loss of job, loss of license and possible lawsuits. Caring alone is not enough.

Let me make clear again that I normally am not a stickler for precision in blog posts or commentary. However, I think it’s a moral obligation to be 100% perfect when you’re teacher-bashing, and if you make an embarrassing error as Ms. Jacobs did, have the humility to question your assumption of your own innate superiority.

The poster who tried to insist that an incorrect spelling was right — while still continuing the “everyone except me is stupider than they used to be” theme — was an amusing little twist, too.

Needless to say, as a public-school parent and volunteer, I vigorously disagree with your ongoing theme that teachers are the stupidest specimens of humanity. I should also emphasize that my husband, a 33-year newspaper reporter displaced by the collapse of the newspaper industry, is now a teacher. He’s one of the smartest people I know, too. (And he’s a math whiz.)

And seriously, again, on topic: I have definitely known problematic math teachers — in fact, now that I think about it, most of the problematic teachers I’ve known have been math teachers. But not even a single one of them lacks math skills — all the teachers I have in mind are math whizzes and super-intelligent. What they lack are teaching skills. I’m inclined to think that the kind of brain that functions well in math may not be the kind of brain that is designed for teaching.

The kinds of teachers I’m talking about are the ones who can get the information and concepts across to students whose minds also grasp math easily (that would be my son, a musician and math nerd), but lack the skills and patience to work well with the students who are challenged by math concepts and need extra help. But this is more complex than the “teachers are the stupidest specimens of humanity” bashers would have it.

It is easy to set up a straw-man and knock it down. You will find no one here who would not disagree with the assertion that teachers are “the stupidest specimens of humanity”, because it’s false.

US teachers are, however, on average the least-capable

among those students who make the cut for going to college. We assert this because it is a fact. If you don’t like facts, you are free to retreat to your fantasy world. Just leave us out of it, okay?Posted by Engineer/Poet: “Aspiring teachers still have the lowest SAT scores of college entrants”, and “US teachers are, however, on average the least-capable among those students who make the cut for going to college. We assert this because it is a fact.”

A fact according to what research? I’ve read this unverified factoid in several places around the web that engage in regular teacher-bashing. Where does it come from? What study surveyed the SAT scores of a large enough sample of American teachers to make it into a fact?

I understand that SAT scores are used in predicting a student’s success in college, not in life or career. Therefore, what good are they in determining or verifying a teacher’s effectiveness in a classroom? By the time one becomes a teacher, his or her high school SAT scores are less than irrelevant, so why does this specious factoid continue to float around?

Furthermore, has anyone done a study that correlates the most effective math teachers and the least effective math teachers with their previously earned high school SAT scores? I sincerely doubt it.

If we follow this line of thinking to its conclusion, we are blaming the achievement gap, (or the math gap) on school teachers’ high school SAT scores and nothing else. Give me a break! That’s a biased piece thinking, plain and simple.

It seems that maybe the engineer-poet is the one residing in a fantasy world.

Math Teacher, you’re kidding, right? Please tell me you’re kidding. The results of the 2009 college boards shows that matriculants intending to major in education average 478/800 in critical reading (average is 501), 483/800 in mathematics (average is 515) and 475 on the writing test (avg 493). Here is the complete list of majors outscored by ed majors in mathematics:

Construction trades

Family and Consumer Sciences

Mechanic

Parks and Recreation

Personal and Culinary Services

Precision Production

Public Administration

Security and Protective Services

Other

These all look like associate-degree programs to me. (The scary part is that on the WRITING test, teaching majors are 36 points behind… engineering majors! The engineer is a stereotypically poor speller and writer (present company obviously excepted) but teaching majors are confirmed to be worse. How can they teach what they cannot do?)

In addition to this, we have the tales of ed majors who passed their reuqired courses but repeatedly failed the general knowledge portion of their certification tests. I’ve seen some of the test questions; they are pathetically easy. How does someone so stupid get

intoed school, let alone graduate?Yes, there are some very good people in teaching. The average entrant, however, is pathetic.

(Strange, I’ve entered my comment twice [correcting a tag the second time] and it still hasn’t appeared. Joanne, please scotch the first instance if you’re moderating.)

Engineer-Poet:

Actually, I’m not kidding. When a high school student takes the SAT, they check off what subjects they may aspire to study once they get into college. After their scores are calculated and submitted to whatever institutions they apply to, the College Board is done with that student, isn’t it? Thus, high school SAT scores correlated to aspirations do not provide hard data on the college-level achievement of real working teachers. and “tales of ed majors passing required courses, but failing certification tests” is not hard data either. It is as you say, “tales”.

You are making quite an assumption about the academic achievement of actual working teachers. Just because a high school student declares an aspiration to major in education prior to taking the SAT does not mean they go on to successfully complete their degree, much less actually become a working teacher. Where is the data that tracked all those aspirations into an adult career?

Do you have data on what most American teachers actually have degrees in? I think you assume that most teachers have degrees in education. In my own experience, my colleagues hold degrees in a wide variety of disciplines. One of my favorite is a friend who has taught both Kindergarten and high school calculus and holds a degree in bio-medical engineering.

Until you actually work in a real school, with real students and real committed educators, your obvious anti-teacher position is not incontrovertible.

Anyway… at least those high school kids who aspire to education are doing better on their SATs than the ones considering public administration!

Data? We want data?

Well, it’s hardly dispositive, but education majors eat pavement on the LSAT, where they are only consistently better than Criminology majors (a vocational degree) and PreLaw (a joke).

http://www.phil.ufl.edu/ugrad/whatis/LSATtable.html

While not quite the same thing, those who go on to ADVANCE study in Education tend to munch it on the GRE, too, where they are below everyone except (and this should inspire confidence in our civic system) would-be MPAs:

http://www.swivel.com/data_sets/spreadsheet/1016902

In a related vein, the CBEST has an overall first time pass rate that wanders between 65-70%. That means about 1/3 of the people who take the CBEST, one of the easiest tests I’ve ever seen in my entire life, fail the first time. Now, those aren’t all education majors taking that test, but…

Combine that with the SAT data and then perform this thought experiment:

Aliens have come to earth and have sworn to destroy the planet if they are not impressed with the human intellect. They have agreed to a sampling of students from a university. The aliens say, “You will give us seven students from seven of the nine following majors, selected from their departments at random: Physics, Philosophy, History, Art, Theatre, Education, Mathematics, Anthropology, Political Science.”

You have to drop two majors from consideration, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance.

Personally, I’d have Education and PoliSci gone so fast their heads would spin. But I can see why some people might pick Art or Theatre as their

choice.second