Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers' Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States (Studies in Mathematical Thinking and Learning Series)

Category: Schools & Teaching
Author: Liping Ma
All Hacker News 10


by tokenadult   2017-08-19
subjects don't really start getting "split" subjectively (with different teachers) until middle and high school.

That's a mistake of the system in the United States. In many other countries, teachers specialize by subject in the elementary grades, the better to teach their subject effectively. See Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics: Teachers' Understanding of Fundamental Mathematics in China and the United States

for a detailed discussion of elementary math teaching, or The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom

for a broader perspective on other ways to organize schools.

by tokenadult   2017-08-19
I checked the link you kindly provided. Before I go further in replying to your reply, would it be all right to ask where the support for your assertion at footnote 1 actually is found in that publication? What I see, in the data tables there, is that some countries plainly outperform all subgroups in the United States. Several of those countries have lower spending per pupil than the United States (either by current exchange rates or by purchasing power parity), so I'd like to know what they are doing right. I claim, in my grandparent post to which you replied, that one thing other countries are doing better than the United States is simply providing better primary instruction, with better designed curricula. One other thing that I think they are doing right is giving students better-designed educational tests, aligned to those better curricula, that more realistically gauge whether or not the students are learning what they need to learn. (That's the point of the anonymous anecdote about the school board member mentioned in the article that was submitted to open this thread. Perhaps United States standardized tests given to tenth graders in some unnamed state have poor validity and poorly written item content. I actually think that is quite likely. But I don't think that the correct policy response to that is to stop giving students tests to find out what they know, but rather to write better tests based on better curricula. It's too bad that the article doesn't link to the actual test.)

I agree with some points in your reply. I don't think China as a whole is well represented by the schools in its most developed urban areas. The results from Shanghai in the most recently announced test to include Shanghai surely don't reflect what students from rural areas in China would do on the same test. But even agreeing with that point, I wonder if you've had a chance to take a look at what Ma's book

says about differing classroom practices and differing lesson content between the United States and China. China is very, very, very much poorer than the United States because of the lousy policies it had in the 1950s and 1960s. But its educational policies since the 1970s have been on an increasingly sound basis, and seem to be producing admirable results in economic growth with remarkably low school budgets. But please note that I never appeal to China as a country with country-wide results that are uniformly better than those of the United States. China is especially doing well on a resources-adjusted basis, while Singapore, Taiwan, and some other countries are just plain doing well nationwide, period. (I am most familiar with Taiwan, from much time living there.)

I also agree with the idea that it's important to look at education studies "with a critical eye" and it was with that in mind that I referred fellow participants on HN on several earlier occasions to the studies showing that United States schools are underserving the most able learners,

missing opportunities to reach the top end of mathematics achievement reached by other countries. "Data doesn't lie, but analysis is often wrong and/or exaggerated," I agree, and what I find is that some forms of analysis are not even attempted by many commentators on education policy. I think writings that are good examples of good analysis

are food for thought for those of us participating on Hacker News who seek ways to improve education wherever we live.

by tokenadult   2017-08-19
It's American K-12 education that isn't up to world standards. That means the American secondary school graduates entering tough college programs have more catching up to do than the (much more stringently selected) international undergraduates at American colleges. See the book Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics

(or its review by mathematician Richard Askey)

for example of ways American primary education could do better.