A one-twofer this time; education in the US is basically in the bucket and no one — least of all a semiretarded, demieducated drunken frat boy from Texas — really knows what to do about it.

Vignettishly, the Washington Post reports that grade-school kids are toting around math books comprised of 700+ pages, and are not absorbing a damned thing from the texts. Students themselves are complaining they don’t have time to absorb what’s being shoved into them; part of the problem is that textbook publishers, to maxmize returns, mass produce books that try to meet all states’ education standards. However

Virginia lists 41 “learning expectations” for fourth-grade math students in its statewide Standards of Learning. Maryland lists 67 in its Voluntary State Curriculum. [Washington, DC] has 45 standards.

In order to cover all those standards, you have to expect overlap, redundancy and a lot of confusion … which appears to be what we’re getting.

Part of the problem with No Child Left Behind, then, is that it’s a mandate without standards. That is, the test that children are supposed to pass (to prove they’ve learned what that retard from Texas thinks they should have), while itself a standardized metric, is not being approached in a standardized way. There is no such thing as a nationally-standard curriculum, only a nationally-standard test.

This is on par with the early days of the US, when each colony printed its own currency. Not only was there little to no interchangeability across borders, but often the tender itself was suspect. Counterfeiting was too easy, and too frequent.

Well, in the arena of math specifically, there’s a new set of suggestions called Curriculum Focal Points. This allows teachers to continue with their flexible education plans while, at the same time, making coherent suggestions regarding what concepts children should be able to grasp at a given grade level. It’s being well-received.

The report urges teachers to focus on three broad concepts in each grade and on a few key subjects — including the base-10 number system, fractions, decimals, geometry and algebra — that form the core of math education in higher-achieving nations. Some are calling Focal Points the most significant publication in the field since the 1980s.

Funnily geometry and algebra seem to be listed in reverse order here; that may be the doing of the reporter, though. Algebra, as developed by Descartes, anyway, was meant to be a pure-numeric expression of geometry. However, my experience was that algebra was much easier to work with than geometry; and algebra is probably better to have under your belt when you get into chemistry or Newtonian physics. (Applied math, by the way, is crucial — hence it might make some sense to consider melding algebra with chemistry, no? Perhaps in those famous, dreaded story problems.)

Still, the above list is a pretty good progressive. Without solid understanding of each of these fundamentals, math will remain impenetrable to students. When the curriculum is focused, though, you get much better results.

In the fourth grade, for example, Focal Points trims the list to three essential skills: multiplication and division; decimals; and two-dimensional shapes.

Multiplication and division are basically the same thing, but try telling that to the average fourth-grader (or, indeed, many adults, including the Textard in the White House). Division and fractions, of course, are the same as well; and decimals are frequently the expression of a division operation.

Two-dimensional shapes in general, without specifics such as finding the unknown angle in a right triangle or calculating its hypotenuse, etc., are pre-geometry explorations, and as such are as important as the pre-algebraic manipulations also expected to be grasped on the fourth-grade level. (Fourth grade begins at about age 9, for those unfamiliar with the US education system.)

Ah, and here’s the rub.

Refocusing the curriculum will help struggling students, mathematicians say, because they need more time to learn the basics. It will also aid math teachers across the elementary and middle grades, many of whom learn comparatively little math in getting their teaching credentials.

That’s right. Many math teachers **don’t have the academic background required** to know math well enough to teach it.

No wonder they spend so much time in the Teachers’ Lounge.

But is this really different from PhysEd “coaches” whose sole job description seems to be shouting “hustle up” and “listen up” — as opposed to, say, instructing on fair play, teamwork, balanced competition and the psychology of athletics?

Is this really different from science teachers who believe the Genesis account in the Bible is 100% factual, that evolution is “only a theory”, and that Earth is merely 6,000 years old?

Perhaps before we spend more time obsessing on students, we should look at the qualifications of those who teach them.

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