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New Goal: Dis-Satisfied Math Students

A recent report (Brown Center on Educational Policy) measured attitudes of grade four and grade eight students in 20-plus countries. And the unexpected conclusion: "The highest scores on internationally administered math tests belonged to children who were insecure in their abilities and not very happy with their performance."

The actual numbers are more startling. About 39% of the grade eight students in the U.S. claimed they usually did well in mathematics, compared to only 4% of the Japanese students, 6% of the Korean students, and 18% of the Singapore students. Yet, all of the latter out-scored the U.S. students in mathematics.

So, given this information, how should it impact what we do as math teachers? One option is to re-examine whether or not we give students inflated opinions of their success in mathematics...either through a watered down curriculum or lowered test standards. Another option is to purposely deflate our students self-confidence in mathematics, as if it were a cause-effect relationship.

Unfortunatly, some critics of the math ed reform movement (e.g. Tom Loveless) use this data to claim that math teachers today are too focused on making math fun for students. However, this leap in logic amazes me, in that no positive relationship has been shown between having fun and being confident. It is just another example of the veracity of these two humorous-but-true quotations: "A statistician is a person who draws a mathematically precise line from an unwarranted assumption to a foregone conclusion" and "Most people use statistics the way a drunk uses a lamp post, more for support than enlightenment."