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Technology and Common Corrosive Math

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As schools across the country race to adopt the latest technology, the Federal Communications Commission voted July 11, 2014 to spend $1 billion annually to help upgrade internet speed and Wi-Fi service for students. (Gautham Nagesh, Wall Street Journal 7/12/14) Lincoln Public Schools’ (LPS) one-time $1 million technology expenditure will be converted into a standing expense.

Mathematics proficiency is widely recognized as the gateway into skilled trades as well as professional technical occupations. Currently, fewer than half of fourth and eighth grade students in Nebraska (and the nation) score at grade level (proficient) or above, in math. (National Assessment of Educational Progress 2013) “The cognitive-science research suggested a startling cause of Americans’ innumeracy: school.” (Elizabeth Green, The New York Times 7/23/14)

Students taught as required by the newly adopted Common Core (CC) math standards would have little chance of being admitted to an average college and would struggle if enrolled. Sixth-grade CC math requires students to draw pictures of math: visual fraction models and story context. Students are constantly required to draw models to solve problems. A correct answer, absent a drawing, scores lower. Simple mathematical concepts are made complex, often inconsistent and incoherent. CC math standards will move the U.S. closer to the bottom in international ranking. (Marina Ratner, professor emerita of mathematics, University of California at Berkeley WSJ 8/6/14)

CC math fails to prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering and math. When states applied for Race to the Top Grants (Nebraska applied), presidents of public universities were required to sign an agreement which stated if high school students passed an Algebra II standardized exam, they were not permitted to put the student in a remedial course. Currently, 40% of college students require remedial courses in math. (James Milgram Ph.D. Mathematics Stanford University, Building the Machine-Common Core documentary)

Fortunately, Nebraska is one of just a few states who have not adopted CC standards. Unfortunately, LPS newly adopted K-6 mathematics digital curriculum, Houghton Mifflin Go Math is aligned with Common Core. A million and a billion in local and federal technology funding will speed up our race to the bottom.

Mastering smaller math problems in ordered steps leads to solving bigger, more complex problems. Knowledge of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division allows us to solve algebraic equations. “Successful problem solvers are able to understand what is expected of the problems they face. In other words, they know all of the details surrounding the problem at hand, which is the most important step to solving problems. It requires an attention to detail and therefore patience. After examining the details, intelligent choices need to be made as well as the beginning steps of developing a strategy. The plan must be carried out in an order that makes sense. So careful planning, possibly by justifiable experimentation, must take place. Once an actual solution is obtained, it must be tested to determine whether or not it is reasonable.” (Mark Karadimos 7/30/14)

Tell your school board member there is more to math than increasing its speed. Learning math the traditional way helps us learn how to solve problems: to reason.

“If you give people a lot of money, it gives them the privilege of pursuing the wrong strategy for a very long time.” Clayton Christensen, Harvard Business School