Written By: - Date published: 12:24 pm, February 24th, 2013 - 15 comments
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Looks like we’re in for another round of “back to basics” nonsense in mathematics education from a bunch of politicians who know more about their own prejudices than they do about teaching and learning:
Govt eyes back to basics in maths
Education Minister Hekia Parata is considering a return to basic arithmetic for primary school children in an attempt to lift New Zealand’s faltering performance in maths.
New Zealand 9-year-olds finished last-equal in maths among peers in developed countries, in a survey published in December. Almost half could not add 218 and 191 in a test.
Officials analysing the results of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) test found there were “significant proportions” of Year 5 children who could not add or subtract simple numbers.
I haven’t seen the specific data cited, but in the TIMSS 2011 report overall our performance in maths was only slightly below average – and note that our children are younger when assessed:
So, England, Malta, and New Zealand, where students start school at a young age, were assessed in their fifth year of schooling, but still have among the youngest students and are reported together with the fourth grade countries.
In other international measures of our maths (and general educational achievement) NZ does from OK to quite well. The achievement of our 15 year olds in PISA measures of Maths is above the OECD average:
Percentage of New Zealand 15 year-old students reaching the PISA mathematical literacy proficiency levels
It also looks like our performance rises under Labour governments and falls under National.
Be that as it may, the main reason not to charge off on another mad educational brain-fart is that “back to basics” doesn’t work. Wander the educational literature for yourselves, here’s just a couple of examples from the American experience:
The “problem-solving” movement of the 1980s arose partly in response to the realisation that student mastery of the basics had not significantly improved after a decade of emphasis on core skills.
A H Schoenfeld (2006): What Doesn’t Work: The Challenge and Failure of the What Works Clearinghouse to Conduct Meaningful Reviews of Studies of Mathematics Curricula, Educational Researcher, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Mar., 2006), pp. 13-21
Furthermore, despite the very focused emphasis of the back-to-basics period on procedural skills, “national tests showed that student performance in basic skills declined or stayed the same” (Kenney & Silver, 1997, p. 66).
T Douglas & T Owens (2001): The “New New Math”?: Two Reform Movements in Mathematics Education, Theory Into Practice, 40:2, 84-92
Once agin the Nats are hell-bent on following American educational “theory’ that is both decades old and well discredited.
If the Nats truly wanted to raise educational achievement there are two issues that they need to address, resourcing and poverty. Resourcing – the NZ educational system does very well on funding that is (by international standards) very low. Arguably, NZ has best value for money education in the world.
Poverty – all our educational performance stats are pervaded by the issue of socio-economic status / race:
We come seventh in the world in the PISA (Programme for International Student Achievement) rankings that compare national performance in reading, science and maths. But Parata says that once you disaggregate the PISA scores, Pakeha students are second in the world and Maori are 34th and Pasifika are 44th.
For a range of data focused on the socio-economic indicators themselves see here.
So in short – “back to basics” doesn’t work and isn’t needed. If we want to raise educational achievement we need to address poverty in NZ. But that’s not a message that the Nats want to hear.