Archive for category Math Is Hard
By falling in line with other states, California is abandoning its push for all eighth-graders to take algebra.
Last month, the State Board of Education unanimously shifted away from a 15-year policy of expecting eighth-graders to take Algebra I. The state will allow them to take either Algebra I or an alternate course that includes some algebra. New state standardized tests will focus on the alternate course — the same one adopted by most states under the Common Core curriculum being rolled out across the nation.
The change is controversial because success in Algebra I is the single best predictor of college graduation.
From the February 4 San Jose Mercury-News:
Yes, you read that correctly. President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have decided algebra is too tough for eighth-graders. Apparently the president doesn’t want anyone to be better at math than him. And this is a
recommendation requirement of their Common Core curriculum. (If you really believe this is just a recommendation, you haven’t spent much time trying to work with the federal government, specifically the department of education.)
The President’s Math
For those who don’t remember President Obama’s infamous interview with Jay Leno, here’s a link to the transcript. And here’s the relevant excerpt:
Jay Leno, reading question from viewer: “When you help your daughters with their homework, is there a a subject you struggle with?”
President Obama: “Well, the math stuff I was fine with up until about seventh grade. But Malia is now a freshman in high school and — I’m pretty lost. You know, it’s tough. Fortunately, they’re great students on their own and if something doesn’t work, I’ll call over to the Department of Energy and see if they have a physicist to come over.”‘
But don’t take my word for it. I know the link above goes to RealClearPolitics.com and many of you simply won’t believe that source. For your edification, here’s a link to a video of the full interview (hosted on my blog’s server, don’t worry about that):
The View From a University
I am semi-retired from California State University, East Bay. Prospective students are “required” to know algebra to be admitted to any of the California State University campuses. I can assure you that some graduates of CSUEB cannot solve even the simplest algebra problem. Why not? The entire CSU funding system is based on enrollment. One more student means a few more dollars in a university’s budget. One fewer student means fewer dollars. Administrators in this system have every incentive to keep students on campus. Eventually those students graduate. If they can’t do algebra, there are plenty of majors where they can still get a degree.
Who Needs Algebra
Today even manufacturing jobs require algebra. Do a quick search on the string “manufacturing math” and you’ll find courses, online classes, tutorials, textbooks, and a host of other resources. NPR recently ran a major story on this subject. Can’t do algebra? Practice this phrase: “You want fries with that?”
The dumbing down of the U.S. population apparently will continue under the current administration. I weep for my country.
Update: cited by James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal.
Math is hard. It’s a hashtag on Twitter (#mathishard). And, apparently, it’s too hard for the president of the National Education Association (NEA), the largest teachers’ union in the country. See if you can spot the innumeracy in the following report. Hint: comparing one year’s spending with ten years of taxes (undiscounted) is not a very good idea. If you need more information, see the end.
[JEFFREY BROWN] “As we just heard from Judy, President Obama met with leaders of labor and liberal groups today at the White House.
We’re joined now by two who were there.
Dennis Van Roekel is the president of the National Education Association. With some three million members, including teachers, it’s the largest labor union in the country. And Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn.org, a political advocacy group.
Want to start with you, Dennis Van Roekel. What was the key message that you brought to the White House and wanted the president to hear today?
DENNIS VAN ROEKEL, National Education Association: Well, I brought the message that, number one, it’s important that we let the Bush tax cuts disappear for the wealthiest 2 percent.
As we’re looking for a $1.2 trillion solution, $829 billion takes us a long way there. I also brought a message that there are other areas of taxes that we looked at that need to be — look at the fairness issue. President Obama not only won this election, but so did his ideas and his values. The American people want fairness. They want everyone to pay their fair share.”
Give up? The $829 billion in tax revenue is the total of ten years of revenue without discounting. But the $1.2 trillion is one year’s government budget deficit.
Twitter a polling alternative? This idea was proposed and discussed at great length on NPR’s “On the Media” August 12. Rather than trying to summarize the show, let me just quote the abstract:
“Twitter has teamed up with Republican and Democratic polling firms, as well as another company called Topsy, to create a new tool called the Twindex. It offers a new way to gauge the political leanings of likely voters. Bob speaks with Adam Sharp, Twitter’s manager for government and politics.”
This is typical media stupidity. Tweets are public unless you work very hard to keep them private. Most people on Twitter do not reveal much about their personal lives. There are many fake personas, too. Our cat has a Twitter feed (made up mostly of other household pets and other animals). People routinely lie. People will also lie to a telephone pollster, but at least they don’t have the incentive of their response being visible to the entire world.
Ironically, most of the comments deal with Twitter users not being representative of the public because they are too technical. Sheesh. If you can’t use Twitter, you probably can’t really function in today’s world at all.
David Burge has an excellent column on the reality of polling and statistics on his blog. I strongly recommend reading it before you sign up for Twindex (or any other social media based metric).
[Updated August 1 with link to Daniel Willingham's excellent piece.] Algebra is hard, so why bother teaching it? That’s the “point” made by Andrew Hacker, an emeritus professor of political science at Queens College, City University of New York in the Sunday, July 29 New York Times. The sheer stupidity of this column is breathtaking. I use algebra every single day. I know many people who aren’t very good at algebra. They usually spend more than is necessary because they can’t do simple calculations and comparison pricing.
Can’t do algebra? Congratulations. You’ve just given up any career in engineering, science, math (surprise), computer science, some social sciences (including economics), finance, and … wait for it … political science. I wonder exactly what sort of ”political scientist” Prof. Hacker is. So I went looking. He is listed as teaching one course: American Politics and Government (PSCI 100). Aha. He’s not really a political scientist. He’s a politics professor. (Brandeis University is one of the few to honestly call that department the Department of Politics.) More about Prof. Hacker and Queens College shortly.
The blogosphere is all over this story. The best (and most vicious) is from Memento Mori. Here’s a sample:
“Ultimately, I think Hacker’s own innumeracy is preventing him from making a clear argument. All his praise of numerical skills doesn’t obscure the fact that he doesn’t seem to understand exactly what those skills are, much less how they are acquired.
One final shocker from Hacker’s piece, a full paragraph that I quote unaltered:
It’s true that students in Finland, South Korea and Canada score better on mathematics tests. But it’s their perseverance, not their classroom algebra, that fits them for demanding jobs.
My first reaction to this is “What the HELL?!?!?” That’s a logic test right there, in two sentences. Unpacking it, however, should be A) another show, and B) grounds for Hacker’s de-emeritification.”
Others slamming Prof. Hacker include patheos.com, Rob Knop at Galactic Interactions, and Andy Soffer’s blog. If you’re looking for something a little more in-your-face, try Maddox at The Best Page in the Universe. Daniel Willingham has put together a nice analysis, complete with footnotes and citations.
Back to Prof. Hacker. One good reason for learning algebra and other math is so you can put together a web page that doesn’t break when Safari tries to render it. Below is a (rather large, sorry) screen capture of the Queens College page. Enough said.