Wednesday, June 11, 2014


If I had a loonie for every time I  heard a provincial minister of Education brag about all of the investments that the Provincial Conservatives have spent on education in the province, I would be a rich man.

Today's report from the C.D. Howe Institute poses some tough questions about the value for money, particularly in the areas of math and sciences.  Author John Richards points out some very  concerning trends in our provinces declining  (Program for International Student Assessment ) PISA results. 

"Warning Signs for Canadian Educators: The Bad News in Canada’s PISA Results" shows that spending more is no panacea, better education outcomes are not primarily a matter of aggregate per student spending. 

Newfoundland and Manitoba are struggling in Math and Science, they are way behind the pack.  Newfoundland and Labrador experienced "exceptionally weak bottom-quarter scores"  with average mathematics scores well below the Canadian average. 

How does NL have bottom-quarter scores that are more than 40 points below Quebec and British Columbia?

This province developed a new math program in 2005 and began implementing it in 2008. The implementation has been gradual, in fact high school seniors were only introduced to it in the fall of 2013.  

The premise of the new approach was to strike a balance between the study of math basics and a more conceptual understanding of how math processes work. 

The drill and practice and skills-based curriculum activities that I grew up with was replaced with an emphasis towards more problem solving - conceptual models. Trying to do math with the boys is often a struggle because my model is foreign to them.

Gone are long division, mad-minute multiplication, addition with a carry and subtraction with a borrow.

I wrote it off as being a little out of touch with new concepts but today's study makes me wonder. 

In my, untrained opinion,  the result of the new math is the creation of a generation of children  who not able to do simple mathematics. They just do not cover the basics in a way that instills the automatic operations that kids need to know without thinking. I feel we have missed a significant building block, setting my (your) kids up for failure.

Here is a policy plank for the Liberals, or the New Democrats for that matter, roll back the clock and get back to the basics. Our primary/ elementary children need to learn how to automatically recall answers for basic problems. They need understand, grasp and memorize math fact and perform them without, dare I suggest a calculator.

Have a look at Quebec which leads the pack. It bucked the national trend, continuing  to teach the algorithms that I learned. Manitoba has recently seen the errors of it's ways, and found a balance between the old and new way of teaching math.

Eight years into math reform, it is critical that government policy makers accept the fact that all of the old was not bad. Perhaps they threw the baby out with the bathwater.  Perhaps the middle ground is the best way to teach our kids math.


Anonymous said...

The current fad in math programming (conceptualization of math concepts vs. rote memorization, to over-simplify) is indeed failing our nations' students. I've heard frustration with recent math program direction from Newfoundland and Labrador across to Alberta. Fundamental Math Skills have been downgraded significantly in importance compared to years past. I know for a fact that teachers do TRY to incorporate drill with addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. In fact, the old methods of multiplication and division are still learned by students who prefer them. A big issue is that teachers are stuck doing bandage instruction around fundamental math skills when they should be a massive focus area; especially in primary/elementary. Unfortunately, the education system operates much like a pendulum. When it swings back to 'older' pedagogy, and it will, we'll have a very wayward group of math-starved adults.

Tony said...

The new math program sucks, and is failing the kids. This type of report just confirms what was anecdotally known by parents (and many teachers) for a couple of years. Government sunk a pile of cash into this program, and will take a long time to back away from it. Meanwhile the kids and the economy will suffer.