America's Centennial Battle of Mathematics

 American students consistently rank poorly on international math tests.

| Math Crisis |

  Americans are bad at math. U.S. students have been underperforming on international math tests for decades. In 2018, U.S. 15-year-olds were ranked 25th in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in math achievement. Compared to other developed countries, U.S. adults have the fourth-lowest numeracy skills. Thirty percent of American adults can only handle basic math problems such as arithmetic, counting, and sorting. At the same time, employers place a high value on employees' abilities in technology, engineering and mathematics. Nuclear engineers, software developers and mechanics are all in-demand jobs.

  American students' math performance has not only been chronically poor, but now it continues to decline. According to the 2020 National Assessment of Educational Progress test results, the average score of 13-year-olds is five points lower than in 2012, and the situation is not optimistic. Sadly, teachers and academia have not been able to agree on the next steps for improvement.

  Professor Alan Shonfield of the University of California, Berkeley, said that math problems are America's problem of the century. In 1890, high school was still an elite education. The high school acceptance rate of 14-year-olds is less than 7%, and those who enter are required to receive rigorous mathematics education in school. Nearly three-quarters of 14- to 17-year-olds attended high school in the early days of World War II, when recruits had to undergo math training due to the need for basic bookkeeping and artillery operations. In the 1950s, the Cold War reignited American concerns about math education. After the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik, the U.S. developed a “new math” curriculum that shifted learning from rote memorization to conceptual understanding. However, in the 1970s, under the influence of the "back to basics" movement, the "new mathematics" movement ended in failure.

  Since then, the United States is worried about being overtaken by Japan, and mathematics teaching has once again become a hot topic. In 1981, the then Minister of Education formed a professional committee to evaluate the syllabus, and the result was a research report called "The National Crisis". "If malicious foreign powers want to impose the current mediocre education system on the United States, we can view this as a declaration of war," the report said.

| Shariah dispute |

  In the 1990s, the politicization of mathematics teaching became more pronounced. Conservatives mostly advocate classical mathematics pedagogy, which is algorithmic (a set of rules to follow), rote memorization (multiplication tables and algorithmic procedures), and teacher-led. Think-tank expert Bill Evers explained that conservatives advocate that students focus on learning the basics, and advocate traditional skills before understanding concepts. This method of teaching is well known, one of which is the addition of pen and paper algorithms. For example, to figure out what 27 plus 45 is, write 27 above 45. First add the right column, that is, "7+5=12", write 2 below, and write 1 in the left column; then add the left column, that is, "1+2+4=7", write 7 below, This gives the correct answer of 72.

  Compared to other developed countries, U.S. adults have the fourth-lowest numeracy skills.

  Progressives do not advocate algorithms and rote memorization, but instead advocate mathematics as a conceptual approach to problem solving and a sense of numbers. Unlike conservatives, progressives want students to master the ability to solve the same problem in multiple ways before they can memorize the algorithm. Still taking 27 plus 45 as an example, students can first calculate the sum of the ones digit, that is, "7+5=12", then calculate the sum of the ten digits, that is, "20+40=60", and finally add the two to get 72 ; or they can think of a difference of 3 between 27 and 30, so first add 3 to 27, add 30 to 45, then subtract 3 from the result, and you get 72 as well. Conceptual mathematics encourages students to master number sense through multi-angle training, rather than relying too much on one algorithm.

| Politicization of Mathematics |

  Most teachers, despite knowing that American students are not up to the mark, fail to agree on how to improve. Copying the syllabus of a country with a high level of mathematics (such as Singapore) is an option, but they still need to agree on what is actually taught. Evers said that Asians are good at mathematics mainly due to classical mathematics teaching methods. "Which country do you think is successful because of progressive education? Singapore's mathematics is the world's first, but it is not because of progressive education." In this regard, Xiao Enfield took the opposite view. In his view, Singapore and Japan are adopting precisely the conceptual teaching method.

  Much of this teaching chaos in the United States is due to the messy implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards. In 2010, during the Obama administration, 41 states and Washington, D.C., all but Texas, Florida and a few other states responded to the Common Core curriculum initiative. The initiative was a bipartisan effort that ended up being criticized by both parties. Some see the Common Core curriculum as a model for progressive education, while others feel it is not "progressive" enough. The ensuing subpar test scores have made conservatives more determined that the fault lies with the Common Core curriculum and progressive teachers. Still, proponents of the "common core" curriculum have not given up. While the 13-year-olds' scores dropped, the 9-year-olds, who were using the "Common Core" curriculum system throughout, remained stable.

  The far left has further confused the situation by conflating conceptual pedagogy with more radical models of teaching. They argue that "common core" courses and common conceptual math should prohibit rote learning methods, such as memorizing multiplication tables. Joe Porrell, a well-known math educator at Stanford University, once said that reciting multiplication tables is pointless. Conservatives have seized on this, saying liberalism is on the verge of madness.

  Other activists associate conceptual mathematics with "social justice mathematics," arguing that mathematics should help students solve real-world problems so they can make good judgments about the world. This group calls conceptual math “awakening math,” and concocts articles like “In California, Thinking 2 Plus 2 Equals 4 May Be Considered Racist,” further fueling the perception of conceptual math. General disgust.

  All in all, the math battle in America is extreme and chaotic. While other countries are struggling to combine rote memorization and conceptual learning in their syllabuses, the U.S. jumps from one extreme to the other year after year, as does the polarized politics here.



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