Politics, education, and Everyday Math

Last month, education advisors for the two presidential candidates met to address a group of educational publishers. According to the Scholastic.com website, “Lisa Graham Keegan spoke for Senator John McCain, and Jeanne Century represented Senator Barack Obama. The two advisors outlined the candidates’ positions on a wide variety of issues, including reading programs, national standards, research and development, technology in schools, and teacher support.”

Certainly, all citizens should understand the backgrounds and positions of the candidates in order to make informed decisions about voting. Few issues possess more emotional charge for parents than those directly affecting them and their children: employment and education. Of course, these two topics are inter-connected, as highly educated individuals earn more and are more globally competitive than those with only minimal skills and education. To insure global competition, The US needs to have a world class public education system. The candidates differ about the path to that goal. “Ms. Keegan, the former Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, said that Senator McCain strongly supports school choice and competition in education. She also noted his belief in the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Ms. Century, director of the science program of University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, spoke on Mr. Obama’s behalf. She stated that Senator Obama “favors strong teacher support, including immediate feedback to teachers, rigorous national standards, and a curriculum that includes science, social studies, art, music, physical education, and foreign languages.” Regarding reading, Ms. Keegan favors national standards, while Ms. Century believes, “No reading program is proven effective everywhere for every student.” But what about math?

Comparative studies indicate that American students score very low compared to Asian students, especially in mathematics. A national and local debate continues to rage regarding math education and the newest “reform” approach. A recent column in Education News cited Ms. Century’s involvement with the Everyday Math movement in her role in CEMSE. In fact, as early as 1999, in a study called “The Principals (sic) of Educational Reform: Supporting Mathematics and Science Teaching in your School: A Handbook for Elementary and Middle School Principals,” she called upon administrators to go so far as to remove teachers who resisted the Everyday Math Program. At a time when America needs high standards, this “inquiry based learning is sorely inadequate. It imposes upon its students a system that “places process above product.” The math curriculum needs strengthening, not weakening to enable American students to face the challenges that continue to emerge in a global economy.

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