Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Response to the National Math Panel

As the NJDOE math task force gets ready to meet for a second time next Tuesday, some members believe that NJ must follow the National Math Panel (NMP) report and recommendation. However, the NMP report was not exactly a balanced report by any means. Jo Boaler wrote a wonderful review of the report. Dr. Boaler is the Marie Curie Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Sussex in England. Her article (When Politics Took the Place of Inquiry: A Response to the National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s Review of Instructional Practices) uncovers some of the politics behind the report. Boaler writes:
One of the most critical areas the panel chose to consider was the impact of different teaching approaches on student learning. In framing its review, the task group posed this question: “How effective is teacher-directed instruction in mathematics in comparison to student-centered approaches?” (Gersten et al., 2008, p. 12). The task group’s assertion that student-centered teaching involves teachers handing over the teaching of mathematics to the students is remarkable. Indeed the task group itself acknowledged that such definitions are “extreme” (Gersten et al., 2008, p. 30). The task group admits that it found no studies in which students were doing the teaching of mathematics, and it quotes from the National Research Council’s report Adding It Up(Kilpatrick et al., 2001), summarizing the different and complex forms of teaching in which student-centered teachers engage. The idea that showing and explaining would be absent from student-centered teachers’ pedagogy suggests that the task group members either held deep misunderstandings about student-centered teaching or that certain members of the group were engaged in a more politicized exercise. Even the strongest advocates of different teaching approaches would probably find the task group’s trivialized definitions of teaching to be inadequate, making any subsequent reviews of research redundant. The task group’s advocacy for an “extreme” and unrealistic definition of student-centered teaching was blamed on conversations held with teachers. This is particularly ironic given the Panel’s admonition to the readers of its report to recognize only experimental evidence.

Boaler continue her review of the report and its recommendation by stating:

More seriously perhaps, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel’s report presents a case of a government controlling not only the membership of a panel chosen to review research—a panel dominated by educational conservatives rather than mathematics researchers—but the forms of knowledge admissible in the public domain. In its adherence to government directions (Gersten et al., 2008, p. 213), resulting in the disregard of the field of mathematics education research, the Panel’s report communicates the view that the government, rather than academic researchers, should decide on the forms of knowledge that are legitimate in our pursuit of understandings about ways to help children learn (U.S. Department of Education et al., 2003). When governments step in to control research and knowledge production, limiting the methods used by researchers and the forms of knowledge acceptable, to the extent that a whole field of research is invalidated, then it is time to acknowledge that America’s celebrated freedom—of thought and inquiry—has been dealt a very serious blow.

If you want a copy of the full article, just send me an email and I will send you the file.

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