Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Singapore vs U.S. Math: we lose

AIR has a very in-depth report on the differences between math education in the United States and in Singapore. Singaporean students rank 1st in the world in mathematics on the TIMS and U.S. students rank 16th. The bottom line is that "Singapore has a world-class mathematics system with quality components aligned to produce students who learn mathematics mastery" - the U.S. does not. Pretty simple.

Here is what you need to produce students with mathematics mastery quoting directly from the report:
  1. Highly logical national mathematics framework
  2. Mathematically rich problem-based textbooks
  3. Challenging mathematics assessments
  4. Highly qualified mathematics teachers whose pedagogy centers on teaching to mastery
  5. And for those struggling in math - alternative frameworks and special assistance from an expert teacher
And what does the U.S. deliver?
  1. No centrally identified core mathematical content that is the focus for the system
  2. Textbooks that emphasize definitions and formulas instead of mathematical understanding
  3. Assessments that are not challenging
  4. Teachers that lack sound mathematics preparation
  5. At-risk students receive instruction from an aide - not a specialist in mathematics

The result is a real shocker:

"The United States produces students who have learned only to mechanically apply mathematical procedures to solve routine problems and who are, therefore, not mathematically competitive with students in most industrialized countries."

OUCH!! If we can't compete mathematically, we most definitely will not be able to compete economically.

The other fascinating thing is that Singapore students have better 21st century skills of reasoning, critical thinking and communicating - not because they practiced those skills in some fluff program - but because they focused on applied mathematics! HUGE!!