Friday, February 26, 2016

Link: Math Circles at the Atlantic

An article this month at the Atlantic on the explosive rise of extracurricular (and expensive) advanced-math circles and competitions, to make up for the perceived deficiencies in math education in schools. Some telling quotes:
At a time when calls for a kind of academic disarmament have begun echoing through affluent communities around the nation, a faction of students are moving in exactly the opposite direction...

"The youngest ones, very naturally, their minds see math differently [said Inessa Rifkin, co-founder of Russian School of Mathematics]... It is common that they can ask simple questions and then, in the next minute, a very complicated one. But if the teacher doesn’t know enough mathematics, she will answer the simple question and shut down the other, more difficult one. We want children to ask difficult questions, to engage so it is not boring, to be able to do algebra at an early age, sure, but also to see it for what it is: a tool for critical thinking. If their teachers can’t help them do this, well... It is a betrayal.

And while the proportion of American students scoring at advanced levels in math is rising, those gains are almost entirely limited to the children of the highly educated, and largely exclude the children of the poor. By the end of high school, the percentage of low-income advanced-math learners rounds to zero...

The No Child Left Behind Act... demanded that states turn their attention to getting struggling learners to perform adequately...The cumulative effect of these actions, perversely, has been to push accelerated learning outside public schools—to privatize it, focusing it even more tightly on children whose parents have the money and wherewithal to take advantage. In no subject is that clearer today than in math.

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