Sunday, October 28, 2018

Jo Boaler Should Not Be Taken Seriously

Her ideas do incredible harm to math education and to students, but a lot of the math higher-ups in my district are enamored with this woman and her siren song:
There is a common misunderstanding that the Algebra 1 course taught under No Child Left Behind was the same course that is currently taught in the city schools. The Common Core State Standards raised the level and rigor of eighth-grade mathematics to include Algebra 1 content as well as geometry and statistical topics previously taught in high school. It is fair to say the content of the district’s eighth-grade math course was college-prep, high-school-level math for most of the current students’ parents. The current Algebra 1 course is more conceptually demanding and requires that students have the foundational background of the math taught in eighth grade.
You can choose to believe that if you want to.  This comment from a CSU LA professor is one I agree with:
This article is ridiculous.  Pretending that avoidance of coherent mathematics development is somehow emphasizing “rigor” completely misrepresents mathematics and its essential rigor.  So does equating Finland’s math performance - that lags behind the US by 8th grade on the most recent TIMSS - with Japan’s outstanding performance on both the meaningful TIMSS as well as the borderline meaningless PISA.  Algebra avoidance (under the name of algebra) is a SFUSD disservice to students with math-based career aspirations. Dr. Boaler may not know any better but certainly Dr. Schoenfeld does.   For shame.
I don't find the Common Core math standards to be coherent at all.  I don't see students who are better prepared for math in 9th grade than they were in the past.

Note that Jo Boaler is a professor of math education.  Her Wikipedia page does not state what her bachelor's degree is in, but both her master's degree and her PhD are in math education.  The following is the world's briefest synopsis of some of the controversy surrounding her work:
In 2006, mathematician R. James Milgram (Stanford University) accused Boaler of scientific misconduct, which prompted Stanford University to investigate claims challenging the validity of her research. However, Stanford University declined to move forward with the investigation, stating that the allegations "do not have substance".[26] Milgram, fellow mathematician Wayne Bishop (California State University) and statistician Paul Clopton posted a 44-page online paper outlining their complaints about one particular study.[36] The story was circulated widely on social media and picked up by the national press.[26] Boaler issued a response in 2012, accusing Milgram, Bishop (and others) of harassment, persecution, and suppression.[37] Bishop and Milgram each issued rebuttals to Boaler's claims.[38][39]
There's more here:
Barbara Oakley is the co-author of the most successful Coursera course, ¨Learning How to Learn¨ completed by more than a million students worldwide. Unlike Boaler, Oakely argues that math without in-depth practice combined with over emphasizing conceptual understanding and loosely tossing in ¨fun¨ to avoid the necessary practice is a disservice to our students. It is fine to help children find and understand the different approaches to a problem and tell them fun facts about math and how they interconnect.

We can agree on that, but Barbara Oakley stresses a significant exception: “Discovery math” doesn’t work without practice. There needs to be a solid foundation, without practice children don’t get the numerical and procedural fluency needed to free cognitive resources to be able to lever on the growth mindset, that Carol S. Dweck clearly explains, to progress into more complex and abstract areas in math. Oakley has research on her side, in fact, one of the professors she relies on is Paul Morgan, who wrote an interesting article on math drilling in Psychology Today.
Boaler is not someone who should be taken seriously.

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