By Jerome Dancis, Ph.D. (math), Associate Professor Emeritus,
Department of Mathematics, University of Maryland
An unpublished letter to the New York Times Magazine.
From my perspective as a math professor, there are two crucial steps toward closing the black-white gap in Mathematics ["What It Takes to Make a Student" New York Times Magazine Cover story, November 26, 2006]. They are:
1. The states must finally bite the bullet on standards for teacher certification. Elementary school teacher certification must require fluency in Arithmetic, including Arithmetic word problems, measurement and Arithmetic-based science. Middle school Math teacher certification must also require fluency in Algebra I. To meet such certification requirements, many teachers would need to take several low-level math courses in college.
The title of Math Professor Patricia Clark Kenschaft, "Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary School Teachers More Mathematics", says it all.
Yes, raising the level of knowledge of Arithmetic and Algebra I, of all teachers, will result in all students learning more; but the biggest gains will be by those poor Black students who would have had the worst teachers.
2. Provide students and teachers with math textbooks, which are understandable and which do an especially good job (*) in training students in Basic Skills and (*) in providing students with Conceptual Understanding and (*) in training students (and teachers) in difficult Arithmetic word problems. The only K-6 textbooks, in English, which do this are the Singapore Math books; no wonder that Singapore students score highest in learning math; these books are available at http://singaporemath.com.
Yes, using good textbooks will result in all students learning more; but the biggest gains will be by those poor students, whose parents cannot help them compensate for their poor textbooks.
Implementing these two steps will result in students entering high school, fluent in Arithmetic and hence with the background needed to learn Algebra. They will learn Algebra and enter college not relegated to remedial Algebra classes. Currently, there are masses of Michael Waltons [NY Times September 2, 2006] and Rosa Arevelos [NY Times December 3, 2003], being placed in remedial algebra courses in college, where "More than one in four remedial students work on … arithmetic."
This learning of Arithmetic and then Algebra will reduce, if not eliminate the black-white gap in students needing remediation in Algebra when they enter college.
In my state, Maryland, "CORE" graduates are those graduates, who roughly completed the suggested college preparatory program, including three years of math. It is absurd that these better graduates would need remediation in Algebra.
But, in MD in 2004, one in four (23%) white CORE graduates needed remediation in Algebra versus one in two Black CORE graduates.
According to 1960s major civil rights leader and icon, Dr. Robert Moses, algebra literacy is the next civil right because algebra literacy is necessary for economic access and full citizenship.
1. My line, " The states must finally bite the bullet on standards for teacher certification " is similar to a line in the lead editorial The New York Times. February 1, 2005
Also see New York Times Editorial July 4, 2006 "Teachers Matter"
2. Re. my line, "poor Black students who would have had the worst teachers", note these two sentences from the New York Times Magazine Cover story, November 26, 2006:
"But in schools with practically no white students, 88 percent of the teachers are in the worst quartile. ... At schools where more than 90 percent of the students are poor … just 1 percent of teachers are in the highest quartile."
3. "Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary School Teachers More
Mathematics" by Patricia Clark Kenschaft article in the Notices of the AMS, February
2005, Volume 52, Number 2 or at http://www.ams.org/notices/200502/fea-kenschaft.pdf
Final paragraph: Children who have been mathematically abused are much less able to benefit from mathematically competent teachers when they finally reach them. One lesson our current elementary school teachers convey powerfully is that math is too difficult to understand. Because knowledge of mathematics correlates strongly with economic and political achievement, the mathematical education of all elementary school teachers is the paramount equity issue. As Will Rogers said long ago, "You can't teach what you don't know any more than you can come back from where you ain't been."
4. Re. Singapore Math books. Here is a problem that Singapore Math books trains 5th grade students to do. Rare for 7th grade American books to provide such training.
Problem. (From a 5th grade Singapore math textbook) "Mrs. Chen made some tarts. She sold 3/5 of them in the morning and 1/4 of the remainder in the afternoon. If she sold 200 more tarts in the morning than in the afternoon, how many tarts did she make?" [From http://www.cbmsweb.org/NationalSummit/Plenary_Speakers/ma.htm]
5. The data on MD graduates is from Table 29 in the "College Performance of New Maryland High School Graduates -- Student Outcome and achievement Report --" [SOAR] (Sept. 2006) published by The Maryland Higher Education Commission.
You can access SOAR at the Policy Analysis and Research page of the Maryland Higher Education Commission's web site: www.mhec.state.md.us/publications/research/index.asp
Scroll down to annual reports/SOAR reports.
6. Re. My line: According to …, Dr. Robert Moses, algebra literacy is the next civil right because algebra literacy is necessary for economic access and full citizenship.:
In his book “Radical Equations” Dr. Moses states that “the most urgent social issue affecting poor people and people of color is economic access. In today's world, economic access and full citizenship depend crucially on math and science literacy.”
Moses said that Algebra "now is the gatekeeper for citizenship; and people who don't have it are like the people who couldn't read and write in the Industrial Age." [Dionne, Jr., E.J. (6 March 2001). Into the Math Mix. The Washington Post, pg. A.23.
As leader of the Mississippi Voter Rights Project, Dr. Moses was one of the ten most important civil rights activists in the1960s. Moses earned a Ph.D. in the philosophy of mathematics at Harvard Univ..