Sunday, August 03, 2008

Education: Are we outsourcing our teaching? Are we mishandling accelerated math?


The Washington Post Magazine for Sunday August 3 has an “Education Review” (link ) with three big stories.

The cover reads “Outsourcing our Schools” and refers to a story by Phuong Ly (“Lessons from Far Home”), about the program at Prince Georges County (MD) public schools to hire teachers, particularly for elementary school, ESOL (English as a Second Language), and special education from low income areas overseas, in this case, the Philippines. Teachers can make ten times here what they make in the Philippines but still have to spend thousands to get here. Typically, the female teachers live three or four to an apartment, may well not have cars, and often send money back home to support (or sometimes pay back) relatives. Even so, budget cuts can lead to elimination of positions at some schools, as badly as the immigrant teachers seem to be needed. The story also raises ethical questions about how the children of the immigrants, unless the entire families can move.

A story “Fast Learners” by Emily Messner covers the acceleration of mathematics education in middle and high schools in Silver Spring. There is concern that the use of calculators is undermining the development of the mental agility one needs for working with algebraic concepts. The ideas of Eric Walstein at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring are presented. Examples are giving with discussion of the problems many students have in learning factoring of polynomials in algebra.

I've always thought that students would learn math out of "self-interest". Sports problems will interest a lot of boys, as do computer problems. Some students simply need a lot of practice to be "good" at anything, whether factoring, or integration by partial fractions. Weekly pop quizzes help build confidence.

Susan Sharpe writes a story “Late Bloomer” about a retired community college English teacher starting a new career with a botany class, and exploring how humanities and science education differ.

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