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Is America Failing Math? (page 2)

Is America Failing Math?

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Updated on Sep 25, 2011

How about teacher support? This includes time to collaborate with colleagues, getting advice from mentors, and support from other agencies when students implode. Singapore, the second-highest scoring country, provides teachers with 100 hours of training a year and supports senior teachers to oversee professional development in each school. Teaching is viewed as an honored, lifelong career. In America, teachers are thrown into their classrooms and left to fend for themselves, and half of all new teachers quit within five years. Even the U.S. Department of Education admits that this is because of “a lack of support and a ‘sink or swim’ induction” into the teaching profession.

Finally, how well do we accommodate the needs of individuals? According to McKinsey, “High-performing systems are better at ensuring that each student receives the instruction they need to compensate for their home background.” These countries set high expectations, then intervene “early and often” with students who are struggling to meet them. Finland has more special education teachers than any other country – in any given year, a third of pupils get on-on-one remedial help. This not only helps the targeted student, but also frees up teachers’ time with the remaining students. By contrast, about one tenth of American students receive any type of special education services.

We’ve all experienced the magic of truly gifted teachers. They push our minds, shape our goals, and change our lives. And yet, we seem to believe that teachers are interchangeable, and that the secret to improving education is to create a level of standardization that makes schools teacher-proof. But perhaps we need to learn from the countries with higher scores, countries who have proven that great teachers are themselves the driving force behind educational success.

Bill Gates recently wrote, “Compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop, and regard excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.” If we’re going to improve our math scores and prepare students to compete with their global peers, then it’s time for immediate and sweeping reform. We must tempt top recruits with competitive salaries while holding sub-par teachers accountable. We must support both new teachers and the dedicated veterans who keep our schools afloat. And lastly, we must identify and assist those children for whom a little early intervention will prevent years of struggle. There’s no time to lose, for when we consider our global competition, it’s clear that the vast majority of American students are being left behind.  

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