Boaler's Math Conspiracy Needs a Hollywood Ending

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To the Editor:

Jo Boaler’s Commentary "Where Has All the Knowledge Gone?" (Oct. 8, 2008) would have us believe that a vast right-wing conspiracy is afoot. She asserts that American schoolchildren are behind in mathematics because some unnamed culprits have managed to suppress the research that would support the most effective methods for teaching the subject. She also poses the question of whether the George W. Bush White House withheld such legitimate research from consideration by the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, saying it seems likely.

While Ms. Boaler clearly has it in for the group of university mathematicians in California who years ago fought her math methods (which led to the wholesale reinvention of the state’s math standards), her current beef is with the newfound preference given to randomized controlled trials for judging what really works in mathematics instruction.

It seems safe to assume that none of the teaching methods Ms. Boaler espouses has met with a positive result in such trials, which would require teachers to put up with their students’ being treated as “experimental subjects.” She contrasts these abhorrent methods with the preferred “natural experiments”—which might not yield anything that stands up to scientific scrutiny, but which would allow us all to keep doing what we want to do.

Unfortunately, we never learn from Ms. Boaler what possible motivation anyone has to do her dirt, but more importantly, why anyone would want to keep American children from achieving in mathematics. She offers only the thought that they are all “anti-knowledge.” I wish that the low performance of students could be attributed to such sinister motives, as we then might anticipate a Hollywood-like climax in which the villains are dramatically defeated and overnight our 4th graders understand fractions.

Kate Walsh
National Council on Teacher Quality
Washington, D.C.

Vol. 28, Issue 14, Pages 32-33

Published in Print: December 3, 2008, as Boaler’s Math Conspiracy Needs a Hollywood Ending
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