The time to quit the best job in the world is right before you get tired of it. After spending 20 years flying in B-52s and retiring from the U.S. Air Force, I spent the last 16 years as a math teacher. I can truly say that teaching mathematics was the greatest and most emotionally gratifying experience of my life. I certainly did not want to quit teaching, but I was told to change my traditional approach. I refused to and quit the job I loved so much.
I had been teaching developmental algebra for 12 years at Spokane Falls Community College and have had a 95 percent success rate with the students. Nine out of 10 students who enroll at SFCC are placed into developmental math. It is sad to think that 90 percent of all entering college students didn’t retain (or learn) enough algebra skills to pass the math assessment test to be placed into a college-level math class. Developmental math classes are five-hour courses and cost the same as a college-level class. It takes some students three or four attempts to complete one class.
It was found that only one in three students completed the dev-math series; failing to complete the series effectively ends a student’s college career. It became apparent that something had to be done to change the outcomes. Money was secured through the Title III program and was used to change the dev-math program at SFCC. All teachers had to go through professional training in order to teach the new series. The new curriculum style is for students to collaborate in groups to find the best way to answer or solve a particular problem. This method reduces and, for some teachers, eliminates lectures altogether.
It took brilliant men and women decades to formulate the laws of math that we have today. Now they want our students to formulate these same laws in a 50-minute class. This methodology is also the darling of the local and many other school districts, and we wonder why our children are graduating with minimal math skills? Many of my students would be absolutely lost without a calculator. They have lost the basic skills of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing real numbers. They have essentially zero skills when it comes to dealing with fractions. We have strayed so far from learning basic math skills that our college-bound students are entering a world that is totally foreign to them. So what does SFCC do? They change the math world to match what the students had in K-12.
I say we must first teach our students time-honored procedural mathematics that produces step-by-step methodology, and then we must introduce basic skill problems that use these procedures. When their skill levels reach a certain proficiency, students can then be given real-world problems where group collaboration can be of great benefit. The new method is to reverse the process and it is terribly inefficient. Students will not only become frustrated but will learn very little mathematics when it is all said and done.
I am enormously concerned for the future of our students to have the necessary math skills to fulfill the jobs that have built this nation. Oh, it is still a great nation, but we are importing a large portion of our high-tech workers to maintain our status. We know there is a problem when we are rated 25th out of the top 30 industrial nations in math skills.
I hope to open up the eyes of parents who realize the system is failing their children. Where better than in Spokane to start a movement of parents and teachers to change back to the traditional and proven way of teaching mathematics?
Clint Thatcher, along with retired engineer John Barber and education advocate Laurie Rogers, are holding a series of discussions on the topic of math education, at 6 pm. They are: Monday, Jan. 31, at the South Hill Public Library; Monday, Feb. 7, at the Shadle Public Library; and Tuesday, Feb. 15, at the Shadle Public Library. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.