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I would not disagree with the assertion that the quality of math teachers could be improved at the high school level. However, the stories I told about the teachers were not meant to disparage them, or their abilities. My intent was to illustrate that the curriculum had become so advanced that the math problems in it challenged me. I do not expect a high school teacher to have the depth of understanding of math that I have. Maybe a competent high school math teacher should know math at the level of a professional physicist. But, I don’t think my level of understanding is necessary for a high school teacher using an age-appropriate curriculum. Without an age-appropriate curriculum, it is difficult to judge the competence of the teachers.
It was also not my intent to suggest that math achievement not be tested and assessed. I believe that we should test for student math achievement. I am attacking an educational mindset, in which test scores are not measures of learning outcomes; the test scores are the outcomes. While that distinction might be subtle, it has real effects on how classes are taught and in the messages we communicate to students about the goals of an education. Tests are measurement tools; they should not be the reasons that students come to class.
Kudos to Joseph Ganem on the wonderful article on the Back Page of the October 2009 APS News. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one having a hard time with math! I got all the way through college algebra in high school and was placed into remedial math in college, only three months after graduating high school! I’ll graduate this year (B.S. Physics) on the five year track, thanks to the first “no math no physics” year of my college career.
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Editor: Alan Chodos