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Get Rid of Calculators

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX EXTRA

By: Dr. Charles Ormsby – October, 2010

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE NY TIMES

In my experience teaching college freshmen, my sense is that the average level of academic rigor in our public schools has fallen significantly over the past five decades.

Even in wealthy communities, only a fraction of parents are aware of the academic failure of their children. There are numerous examples of this decline: From the elimination of the study of grammar in English and proof-based geometry to the introduction of inquiry-based learning in science and the ubiquitous use of calculators. Today, all but the most elite colleges and universities have been forced to make a major commitment to remedial programs for entering freshmen in both mathematics and the language arts. Many, if not most, students who are in need of such help fall by the wayside despite such commitments.

Tutoring is the parental response to this failure. There are very few Kumon or Sylvan learning centers in poor areas. Even in wealthy communities, only a fraction of parents are aware of the academic failure of their children – at least partially because of rampant grade inflation.

The problem stems from a lack of competition in education. The inability of parents and students to vote with their feet — and dollars — makes them prisoners of policies that have steadily ratcheted up to serve the educational institutions rather than the children.

My prescription for improving mathematics education would include eliminating the use of calculators, ensuring that elementary math teachers are truly proficient in mathematics through Algebra II, requiring students to demonstrate proficiency in the core mathematics disciplines before moving into non-core topics like statistics, and returning to proof-based geometry.

Ultimately, the solution to the problem rests on the introduction of choice and competition in education. And, if schools can offer higher quality education to their students, then parents will not have to turn to tutoring.

Topics: Education, high school, tutoring

Dr. Charles Ormsby

Dr. Charles Ormsby

Dr. Charles Ormsby served two terms on the North Andover School Committee, co-founded of the North Andover Taxpayers Association, is a a co-founder of and columnist for The Valley Patriot, broadcasts weekly opinion pieces for WCAP (980 AM) in Lowell, and is a faculty member in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Dr. Ormsby is a graduate of Cornell and has a doctorate degree from MIT. You can email him at ccormsby@verizon.net

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