Column #42, posted November 1, 2007

America Business Hasn't a Clue

I saw this press release the other day.

Global Thought Leaders to Convene at MasterCard Math Education Summit
Wow! Who knew there were global thought leaders in math education? I wondered who they were until now.
ST. LOUIS, Oct. 24 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ -- Math experts from around the globe will convene for a Math Education Summit at MasterCard in O'Fallon, Mo. on Oct. 24…

The summit features Singaporean math education expert Lianghuo Fan, Ph.D., who will discuss how math teachers help Singapore lead the world in student math achievement. Dr. Fan is an associate professor of mathematics education at the National Institute of Education, which trains all primary and secondary teachers in Singapore. Other speakers include Frank Corcoran, founding teacher of KIPP Academy in New York City, the highest-performing non-selective public middle school in the Bronx for 10 consecutive years in reading scores, math scores and attendance(1), and Jason Kamras, the 2005 National Teacher of the Year and special assistant to the chancellor for teacher performance in the District of Columbia Public Schools.

Ah. Global thought leader means someone who makes test scores go up. Got it.
"There is widespread evidence of the need for improved math education," said Victoria May, director of science outreach at Washington University in St. Louis. "American eighth graders rank fifteenth globally in math achievement, behind students in countries such as Estonia, Hungary and Malaysia."
That evidence is what, exactly? That we are behind in test scores? That is the evidence that we need to win the test score contest!

"Math achievement is key for students' future employability," said Dr. Terry Adams, superintendent of the Wentzville School District. "Students of today will face global competition for the employment opportunities of tomorrow. This globalization of the workforce means our students must be as proficient in math and science as their international counterparts."
Employment in the future depends on math test-taking ability? Interesting! How do they know this? Are jobs going to those who know the quadratic formula and can balance chemical equations? Why? When did this happen? Or is this just some bizarre notion of the future based on nothing?
"Technology companies such as MasterCard depend on a future workforce that is skilled in math," said W. Roy Dunbar, president of Global Technology and Operations at MasterCard. "As an innovation and global commerce leader, math is core to our business. We are not experts in math education, but we recognize how critical the support of math teachers is to improving student math achievement.”
Really? Math is core to MasterCard’s business? Are they doing a lot of trigonometry over there at MasterCard? Congruent triangles on the MasterCard logo? How exactly is math core to MasterCard’s business?

Ah. They mean they like people who can add. I am sure they do.

We really have to stop this math and science nonsense. MasterCard needs people who are courteous, helpful, can work with others, can speak and write and who understand business. Stop the math and science fixation. Math in America means testing and that usually means algebra. There is no evidence that this has anything to do with America’s future. American business needs people who can think, not people who can pass algebra tests.

If MasterCard wants to save the country, maybe they actually look at what their employees do on a daily basis and help students get good at that.

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