D'Amato: Let’s teach math to students, not teachers

Opinion Apr 06, 2016 by Luisa D’Amato Waterloo Region Record

The Ontario Liberal government constantly breaks my heart.

I was so excited to read this week that a "renewed math strategy" had been announced by Education Minister Liz Sandals.

It promised $60 million for a variety of strategies to help our students improve disappointing math skills, including:

• An hour a day, minimum, of "protected learning time" in math for elementary students;

• More support for students in Grades 6 to 9 outside the school day, plus online resources and help for parents;

• At least one "lead teacher" in each elementary school who has special training in math.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But look at the details, and your heart may sink even lower than Premier Kathleen Wynne's abysmal approval ratings.

The problem is stark: Ontario students are having a terrible time in math.

Despite an extraordinary amount of money that has been pumped into our education system, math scores as measured by the Education Quality and Accountability Office continue to fall.

From the 2009-10 year to the 2013-14 year, the percentage of Ontario's Grade 3 students who met provincial standards fell by four percentage points, to 67 per cent. Grade 6 results were even worse, falling from 61 per cent to 54 per cent over the same time.

Locally, the results are even more distressing. Both our public and Catholic schools have math results that lag behind the provincial average and are falling even more steeply.

So will this new plan help?

I don't think so.

The "vast majority" of Waterloo Region's public schools already spend an hour a day teaching math, according to officials of Waterloo Region's public school board.

Our Catholic schools, with better scores than public schools, offer just 50 minutes a day in math.

Obviously, it's not the amount of time spent that matters. It's what happens in that time.

Or what doesn't happen.

If it wasn't so tragic, it would be kind of comical that the Ontario government is spending a big chunk of money coaching teachers to "lead improvement" and "deepen their knowledge in math learning."

Suppose we stopped spending money to teach teachers, and just taught kids properly instead?

Fixing our students' math problem is not rocket science. We have world-renowned experts in our own backyard who are clearly telling us what we need to do.

Ontario test scores started to fall when the province started to emphasize problem-solving skills — such as learning through discovery — rather than basic math facts achieved through drill and repetition like memorizing the times tables.

Ian Vanderburgh, director of the University of Waterloo's Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, says solving problems and learning by discovery are important ways to build innovative minds.

"But to be able to do those well, I do believe that you need that strong foundation of arithmetic and algebra and geometry," he said Monday.

Many experts have said this foundation is missing in our students. You can't be good at math if you don't have those basics hard-wired into your brain.

Yet the government's announcement was silent on whether there would be changes to the way math is taught.

Until Sandals and the bureaucrats who run Ontario's school system have the courage to admit that they were wrong, we will keep throwing money at our math problem, and it will never be fixed.

ldamato@therecord.com

D'Amato: Let’s teach math to students, not teachers

Opinion Apr 06, 2016 by Luisa D’Amato Waterloo Region Record

The Ontario Liberal government constantly breaks my heart.

I was so excited to read this week that a "renewed math strategy" had been announced by Education Minister Liz Sandals.

It promised $60 million for a variety of strategies to help our students improve disappointing math skills, including:

• An hour a day, minimum, of "protected learning time" in math for elementary students;

• More support for students in Grades 6 to 9 outside the school day, plus online resources and help for parents;

• At least one "lead teacher" in each elementary school who has special training in math.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But look at the details, and your heart may sink even lower than Premier Kathleen Wynne's abysmal approval ratings.

The problem is stark: Ontario students are having a terrible time in math.

Despite an extraordinary amount of money that has been pumped into our education system, math scores as measured by the Education Quality and Accountability Office continue to fall.

From the 2009-10 year to the 2013-14 year, the percentage of Ontario's Grade 3 students who met provincial standards fell by four percentage points, to 67 per cent. Grade 6 results were even worse, falling from 61 per cent to 54 per cent over the same time.

Locally, the results are even more distressing. Both our public and Catholic schools have math results that lag behind the provincial average and are falling even more steeply.

So will this new plan help?

I don't think so.

The "vast majority" of Waterloo Region's public schools already spend an hour a day teaching math, according to officials of Waterloo Region's public school board.

Our Catholic schools, with better scores than public schools, offer just 50 minutes a day in math.

Obviously, it's not the amount of time spent that matters. It's what happens in that time.

Or what doesn't happen.

If it wasn't so tragic, it would be kind of comical that the Ontario government is spending a big chunk of money coaching teachers to "lead improvement" and "deepen their knowledge in math learning."

Suppose we stopped spending money to teach teachers, and just taught kids properly instead?

Fixing our students' math problem is not rocket science. We have world-renowned experts in our own backyard who are clearly telling us what we need to do.

Ontario test scores started to fall when the province started to emphasize problem-solving skills — such as learning through discovery — rather than basic math facts achieved through drill and repetition like memorizing the times tables.

Ian Vanderburgh, director of the University of Waterloo's Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, says solving problems and learning by discovery are important ways to build innovative minds.

"But to be able to do those well, I do believe that you need that strong foundation of arithmetic and algebra and geometry," he said Monday.

Many experts have said this foundation is missing in our students. You can't be good at math if you don't have those basics hard-wired into your brain.

Yet the government's announcement was silent on whether there would be changes to the way math is taught.

Until Sandals and the bureaucrats who run Ontario's school system have the courage to admit that they were wrong, we will keep throwing money at our math problem, and it will never be fixed.

ldamato@therecord.com

D'Amato: Let’s teach math to students, not teachers

Opinion Apr 06, 2016 by Luisa D’Amato Waterloo Region Record

The Ontario Liberal government constantly breaks my heart.

I was so excited to read this week that a "renewed math strategy" had been announced by Education Minister Liz Sandals.

It promised $60 million for a variety of strategies to help our students improve disappointing math skills, including:

• An hour a day, minimum, of "protected learning time" in math for elementary students;

• More support for students in Grades 6 to 9 outside the school day, plus online resources and help for parents;

• At least one "lead teacher" in each elementary school who has special training in math.

Sounds great, doesn't it?

But look at the details, and your heart may sink even lower than Premier Kathleen Wynne's abysmal approval ratings.

The problem is stark: Ontario students are having a terrible time in math.

Despite an extraordinary amount of money that has been pumped into our education system, math scores as measured by the Education Quality and Accountability Office continue to fall.

From the 2009-10 year to the 2013-14 year, the percentage of Ontario's Grade 3 students who met provincial standards fell by four percentage points, to 67 per cent. Grade 6 results were even worse, falling from 61 per cent to 54 per cent over the same time.

Locally, the results are even more distressing. Both our public and Catholic schools have math results that lag behind the provincial average and are falling even more steeply.

So will this new plan help?

I don't think so.

The "vast majority" of Waterloo Region's public schools already spend an hour a day teaching math, according to officials of Waterloo Region's public school board.

Our Catholic schools, with better scores than public schools, offer just 50 minutes a day in math.

Obviously, it's not the amount of time spent that matters. It's what happens in that time.

Or what doesn't happen.

If it wasn't so tragic, it would be kind of comical that the Ontario government is spending a big chunk of money coaching teachers to "lead improvement" and "deepen their knowledge in math learning."

Suppose we stopped spending money to teach teachers, and just taught kids properly instead?

Fixing our students' math problem is not rocket science. We have world-renowned experts in our own backyard who are clearly telling us what we need to do.

Ontario test scores started to fall when the province started to emphasize problem-solving skills — such as learning through discovery — rather than basic math facts achieved through drill and repetition like memorizing the times tables.

Ian Vanderburgh, director of the University of Waterloo's Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing, says solving problems and learning by discovery are important ways to build innovative minds.

"But to be able to do those well, I do believe that you need that strong foundation of arithmetic and algebra and geometry," he said Monday.

Many experts have said this foundation is missing in our students. You can't be good at math if you don't have those basics hard-wired into your brain.

Yet the government's announcement was silent on whether there would be changes to the way math is taught.

Until Sandals and the bureaucrats who run Ontario's school system have the courage to admit that they were wrong, we will keep throwing money at our math problem, and it will never be fixed.

ldamato@therecord.com