Our math problems don’t add up

By Walter Backstrom, No Excuses

We need to get rid of the WASL.

I tutor kids who have nightmares about not passing the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. The test that we give to these kids is really about this new-age math vs. conservative math. They call this new math informative math.

The educational experts are more interested in how kids than feel about multiplication, than knowing by rote memory the answers to multiplication problems. The United States at one time was number one in the world using traditional math, but Third World countries have learned from our mistakes. Countries such as Singapore and Finland use traditional math. That is one of the reasons they rank among the best in the world in math and science.

While these so-called experts would like 8-year-olds to use calculators, and the fact they do not know how to multiply well, too bad. Remember, they’re still making millions of dollars while we import students to work at Microsoft from other countries that are a lot poorer than us. Every month, another report comes out and states in clear terms that we are failing our children, and what do the politicians do? They propose another study to tell us that we are failing our kids.

I hope in this election that we have no more “education governors.” I do not think we can afford any more “experts.”

I really feel sorry for the poor teachers. They are so busy teaching kids how to pass this navel-gazing test, and kids are not learning what they need to know. I do not call that education. I call it miseducation.

We are now in Olympia wasting are tax dollars to learn something new to pass on to the overworked and underappreciated teachers — God love you all. In this country, we are more concerned about “American Idol” more than American history. Please do not wonder why the high school dropout rate in Detroit, Mich., is about 75 percent. This is a tragedy that calls for action. Most kids get bored in math because of the way we teach it — without understanding if we can show kids that math can be fun and educational, things could be different.

Here are some examples that work in the rest of the world, including poor countries. At the inner-city Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood, Calif., where 90 percent of the kids are eligible for free and reduced lunch, they teach math from Singapore textbooks — and the number of passing test scores have improved by about 69 percent, according to a Los Angeles Times article. The majority — 60 percent to be exact — speak English as a second language.

I think we should rethink the amount of time kids are in school. They are in school 180 days even though there are 365 days in a year. You can do the math. Or just go to the mall!

I am not an expert, just a father who cares about these kids. One more thing: Schools need to be more serious about going into the apartment complexes where most of the at-risk kids live and develop some programs. I do not mean having a spaghetti dinner and calling that real outreach.

One last suggestion: We could have the “Audacity of Hope” and do things differently by bringing in someone new, or keep politics as usual.

Walter Backstrom is a Federal Way resident. Contact:


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