My feeds were full of math talk today, as Ontario Minister of Education Liz Sandals announced a series of responses to concerns over stagnant and declining assessment results on math.
The angst has been rising since the release of the 2012 PISA results late last year, showing that stagnation in achievement in math. It's existed longer than this however, as anyone paying attention to the full spread of EQAO results has been noticing for a number of years.
The Globe and Mail kicked off a recent spotlight on this angst by highlighting a series of petitions started across Canada to bring attention to the concern over how math is being taught and learned in K-12. I was sent a link to an Ontario petition last week. As of typing this, it still hadn't met change.org's threshold.
It's too easy to go too basic on this. Far too easy to call upon a few curmudgeonly people inside the ed sector and parents on its periphery, griping about how things aren't taught the way they used to be, how kids today are getting dumber, etc. That's low-hanging fruit and I would challenge my journalist colleagues to reach a little higher on this issue.
Unlike Sandals, I would say the curriculum in Ontario does need a refresh. Curriculum review is never a bad thing because we constantly evolve-- we learn more about how people learn, different and new ways of teaching to meet the increasingly varied needs of school-aged kids in our classrooms today (not to mention tomorrow and the year after that). I'm not saying the curriculum is broken, but keeping it current is never a bad thing.
I support the added investment in training teachers how to be better when they teach math-- it's one of the areas where the inadequacy of Ontario's teacher education shines through. I witnessed this first-hand three years ago while on my fellowship and auditing teacher-education classes at OISE. One of the courses I audited was a masters of teaching junior-intermediate cohort's trip through a 12-week course on literacy and numeracy. The first block was all numeracy and of the class of just over 25, only a few had math as their teachable subject.
The professor kept insisting and encouraging the remainder of the students not to tune her out, imploring them to challenge their own biases on math, the poor way they'd been taught and and to realize in today's job market, the first, second and third jobs they might get in a school could very well involve teaching math.
With a move to a two-year program in Ontario, teacher-education programs would serve their candidates and those candidates' future students well by spending far more time on math-teaching strategies for primary, junior and intermediate panel candidates.
When I was working on my EQAO series in 2008, I also saw first-hand how the emphasis was on literacy and not numeracy. The provincial and local investments in literacy far, far outnumbered (ha!) what was being put into math. If you've had a kid in elementary school since the Liberals took office in 2003, you've likely heard of a literacy coach at your child(ren)'s school. Have they had a math coach? Probably not, since there are few of them.
I've told various Ministry of Education communications staffers over the years the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat was full of untold stories on how an investment in a particular area generates results over time. How it's done well with targeted investment and support of existing teachers through their school boards.
Despite its dual name, the LNS has been primarily focused on literacy.
The details of today's announcement don't specify whether the LNS will be a conduit for any of the money pledged by the minister. It exists and already has the structure to deploy this training and new resources-- it would be foolish to set up a completely separate body to administer this.
As to results? They won't be visible overnight as it takes time for any changes spurred by this announcement to be seen. If the investment is targeted correctly, those results should show it in the coming years.