Sidestepping correlates with stagnation


When I read the commentary “A New Paradigm” Fred Noel’s Jan. 23 response to my two-part commentary (“Keep the American Dream Alive,” Jan 2 and 9), I immediately recognized the voice of an administrator. He sensed that he recognized a “prevalent teacher assumption” embedded in my piece. Regrettably, as a newcomer to education with the audacity to write about public education, I trigger all the usual defense mechanisms and reprisals; no wonder my sense of job security rivals that of an Oakland Raiders’ coach.

My prolix opinion piece was understandably published in two parts and so the continuity was broken; but, the flow chart was essentially this: the upward mobility in this country exceeds that of any nation; that parents mistakenly — not necessarily by design — condemn their children to income stagnation. These are conclusions published in a study by Bhashkar Mazumder on upward mobility in the United States. As Casey Stengel might have said, "You could Google it."

The third link in the flow chart was: Proficiency in a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) component provides the best opportunity for economic advancement.

None of these three are my assumptions; I like to crouch behind findings published in the Economist or the Wall Street Journal.

As a statistician and statistics teacher, I am always noticing and sometimes quantitatively demonstrating relationships between variables that correlate positivity, or negatively, with math achievement.

Chronic tardiness, absenteeism, quotidian pleading for the bathroom pass, trousers worn sag style, texting in class, multiple tattoos and piercings, no textbook, no pencils, attempting to power nap in class, all correlate negatively — despite politically correct denials — with low math achievement.

They reflect an attitude inimical to the attainment of math proficiency. Technically, these are not assumptions, they are testable hypotheses.

Parents signaling low expectation, making excuses, blaming the system or teacher, citing family traditions of low math performance, also correlate very strongly with low math achievement.

For most students, math is hard work; math proficiency requires active learning; not passively gazing in the direction of the teacher, or staring at the text.

Having to do rigorous math and apply strenuous thinking just to learn math is a disagreeable, odious fact; any covert glimmer of a green light to circumvent this process is often seized on by students.

Such side-stepping of rigorous math ultimately correlates highly with economic stagnation given that STEM is the principal conduit to upward mobility.


— Jeffrey R Smith