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Comment: Failed fads resurface in ‘new’ B.C. curriculum

When my kids were little, I took them to see the Canadian women’s hockey team practise at a local rink. I wanted to show them what dedicated and committed athletes did on their days off — practise.
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When my kids were little, I took them to see the Canadian women’s hockey team practise at a local rink. I wanted to show them what dedicated and committed athletes did on their days off — practise.

One player in particular stood out — Hayley Wickenheiser. She was the first player on the ice and the last one off. She went through drills and shooting pucks before the practice session, and stayed after for more of the same. She is one of the world’s greatest hockey players. Talent aside, it was her infinite hours of practice and hard work that got her to where she is today.

Another factor behind success comes with good coaching and management. When contrasted with Wickenheiser’s experience with the national team, today’s coaches and managers in the B.C. education system are failing their players.

This upcoming school year will see the circulation of a math pamphlet to parents, as well as the introduction to the new B.C. Education Plan (“Major school curriculum changes coming to B.C.,” Aug. 30). Both were created using failed learning fads that have been around for generations and tested on unsuspecting students around the world.

The latest trend is 21st-century learning, and our education leaders just love this stuff. It likes to focus on “big ideas,” rather than on learning multiplication tables. Their agenda seems hell-bent on dumbing down our next generation.

The B.C. Teachers’ Federation’s provincial math association, the B.C. Association of Mathematics Teachers, published a math pamphlet this summer. The pamphlet states that memorization can lead to anxiety and can be harmful for children.

This is absolute drivel. A review of their research confirms this organization prefers to cherry-pick studies that support their agenda, rather than provide solid evidence that what they are promoting is actually valid.

They also fail to acknowledge the biggest deficit in education today: a lack of foundational skills. And the proven path to mastering foundational skill — teacher-led, explicit instruction, memorization and daily practice — is the opposite of 21st-century learning.

In April, a parent advisory group invited University of Manitoba math professor Rob Craigen, a proponent of effective math instruction, to discuss the upcoming changes to the math curriculum. Parents, educators and others were invited. The BCAMT refused to post the flyer and they didn’t allow this information to reach math teachers across the province. Given the subject content and timing, why wouldn’t the BCAMT let its members know about this event?

Creators of the new Education Plan claim foundational skills will be an integral part of the new curriculum. But where is the evidence? In the new math curriculum, there are no measurable learning outcomes. The words “memorize” or “mastery” do not appear in the document. Daily practice and ongoing classroom assessment are ignored.

But most damning of all is how the arithmetic operations of fractions (addition, subtraction, multiplication and long division), have been postponed to Grade 8. Cognitive science has already determined which elementary school skills, empirically, best predict success in mathematics at the end of high school. The findings are clear: There are no better predictors known than skill in division and fractional arithmetic.

By delaying this important step, how are B.C. kids able to compete with kids globally, who have already mastered fractions four or five years earlier? In the bid to compete in a world economy, our kids will be at the back of the pack. This is not a balanced approach to education, it’s educational malpractice.

Some countries have already experienced the damage these learning fads have inflicted on a generation of students. And they are reacting to this abysmal failure by making positive changes.

In the U.K., this year’s math curriculum will include introducing more complex fractions at an earlier age, curtailing the use of calculators and insisting that teacher-led instruction be utilized with greater frequency.

New Zealand’s latest independent education study has examined the failures of its math program. Overwhelming evidence suggested 21st-century learning — the same learning fad B.C. education leaders are promoting — was responsible for poor math skills in their students.

If these learning strategies have already been dismissed globally, why does B.C. insist on promoting them? I have seen the research, I’ve reviewed it, it’s horrendous.

Every child does not have to become a math genius, but they all deserve to have a firm grasp of arithmetic. Get back to work, and fix this. Our children are worth it.

Tara Houle is a parent advocate and originator of a petition to persuade the B.C. government to return instruction in basic math skills to classrooms (