Have you ever wondered about the real reason why math education in our schools is so awful? Why despite the best efforts of large numbers of parents, the schools seem to be incapable of figuring out why they're so dreadfully bad at recognizing the difference between a halfway decent math curriculum and a trendy piece of garbage?
Read below the fold for a perfect example of why. The short version: the people who are involved in running education in America consider it perfectly acceptable to be idiots when it comes to math.
My kids go to school in the Arsdley school district in Westchester County, New York. It's an outstanding school system overall, and I'm very happy that my kids go there. (It's pure luck - we don't live in Ardsley, but in the neighboring village of Dobbs Ferry, and the realtor who sold us our house didn't mention that we were actually across the line into the better school district.)
Anyway - yesterday, we had our annual school budget vote. The superintendent of the school district sent out the following letter informing us of the election results:
May 16, 2007
Budget Vote Results
The 2007-2008 school district budget vote passed by a margin of 62.3%. A total of 1372 residents voted, sixty-one more than last year.
The results of the $53,413,610 budget:
The result of the election is that 62.3% of the voters voted to pass the budget, and
37.7% voted to reject it. As I was taught, the "margin" for a yes/no measure is the percentage by which the vote exceeded the threshold needed to pass the measure - meaning that the margin in this election was 12.3%. I'd also accept the slightly different definition of margin as "the difference between the yes votes and the no votes", giving a margin of 24.6% ; it's not the correct definition for a yes/no vote, but at least it's a margin of some kind. But the absolute percentage of "yes" votes is simply not a margin. That's not what the word means!
Our district superintendent doesn't even have a clue of what a "margin" means in an election. It's possible to become the main person in charge of the school district - a person whose job includes judging the qualifications of math teachers, and judging the quality of math curriculums - while being totally clueless about even the simplest of mathematical concepts.
"Margin" is such a basic thing - I would expect my kids to understand what the "margin of victory" in an election meant by the time they finished elementary school. But the superintendent of their school district doesn't.
I'm willing to bet that that letter was spell-checked and grammar checked before going out to the mailing list. I've never seen a letter from the superintendent containing grammatical errors like "We done good on the state tests last year". I've never seen an "'s" where an "s" was correct. He's careful about those things - because they're important for a person who is presenting himself as an educator. But math? Hey, who cares if he can't do math? Who cares if he doesn't even have a basic understanding of the mathematical concepts that can have a direct impact on his job?