FOR MATH STUDENTS, SELF-ESTEEM MIGHT NOT EQUAL HIGH SCORES

October 18, 2006

It is difficult to get through a day in an American school without hearing maxims such as these: "To succeed, you must believe in yourself," and "To teach, you must relate the subject to the lives of students."  But the Brookings Institution is reporting today that countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that don't promote all that self-regard.

Consider Korea and Japan:

  • According to the Washington think tank's annual Brown Center report on education, 6 percent of Korean eighth-graders surveyed expressed confidence in their math skills, compared with 39 percent of U.S. eighth-graders; but a respected international math assessment showed Koreans scoring far ahead of their peers in the United States, raising questions about the importance of self-esteem.
  • In Japan, the report found, 14 percent of math teachers surveyed said they aim to connect lessons to students' lives, compared with 66 percent of U.S. math teachers; yet the U.S. scores in eighth-grade math trail those of the Japanese, raising similar questions about the importance of practical relevance.

Tom Loveless, the report's author, said that the findings do not mean that student happiness causes low achievement.  But he wrote that his analysis of the international math assessment, the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, shows that U.S. schools should not be too quick to assume that happiness is what matters in the classroom.

Several countries in Asia and some in Europe tend to beat the United States in math scores, even though their students show less satisfaction with performance and less love of math, and even though the lessons they receive are less "relevant," the report found.

Source: Jay Mathews, "For Math Students, Self-Esteem Might Not Equal High Scores

U.S. Lags Behind Countries That Don't Emphasize Self-Regard," Washington Post, Wednesday, October 18, 2006.

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