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© 2017 by LOU MATTHEWS

Op-Ed: The "Economics" of the Problem of Mathematics in Bermuda

February 15, 2018

 

On Mathematics in Bermuda. I would like to talk about the "economics" of the problem of mathematics in Bermuda. I wish go beyond the anger pattern over each of the last 8 years regarding mathematics achievement -- shock, then the degrading conversations of personality, blame, and mistrust. While entertaining for some it does not elevate to a serious national commitment to building and investing in the mathematics literacy of our citizenry.

 

I just finished a workshop with 90 primary and middle math teachers in Ghana. With the District Director present, I was amazed (not really) how he echoed some of the same challenges facing Bermuda. It should be noted that professional engagement of teachers there was nonexistent as there was little to no funding for such things. Additionally in past teachers were required to pay to attend such workshops. I was flattered that many of the participants wanted to post with individual pictures with me, but i recognized it was more of a function that they just did not receive this kind of support needed to drastically impact student outcomes.

 

To be clear, the one 3-hour workshop will do very little in the macro picture. Without a sustained national AND fiscal commitment to 1. Provide continued professional learning in mathematics cent and teaching, 2. Fund coaching support which models high quality teaching and supports schools and teachers in real time. 3 Dramatically increase STEM resources that can be used every day in schools and communities, 4. Affirm and communicate a national strategy for powerful mathematics teaching and learning for ALL students...the impact of this workshop is on borrowed time.

To also be clear, I don't consider the problem pf mathematics success in Bermuda to be a curriculum problem, and most certainly not a problem for curriculum developers to fix. As in Ghana (whose curriculum is modelled around IGCSE texts), our challenge does not lie in the material, rather in our national capacity to engage students at high levels.

 

Similarly I don't consider this to be a parent problem. Parents are big potential allies and we must help empower them in the mathematics their students use. This is also not about lazy or irresponsible students. The prevailing observation in Ghanaian classrooms as with EVERY place I have seen is practically no differences in how children seek to engage. If they aren't given engaging, relevant challenging tasks in ways that build on the potential they come with, they shut off, fail, or are filtered out. Universal law.

 

What does this take in the economic sense. In Atlanta Public Schools where I worked they began to raise the math content of elementary school teachers by requiring 200 hours of additional instruction in mathematics. Imagine this impact on the approximately 100 to 150 upper primary teachers in Bermuda. The program runs evenings over 18 months as I remember. This means paying teachers after hours or substitutes and closing schools. The former option is typically desired and costs 70 per hour per teacher. 70 x 200 x 150 = 2,100,000. The cost of facilitators approximately 150k. Coaching support in schools (not officers), another 500k per year. With this schools receive real time support as they have been asking since 2000. Over 5 years this is 5 million alone. Similarly include pre, middle and high schools along with other high leverage actions (interventions for struggling students, and continous workshops to help parents make sense of the new math, and training for leaders) and you probably have 10 to 15 million dollar focus needed for 3 to five years.

 

DC Public Schools recently required teachers to come back in summer solely for continued learning in a new math learning program. DCPS is widy considered the fastest growing urban system in the US, and have increased spending on public education over 20% in last 8 years.

 

In 2015 the UK spent 13.9% of gov expenditure on education, and the avg for Caribbean small states was 20.1. In 2015 ours was recorded as 9.0% after several years of sustained cuts (source: world bank). Even with the 2018 budget that rises to 11.9%.

 

The numbers are more ominous when you look at investment in post secondary ed which is key to building the math sciences pipeline. Here no top 5 education country spends less that 22% of its education budget on postsecondary education. In 2010 Bermuda spent 12% while Bahamas and Barbados spent 19 and 16%.

If this is beginning to sound like a post about infrastructure...it is. We have never viewed this as an economic problem of infrastructure and we should. In the same sense we think about an airport or tourism we must see the education and specifically the mathematics education of our children as a critical investment of our infrastructure. We have bantied about 'more with less' and 'share sacrifice' but they have led to false starts, unstained approaches, teacher burnout and frustration. No infrastructure problem has ever been solved without fiscal investment. We have plans but no investment. Meanwhile our private schools invest in STEM buildings and equipment and countries invest billions, public education children are left to squeeze through an already limited filter that is mathematics in Bermuda.

Even as I write there is a cadre of educators and supporters who continue to advocate for a real national commitment in the mathematical sciences. We must bring our highest fiscal resolve to the table.

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