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Southwestern University President Available to Talk About Math Education in the Public Schools

In Texas recently, there has been considerable discussion about whether or not high school students should be required to take two years of algebra. Dr. Edward B. Burger, president of Southwestern University and an award-winning professor of mathematics, says this is an excellent example of investing time, money and effort to answer the wrong question.

“The right questions for all of us are: What positive and profound lifelong habits of effective thinking are we offering within all of our math classes? And if the content of the algebra curriculum will be quickly forgotten after the last required exam (or even before), then why bother to offer any algebra? ” President Burger wrote in a recent op-ed piece that appeared in the Austin American-Statesman.

President Burger says that currently, too many of our math classes—as well as other classes—focus on mindless memorization and repetition that is designed to game a system focused on scores on standardized tests that measure the ability to perform a certain act—an act that requires neither deep understanding of the content nor the necessity to make meaning of the material.

“Like magic, the moment the final exam is over, poof, the material is forgotten and magically disappears,” he says.

To underscore this point, President Burger notes that the overlap of content in middle school algebra, Algebra I and Algebra II is conservatively around 60 percent, and more realistically around 75 percent.

“We need to replace our current math classes with meaningful mathematical experiences that teach students how to think through math rather than simply memorize formulas about math,” he says.

President Burger may be reached at 512-863-1454 or burger@southwestern.edu.