Hi Ho Nate Silver

It’s the Friday after Nov 6, Florida has finished its final vote tally and this election cycle has come to an end (mercifully for us swing state voters!). But the big winner in this long campaign wasn’t on any ballot. It was the numbers-crunchers, led by the 538 master Nate Silver, whose predictions turned out to be spot on by identifying changing demographics and voter attitudes better than the pundits. Mathematics — take your victory lap.

CPE is all about data and research, so we celebrate when the data geeks come out on top. That’s why it was so jarring when I came across this quote from a Johns Hopkins mathematician no less:

You never see a question about statistics or probability on a college placement exam, thus making statistics and probability irrelevant for college preparation.

W. Stephen Wilson was referring to the emphasis data, probability and statistics (DPS) get in the new common core state standards for math. He had other criticisms of the CCSS, too, but his dismissal of DPS really stood out.

Now as a poor refugee from literary criticism programs, I’m really not in a position to question a mathematician. And given his credentials, I’m sure he is speaking knowledgeably about what it takes to succeed in his academic department.  Fortunately, I have data to speak for me.

David Conley and his team at the University of Oregon surveyed over 1,800 faculty of two- and four-year postsecondary institutions nationwide. The respondents were asked about the relevance of the CCSS for freshman general education courses and workforce training programs. The mathematicians among them rated DPS at slightly over 3 on a 4-point scale of importance. The instructors overall ranked DPS 2.9, or “more important” for success in freshman courses. The importance rating for DPS was comparable to number and quantity, algebra and functions. CCSS mathematical practices had the highest math ratings, standards that Wilson also pooh-poohed by the way.

This is important for us to keep in mind because Wilson isn’t alone. Indeed, other mathematicians have also been critical of CCSS and their views are being promoted by organizations like the Pioneer Institute that have political objections to the common core.

We also need to remember that college preparation is only one purpose of public education. Knowledge of data, probability and statistics is essential to performing a growing number of jobs, as well as conducting our day-to-day lives. Plus, to this data-phile, DPS is the math of citizenship.  I think this recent election proves it–Patte Barth


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