This page is to provide answers to some of the common misconceptions and questions that come up regarding Singapore Math. If you would like to ask a question, please contact us and we will post the questions and answers here.
Many questions can be answered by just reading the resources page so we encourage you to read that before asking us a question.
Q) What exactly is NASA Standards Math? NASA doesn't have a math program.
A) NASA, along with all of our high-tech industry, is in a critical shortage of American workers who are competent in math. NASA Standards Math (this IS rocket science) is a term coined by the working group to help people visualize a target of improved preparation much like the original moonshot and more recent Mars Rover projects. In short, it is an educational option that asks the state schools to utilize the very best programs available to promote Utah as the premier state for math education. It is hoped that NASA and other high-tech industries will automatically look first to Utah for future employees.
Q) Doesn't Singapore have 280 day school years and that's why they do better?
A) No, they have 200 day school years, a bit longer than American schools. Utah has 180 school days per year. 280 days in school would mean attending on the weekends as well as weekdays.
Q) Doesn't Singapore push their students so hard that it destroys their love for education?
A) Singapore students get between 1 to 1.5 hours of homework a night from all subjects including reading and writing in their journal. They have extracurricular clubs, music, and sports comparable with American peers. Their school experience is actually very similar to America but they focus on using the best possible math curriculum and therefore achieve superior results. Creativity is not created or destroyed in a math classroom. It is a product of individual freedom and desire.
Q) Does this mean every school will be forced onto Singapore math?
A) No. The state would gear its resources toward the Singapore math curriculum, including professional development, teacher standards, student standards, and so on, but individual schools and districts would be left with the choice to stay on their current program or move toward the state's direction on Singapore math. There may be financial incentives for districts and schools who would like to make the switch.
Q) Can you detail out how everything will work to make such an implementation?
A) Not all the details have been worked out. The purpose of this letter is to set the
goal firmly in the minds of those involved and then develop the details of the implementation. The legislature foresees legislation making grants available to schools with an opportunity for them to compete for the grants.
Q) What would be the approximate timeline for implementing the program?
A) For Singapore math, K-3 and Grade 7 would be implemented for school year 2009-10; 4-5 and 8 the following year: and Grade 6 the following year. Upper grades 9-12 could have their texts standardized as soon as possible and phased in over a few years.
Q) Who made this site and why are you doing this? What is your incentive or what special interests are involved?
A) The individuals involved are legislators, educators, business leaders, and concerned parents who recognize the critical and singular importance that a superior math education provides to students. We recognize that all students can learn math with the proper program, teachers, and individual effort as noted in the recent National Math Panel Report. The individual names of the people involved in preparing this website based on discussions are:
Senate President John Valentine
Senator Howard Stephenson
Senator Margaret Dayton
Dr. David Wright
Q) What do you have to gain if Singapore math is adopted?
A) Personally we have nothing to gain financially as individuals. What we have to gain as a state is the massive increase in technical skill that is in critical shortage in our country. Utah has the opportunity to become the high-tech state employers want to base their workforce in because of our superior skills. This will take time and money, but the legislature is willing to fund this important goal.
Q) Aren't Singapore students tracked so that by 8th grade they've already pulled out all the best students and those are the ones that take the TIMSS exam? Isn't it the college bound students in Singapore and ALL students in the U.S. taking the exam?
A) This is a common myth perpetuated in some circles. The TIMSS exam represents a cross section of all students in the countries taking the exam. Proof of this can be found by examining the 4th grade results which show a nearly identical division in math comprehension as the results at 8th grade. In both cases about 40% of Singapore students are shown to have an advanced comprehension of math, while American students are around 7%.
(TIMSS: Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study)
Q) TIMSS is a multiple choice test that does not assess 'authentic' knowledge.
Singapore students have been successful on multiple choice, short answer tasks where you need to apply a known algorithm that has been practiced extensively. That is what TIMSS and many of the other tests test. The problem is what happens when we get off the "script"?
A) It is still telling that US students cannot do as well on questions that are "on the script". As far as "authentic" assessment, the TIMSS exam is fairly complex and requires knowing how to interpret multi-step word problems. Knowing where and when to apply a known algorithm is an essential part of the learning process, called "scaffolding" in education circles, and is a necessary step in mathematical development. Such scaffolding is necessary to get students to the point that they can answer "off the script" type questions. Tests that assess "authentic" skills are usually nothing more than vague, ill-defined problems for which many different answers and approaches generally suffice.
Q) What is wrong with the block schedule?
A) There are two problems. First, students need daily instruction time to perform well in music, athletics, and mathematics. Second, students need adequate instruction time. In Singapore students average 4 hours of math instruction per week for 40 week. In Utah we have a 36 week school year. If we average four hours per week, we will have 90% of the Singapore instruction time. If we use the time well, there is some chance that we can compete. On the block schedule, students lose 1/8 of their instruction time when compared to the seven period schedule. Utah students would then be at 79% of Singapore instruction time. On the trimester system, Utah students lose 2/9 of the instruction time when compared to the seven period schedule. That would give Utah students 70% of the Singapore instruction time. When you add late starts, early outs, half days, teacher quality days, etc. Utah students are getting even less instruction time.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends, “All students need to be engaged in learning challenging mathematics for at least one hour a day at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.”
Q) How much does Singapore math cost?
A) The cost of Singapore math is typically less than other programs for the books, but training is more expensive because it requires more math knowledge from teachers than is currently required. Books for Singapore math are about $15 per school year for textbooks and another $15 for workbooks which also eliminates copy expenses for homework pages.
Q) How do we know the legislature is going to fund this?
A) Having so many legislators on board is part of what is needed to ensure things get funded properly. We have personally spoken with many of them and they are excited about this and excited about putting funding toward something they feel will really make a difference. Their signature is their commitment to fund this initiative.
Q) Singapore math won't work well in Utah because it doesn't meet our standards, right?
A) Thus item 2 of the letter is on the list because we will need to change our standards to accomodate the change. Utah's standards are not world class and so it is comparing apples to oranges to compare the two.