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Asian Math Lessons

What is that high-performing Asian nations get right, when it comes to math teaching? A pair of researchers have explored that question in a new study, which examines the standards of Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea by creating a "composite" of their expectations in that subject.

Those nations limit the repetition of topics across grades 1-6, as others have noted. But researchers Steven Leinwand and Alan Ginsburg also find that the three nations concentrate heavily on numbers, measurement and geometry, with less emphasis on data analysis and little exposure to algebra. Those countries also sequence lessons logically, so that one topic builds on another, and they order content so that it reinforces students' knowledge of other concepts, they found. Ginsburg is a U.S. Department of Education official who has studied Asian nations' approaches to education extensively; Leinwand has also written a great deal on the topic for the American Institutes for Research, which published the study. It was prepared for the Asia-Pacific Development Cooperation, or APEC. (The authors note that the report does not represent the views of the U.S. Department of Ed, or APEC.)

Policymakers, particularly those shaping the ongoing effort to draft common K-12 standards across states, would be wise to look closely at the three countries' approach, the researchers say. The composite of the Asian nation's math standards, they say, "offer a theoretically and empirically valid international benchmark for the development of common U.S. standards in mathematics."

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