Some college math professors believe that students are less prepared for their classes than they were a decade or two before.

No surprise there. Nor in the fact that they blame high schools.

But it’s the details of what they see as the cause that’s interesting.

Math professors in the Lehigh Valley laid the blame on integrated math programs that don’t emphasize basic skills, high-stakes testing and the push to give students higher-level math courses at increasingly younger ages.

“Many bright students are hurried through algebra and trigonometry courses on their way toward statistics and calculus,” said Marie Wilde, chairwoman of the mathematical and information sciences program at Cedar Crest College in Allentown.

“They arrive at college without the critical skills they should have spent much more time developing, rather than jumping prematurely into what has traditionally been considered college-level work.”

First of all, don’t let Jay Mathews see the part criticizing the “push to give students higher-level math courses at increasingly younger ages”. Remember, AP classes are the educational miracle drug.

More to the point, however, I doubt the problem is that students have spent too little time working on basic skills.

Considering that those rote processes are the primary focus of most standardized tests, and thus a large chunk of class time, I would argue that the kids have spent too much time on basic skills.

And not enough on the concepts needed to actually understand what the algorithms are used for and why they should be applied.

As to the basics skills desired by these professors, most of the students probably did “learn” them. But the knowledge was kept in their heads only long enough to pass the test.

They then expelled it, along with a large chunk of other trivia for which they had been offered no context and very little justification for why they should retain the information past graduation.