Congressional Hearing On
"The Federal Role in K-12 Mathematics Reform"
Committees involved in the hearings:
February 3, 2000
- Committee on Education and the Workforce
- Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth & Families and
- Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training & Lifelong Learning
Experts, Parents Fault Education's Math Curriculums
By Andrea Billups
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Department of Education was criticized yesterday before a House education subcommittee
for its endorsement of 10 controversial math programs that parents, mathematicians and
others have called unproven.
Those math programs drew strong recommendations from a department-convened panel, which
reviewed 61 different math curriculums and picked 10 as "exemplary" or
But one noted math scholar told members of the Education and Workforce subcommittee on
early childhood youth and families that the programs kept children from learning important
basic math skills and left them unprepared for higher course work.
"It is probably worth noting that at the present time there is no
valid research which shows that any
of the programs of this type are effective," said R. James Milgram, a math professor
at Stanford University.
In October, Mr. Milgram led a group of 200 math scholars who took out
full-page ads in national
newspapers urging Education Secretary Richard W. Riley to rescind his recommendations of
the math curriculums.
Mr. Riley declined.
"All but possibly one of the programs in the list recommended by the Department of
represent a single point of view towards teaching mathematics, the constructivist
philosophy that the
teacher is simply a facilitator," Mr. Milgram said of the programs, labeled by some
as "fuzzy math."
They included "core-plus math," "Mathland" and "connected
math," which is being piloted locally in
Montgomery County, Md., where it also has drawn criticism.
"Standard algorithms for operations like multiplication and division are not taught .
Mr.Milgram added. "Algebra is short-changed as well."
An increasing number of students must take remedial math courses as they enter college,
and a growing number of technical jobs in the United States must be filled by workers from
other countries. In 1998, U.S. high school seniors ranked fourth from last among students
from 21 industrialized nations in math.
C. Kent McGuire, an assistant secretary of education, defended the Education Department's
panel of experts, saying his department had an obligation to offer schools guidance on the
best programs that are available. The department was following a 1994 law requiring the
recommendations, but it is not allowed to tell school systems what they can teach.
Parents and students testified yesterday that the new math programs are leaving their
"If medical doctors experimented with our kids in the same fashion school districts
do, they would be in jail," said parent Mark Schwartz of Livonia, Mich., who decried
the "overreaching control" of the federal government in education.
University of Michigan freshman Rachel Tronstein said four years of taking a math program
called "core plus" in her high school "created calculator dependency"
and "created a group of students who are ashamed of their math ability."
In her first year of college she struggled, even with tutoring, to earn a B-minus in
calculus. In other courses, she earns A's.
Parent Susan Sarhady of Plano, Texas, told the subcommittee how she and other parents sued
their local school district after it refused to offer students a traditional math course
in addition to the district's connected-math curriculum.
"I would ask that much stricter controls be put into place to prevent schools from
programs without informed consent from the parents and the students," she said.
"Some of us have the fortitude to take on our local school districts, but we cannot
take on the
federal government as well. At the very least, the federal government should first do no