105 Peavey Rd, Ste 116

Chaska, MN 55318

952-361-4931

www.edwatch.org

The Havoc Wrought by Today's "Modern" Math

October 8, 2004

Dr Charles Ormsby, author of the following editorial published in the

The town is piloting several new math programs, among them, the controversial and still experimental program

North Andover's superintendent was formerly superintendent of Reading, MA where

Concerned Parents of Reading MA

Informed Residents of Reading MA

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

North Andover Citizen

Friday, September 24, 2004

If you are a parent of elementary school children you've probably seen it:

- elaborate make-work homework assignments,
- cutting and pasting extravaganzas,
- overly complex and roundabout procedures to add or multiply numbers,
- estimation exercises that won't quit, and
- the use of calculators in place of traditional arithmetic methods.

You thought: "Of course, the educational professionals must know what they
are doing. Once my children catch on to these clever techniques, they will
develop into mathematics geniuses!" Unfortunately, what you discover is that
they never learn the core facts and methods, their confusion grows, they lose
their self-confidence, they decide they just can't do math, and you are stuck
paying for tutoring. Even worse, children who might have become exceptional
mathematicians, engineers, or scientists are denied their rightful future.

What went wrong? Years ago the educational establishment decided that teaching
mathematics had to either consist of rote memorization (without real
understanding) or students had to discover mathematics through trial and error,
because it was assumed that only 'if they discovered it themselves' would they
truly understand it. While this view presented a false choice (there are much
better alternatives), the educational community was sold on the second
alternative, because it had an intellectual cache that was lacking in "rote
memorization."

What resulted are the various "modern" math curricula for our children that
under-emphasize learning math facts, that bend over backward to avoid teaching
standard methods for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, and
that refuse to teach traditional processes for manipulating fractions.

Almost all our public schools today use one of the "modern" math curricula and
millions of promising math-based technology careers are being ruined every
year.

Permit me a short excursion. I have a technical/engineering background (Ph.D.
MIT, '74) that rests largely on advanced mathematics. One reason I followed
this path is that, as a student, I always had poor memorization skills and,
therefore, subjects such as biology, chemistry, and foreign languages were very
difficult for me. I loved math and physics because there was very little
memorization; I could derive any formula I needed during a test. "Understanding"
was a much more powerful asset for me than memorization.

If anyone would be inclined to favor understanding over memorization, it would
be me. But the modern math is a disaster. I'm convinced that if I had been
"taught" math with it 50 years ago, I would probably have become a poet (my
English teacher is rolling over in her grave).

So do I favor just rote memorization? Of course not. Successful math education
requires that students learn the techniques that true geniuses have developed
over the last 3000 years. You may think the standard technique used to add
numbers is trivial (place value concepts, carrying, etc.), but it was not
obvious to the ancient Greek philosophers. Multiplication, long division, and
fractions are even more complex. Teaching the techniques first, and then
exploring the underlying concepts and why these techniques work is the most
efficient way to achieve true understanding. If Socrates and Aristotle couldn't
invent our modern arithmetic system, why do we think the typical third or fourth
grader can?

The impact of "modern" math on students in the US has been devastating. Just
look at how the US stands up against other countries.

Place an equal emphasis on method mastery AND conceptual understanding, and you
have the makings of a powerful elementary math curriculum -- a curriculum that
leads to real learning, that builds self-esteem and, rarest of all, a child that
comes home and says, "Hey mom, I really love math!"

This approach to math education is not new. It is what a well-taught,
traditional mathematics course always emphasized. In some cases, poor teaching
may have led to over-emphasis on rote memorization drills, but that is no reason
to stop teaching the critically important mathematical methods.

**How are we doing with early mathematics education in this area?** As the
table shows, not very well. While the differences in scores between towns/cities
may be accounted for by socio-economic factors, the percent of students who are
not proficient (meaning they scored as "Needs Improvement" or "Warning/Failing")
in fourth grade (90 percent in Lawrence, 60 percent in Methuen, 50 percent in
North Andover, and 34 percent in Andover) cannot be excused. Even worse is the
lack of progress after four more years of what passes for math "education".

**2003 MCAS SCORES (Percent ADVANCED OR PROFICIENT)
Town/City **-

- Andover -- 66% - 76% - 66%
- Lawrence - 10% - 9% - 9%
- Methuen -- 40% - 41% - 34%
- No Andover - 50% - 51% - 60%

AVERAGE -- 42% - 44% - 42%

The trend towards "modern" math may finally be slowing. Parents are upset with
the lack of a rigorous math curriculum and the need to hire tutors or enroll
their children in remedial after school programs. A nationwide movement is
growing to expose the failures of "modern" math and restore an academically
sound curriculum. For information, visit
__
www.mathematicallycorrect.com__.