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Math "Reform?" - Part I

December 8, 2002

Controversy over math curriculum continues to heat up all over the country. The short version of the math wars is that parents and the public generally want a back to the basics approach to math, where students first learn to calculate, memorize and drill. Reformers consider that a waste of time calling the traditional math approach "drill and kill"

For example, in Quakertown, Pennsylvania last week, came this story.

"The new math curriculum - called Core-Plus at the high school and Connected Math at the middle schools - is intended to move beyond memorization and teach students practical applications of math. Like many districts around the region, Quakertown educators sought to develop a math program that would build on students' strong understanding of basic math by spending more time on problem solving and math concepts.

"The new math programs don't rely on the formulas, repetition, memorization or rote computation of traditional math courses, or even a traditional textbook. Instead, students work in small groups, often using calculators, to solve real-world problems. The programs also demand more writing than traditional math approaches.

"But the students aren't learning the basics, parents at Monday's meeting contend. And the students need a solid understanding of the basics if they are to understand the more complex aspects of math, the parents said."

And in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, the standards-based elementary math curriculum "Investigations" is described by one parent as "a train wreck waiting to happen."

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) sets the national standards for math in this country. Federal law ("No Child Left Behind") grants federal money (directly from "No Child Left Behind" and from the National Science Foundation) to create curriculum aligned with the NCTM "reform standards." This is what is commonly referred to as "standards based math."

University Math Professor Dr. Bill Quirk of Connecticut ("Who is Bill Quirk,") stated, "Opponents call it 'fuzzymath' or 'new-new math.' Regardless of the name, 'reform math' is characterized by a rejection of traditional K-12 math content and an endorsement of 'constructivist' teaching methods." (http://wgquirk.com/#reform)

From the front page of "2 + 2 = 4: Mathematically Correct,": "Mathematics achievement in America is far below what we would like it to be. Recent 'reform' efforts only aggravate the problem. As a result, our children have less and less exposure to rigorous, content-rich mathematics.

"The advocates of the new, fuzzy math have practiced their rhetoric well. They speak of higher-order thinking, conceptual understanding and solving problems, but they neglect the systematic mastery of the fundamental building blocks necessary for success in any of these areas. Their focus is on things like calculators, blocks, guesswork, and group activities and they shun things like algorithms and repeated practice. The new programs are shy on fundamentals and they also lack the mathematical depth and rigor that promotes greater achievement.

"Concerned parents are in a state of dismay and have begun efforts to restore content, rigor, and genuinely high expectations to mathematics education." Their site provides background and information for parents, teachers, board members and the public from around the country."

Another site that provides resources for people battling the fuzzy math is New York City HOLD (Honest Open Logical Debate on Mathematics Education Reform))

Parents in individual school districts across the country have risen up to demand a back-to-the basics math in their schools. Here are a few examples:

Core Plus Math Dumped in Austin
Parents Testify in Congress About Math Programs
University of Minnesota Professor Speaks Out
EP math curriculum topic of Dec. 2 meeting

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