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February 9, 2006

If We Really Hope to Improve Mathematics Education
By Allen Quist

President Bush has clarified that his education agenda will now focus on improving math and science education in K-12 schools. That is a noble goal, but while President Bush attempts to add on to the many federal initiatives in math and science education, he should also put a stop to the severe damage being done by the federal government to the math education of our kids.

The U.S. Department Of Education (DOE) interprets the 1994 education funding bill, HR6, as giving it the authority to establish "voluntary" national content standards in all subject areas including mathematics. This reading has allowed DOE to aggressively promote the national math standards which in turn advocate a new -- and highly controversial -- approach to teaching mathematics known as " integrated math."

Over 1 billion dollars, most of it our tax money, has been funneled through the National Science Foundation ( NSF ) to promote these national math standards and integrated math. Because of the role that DOE and NSF have played in promoting the math standards, 1/3 of our kids are now being schooled in integrated math instead of traditional math. 

The problem is that integrated math does not work. The national standards which call for integrated math were not written by experts in mathematics as one might suppose; they were written by the education establishment, by the education innovators George Will described as dominated by constructivist ideology. As a consequence of this world view, the national math standards can be described as "constructivist math."  This new math is more commonly identified as " integrated math"  or "fuzzy math,"  and is sometimes called " multicultural math."

California formally adopted integrated math in 1992. The result was a catastrophic decline in student math scores. The decline in math achievement was so dramatic that California reversed itself five year later. As could be expected, the consequences of the experiment conspicuously manifested itself when students trained in integrated math entered California's system of higher education. Nationally-recognized math scholar David Klein reported what happened as follows:

The percentage of entering freshmen failing an entry level math test used by the [23 campus California State University] CSU system and requiring remedial courses, steadily increased from 23% in 1989 to 54% in each of 1997 and 1998. [" A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century," prepublication edition.] 

Other math scholars are well-aware of the devastating consequences of integrated math. Dr. Fred Greenleaf, Professor of Mathematics at New York University, commented on New York City's recent adoption of integrated math as follows:
I had no idea just how bad the NCTM-based [constructivist] math programs being introduced in the city really were. It is clear to us [now, however,] that the NCTM programs, if they remain in place, are going to have a terrifically negative impact on the prospects of all students who aspire to college. [Paper delivered to the National Association of Scholars Convention, May 22, 2004, p. 1] 
Why would the national standards advocate an approach to mathematics that is clearly damaging to students as well as to our nation? The reason is the standards are based on ideology, not practicality. They are based on the politics and worldview of the education cartel.

They are based on the constructivist's love affair with discovery learning, groups projects and the redefinition of teachers as "guides on the side," not instructors. Integrated math has students using calculators in the early grades instead of having them master the basic math tables. Students are also taught the themes of environmentalism and multiculturalism in their math classes. There is a Robin Hood effect in educationstudents studying environmental issues in math class are not spending the time they need on real math to prepare them for college.
Many of the advocates of integrated math see math in postmodernist terms. For example, Jack Price, former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (the authors of the national math standards), said: "Traditional math is good for high socioeconomic-status white males."  The implication is that math was designed by powerful white males to keep everyone else under their control. That is why the first edition of the national math standards said that learning the arithmetic tables could be bad for students! Why teach real math if it is essentially a power-trip?

This constructivist (and postmodernist) ideology of the education elite is echoed by the national standards for social studies which say:
Knowledge is constructed by learners as they attempt to fit new information, experiences, feelings, and relationships into their existing or emerging intellectual, aesthetic, and emotional constructs.
All the national standards are based on this constructivist/postmodernist ideology of the education monopoly. That is why the U.S. Senate voted against the national history standards by a margin of 99 to 1. Was that vote the end of the history standards? Not at all. DOE simply had them repackaged and put into effect. 

If President Bush really hopes to improve math education in our country, he absolutely must take control of DOE and scrap the failed experiment known as integrated math. While he is at it, he needs to eliminate the other national standards as well. They are based on the same false worldview that underlies fuzzy math.

Allen Quist is Adjunct Professor of Political Science at Bethany Lutheran College, Mankato, Minnesota, and is a former three-term Minnesota state legislator. He is also author of three recent books on the federal education system.

More on integrated math
And more
Personal testimony
Congressional Testimony

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