EDUCATION FOR A FREE NATION
105 Peavey Rd, Suite 116, Chaska, MN 55318
September 28, 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 "
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 education students 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.
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