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Topic: NYTimes article on "parent rebellion."
Replies: 9   Last Post: May 20, 2000 9:33 AM

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Posts: 65
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: NYTimes - E Carson
Posted: Apr 29, 2000 3:40 PM
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This opinion piece was written by E Carson, who was quoted in the New
York Times article about mathematics education. The site, Education
News, was then linked to the Mathematically Correct site, where it is
now on display.
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The District Two Parents' Math Committee

It may be the most important skill taught in
the New York public schools, one that will
determine whether children excel in the fields
of science and technology, yet our district
administrators have adopted one of the most
controversial math curricula in the country - one
that the nation's top mathematicians, including
seven Nobel Laureates, the department heads
at more than a dozen universities, including
Caltech, Stanford, and Yale, math and physics
professors from UC Berkeley, the University of
Chicago, Harvard, Princeton and Stanford,
along with two former Presidents of the
Mathematical Association of America, all denounce.

The refusal to acknowledge the importance of
teaching simple computation may doom
22,000 students in 44 schools in District Two
alone to remedial levels. The majority may be
condemned to enter high school without basic
computational skills, such as addition,
subtraction, multiplication and division.
Students, for example, are not taught in these
programs how to multiply two-digit numbers or
divide fractions.

"These programs are among the worst in
existence," said David Klein, a Cal State
Northridge math professor who helped author the
letter of protest to the Secretary of
Education, Richard W. Riley. "It would be a
joke, except for the damaging effect it has on

The letter, dated November 1999, urging
Secretary Riley to withdraw his endorsement of ten
experimental math programs, was also signed by
Nobel laureates in physics Steven Chu
(1997), Sheldon Lee Glashow (1997), Leon M.
Ledermen (1998) and Steven Weinberg
(1979) and two winners of the Fields Medal, the
top honor in mathematics

This week, The National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics (NCTM) released the first
major revision of the 1989 standards, adding
language emphasizing the importance of basic
computational skills. The new standards
instantly obsolete every one of the "exemplary"
programs endorsed by the United States
Department of Education last October. The Expert
Panel recommendations were based, in part, on
faithfulness to the old NCTM standards,
which de-emphasized instruction of the standard
algorithms of arithmetic addition,
subtraction, multiplication and division.

It was the introduction of the Connected
Mathematics Project (CMP) and Technical
Education Resource Center (TERC), the mandated
curriculum for all elementary and middle
students in District Two, in the Palo Alto
school system that sparked the initial parent revolt
which became the California Mathematics Wars. A
similar program known as Everyday
Mathematics sparked a rebellion by parents in
the Princeton Township School District. The
use of TERC in one school system in
Massachusetts prompted members of the Harvard
Mathematics Department to issue a public

The standard algorithms of arithmetic - the
procedures for doing basic math -- are not just
ways to find an answer to a math problem. They
have theoretical as well as practical
significance. All algorithms prepare students
for algebra since there are, because of the
decimal system, the link between the arithmetic
of ordinary numbers and algebraic equations.
But over and above this, learning how to
compute is one of the keys to forming young
minds, showing them how to think logically and
organize facts.

Mathematically Correct, a national organization
that reviews school curricula, gave the TERC
method in second and fifth grades its lowest
rating -- an F.

Steven Leinwand, who was the co-chairman of the
panel drawn up by The Office of
Education Research and Improvements, designed
to evaluate and recommend the country's
math curricula, is a strong supporter of the
math reforms adopted in some New York public
schools. He does not hide his disdain for basic
math skills.

"It's time to recognize that, for many
students, real mathematical power, on the one hand,
and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper
computational algorithms, on the other, are
mutually exclusive," he wrote in an article
entitled "It's Time to Abandon Computational
Algorithms," published February 9, 1994, in
Education Week on the Web. "In fact, it's time
to acknowledge that continuing to teach these
skills to our students is not only unnecessary,
but counterproductive and downright dangerous."
Japanese and Chinese teachers forbid the use of calculators or
computers in math class, until
high school, knowing that students must learn
to grasp concepts and operations to solve
problems. But the use of calculators in
elementary " reform math" classrooms is common;
we have condemned our aspiring scientists and
mathematicians to learn elementary skills in

In California, one of the first states to adopt
the new math programs, 54% of the incoming
students in the California State University
system must take remedial mathematics -
intermediate algebra or lower. The university
draws from the top 30 percent of graduating
California high-school classes.

The new math programs have only been in the New
York schools for five or six years, so its
effects in the upper levels are only now being

The number of technical degrees awarded to US
citizens is approximately 28,000 a year,
although there are an estimated 100,000 new
jobs in these areas available yearly. And so,
since we do not train our own, we import
educated talent from abroad. Last year, Congress
was forced to provide 142,500 new visas for
foreign nationals with high-tech skills for the
three years from 1999 to 2001.

"In a world without math, the next generation
of computers goes undeveloped, bridges and
skyscrapers go unconstructed, the Internet is
shut down and the opportunities for tomorrow
are never realized." - President Clinton,
December 9, 1999.

One would think that math is the last area we
would allow to be turned over to school
bureaucrats, whose almost evangelical promotion
of the latest math reform seems to have
gone far astray from the primary goal of
educating our children.

ELIZABETH CARSON, has a 12-year-old son in
District Two. She heads the District Two
Parents' Math Committee.


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