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Topic: Op-Ed by W.Schmid in Harvard Crimson
Replies: 7   Last Post: May 13, 2000 1:14 PM

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Posts: 65
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: News Journal - Delaware
Posted: May 5, 2000 10:23 PM
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The News Journal
Wilmington, Delaware

(a syndicated Gannett newspaper column, which also appeared in
The Ithaca Journal under title "Is 'new' teaching better?" -- and
probably elsewhere)


When teachers tolerate errors, parents

One of the most persistent
about American educators is
that they
are resistant to change.
Nothing could
be further from the truth.
Since the
1940s, and particularly
since the
1960s, they have
revolutionized the
way American's are taught
at every
level. It was an
revolution, discipline
academic specialty rather
than behavior

The fundamental question we are all facing now is
whether that
revolution was such a good idea. That is what
school and teacher
accountability is all about. The resistance it is
meeting in schools is
from educators who don't want to return to "old"

The furor arising over the newest "new math" is a
good example. In
1989, the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics set a new
standard for classroom work that basically took
the arithmetic out of
math. It was based on a widely held belief, in
teachers colleges as well
as school rooms, that more teachers could teach
math to more kids,
including difficult-to-teach, poor minority kids,
if rules and precision
were downplayed. A bevy of math variants
flourished, most
de-emphasizing rote learning and focusing on

Textbooks and pencil drills were pushed aside in
favor of hands-on
manipulation of objects to get across mathematical
ideas. Calculators
replaced the need for mental dexterity. Right
answers were less
important than the effort to get close. Estimating
and rounding
became shortcuts around formulaic and accurate

Educators who pushed this new "constructivist"
math argued that it
made math easier and more fun for more students.
Parent angered
because they had to hire tutors to help their kids
get into good
colleges argued that it was a way for more
teachers with fewer skills to
look good with less work. Constructivist math,
which allows individuals
to choose their own methods for reaching
"reasonably accurate"
answers, lets all but the snoozers look like
decent math students.

Enough is enough

Contructivist math has its parallels in reading
(whole language) and
writing (where spelling and punctuation become
subservient to intent
and content). It is these three revolutionary
changes in pedagogy that
make many people -- including me -- claim that
educators have
dumbed down curricula, more for their own benefit
than the students.

It has flung open the door to retro-reformers such
as Republican state Rep. Wayne Smith of Delaware.
Smith, who is from a family full of public school
teachers, just pushed through a neighborhood schools law
that will have profound impact on a city/suburban
system now integrated by 20 years of busing. He has a
package of 10 more bills lined up that are even
more controversial.

His package includes legislation that would
require grouping of high, average and low achievers and would
steer more kids toward vocational education in
eighth grade. It would allow any college grad to take the test
to become a certified teacher after a year of
classroom work with a master teacher. It would require teaching
U.S. and state history before other cultural
studies, and rote learning of math rules and ban calculators from
elementary schools. It would require phonics to be
used to teach reading in the early grades.

It would allow a teacher to refuse an
administrator's request to let a disruptive student back into her
classroom, and prohibit anybody but the classroom
teacher from changing a student's grade. And it would
require the state to pay for litigation over
student placement and discipline.

This "back to the future" legislative package
might seem outrageous to a lot of educators, but, trust me, it is
going to appeal to a lot of angry parents who
think schools are letting their children down. These kinds of
changes should not have to be legislated. The fact
that such bills are peeking over the horizon in
legislatures from Maine to Oregon means one thing:
public trust in educators is evaporating a lot faster than
they think.

Reach Norman Lockman at 324-2857 or

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