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Fwd: How to End the Math Wars
Posted:
Nov 20, 2006 3:59 PM



This comes to us courtesy of Jerry Becker. Interesting reading....
Linda
Linda Gojak President, NCSM Supporting Leadership in Mathematics Education CMSETT John Carroll University 216 397 4574 (o) www.ncsmonline.org lgojak@sbcglobal.net
The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it. ...Chinese Proverb
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Jerry Becker <jbecker@SIU.EDU> > Date: November 20, 2006 2:42:30 PM EST > To: JERRYPBECKERUSAL@listserv.siu.edu > Subject: How to End the Math Wars > ReplyTo: Jerry Becker <jbecker@SIU.EDU> > > *********************** > From TIME.com, Sunday, November 19, 2006. See http://www.time.com/ > time/magazine/article/0,9171,1561144,00.html > *********************** > How to End the Math Wars > > We have a new formula for teaching kids. Don't let ideology ruin it > this time > > By Claudia Wallis > > American education isÂ every bit asÂ polarized, red and blue, as > American politics. On the crimson, conservative end of the spectrum > are those who adhere to the backtobasics credo: Kids, practice > those spelling words and times tables, sit still and listen to the > teacher; school isn't meant to be funhard work builds character. > On the opposite, indigo extreme are the currently unfashionable > "progressives," who believe that learning should be like breathing > natural and relaxed, that school should take its cues from a > child's interests. As in politics, good sense lies toward the > center, but the pendulum keeps sweeping sharply from right to left > and back again. And the kids end up whiplashed. > > Since the Reading Wars of the '90s, the U.S. has largely gone red. > Remember the Reading Wars? In the '80s, educators embraced "whole > language" as the key to teaching kids to love reading. Instead of > using "See Dick and Jane run" primers, gradeschool teachers taught > reading with authentic kid lit: storybooks by respected authors, > like Eric Carle (Polar Bear, Polar Bear). They encouraged 5 and 6 > yearolds to write with "inventive spelling." It was fun. Teachers > felt creative. The founders of whole language never intended it to > displace the teaching of phonics or proper spelling, but that's > what happened in many places. The result was a generation of kids > who couldn't spell, including a high percentage who had to be > turned over to specialed instructors to learn how to read. That > eventually ushered in the current joyless backtophonics movement, > with its endless hours of readingskill drills. Welcome back, Dick > and Jane. > > Now we're into the Math Wars. With American kids foundering on > state math exams and getting clobbered on international tests by > their peers in Singapore and Belgium, parents and policymakers have > been searching for a culprit. They've found it in the math > equivalent of whole languagesocalled fuzzy math, an object of > parental contempt from coast to coast. Fuzzy math, properly called > reform math, is the bastard child of teaching standards introduced > by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (N.C.T.M) in > 1989. Like whole language, it was a sensible approach that got > distorted into a parody of itself. The reform standards, for > instance, called for teaching the uses of a calculator and > estimation, but some educators took that as a license to stop > drilling the multiplication tables, skip past long division and > give lots of partial credit for wrong answers. "Some of the > textbooks and materials were absolutely hideous," says R. James > Milgram, a professor of mathematics at Stanford. > > Adding to the math morass was the fact that 49 states (all but > Iowa) devised their own math standards, with up to 100 different > goals for each grade level. Textbook publishers responded with > textbooks that tried to incorporate every goal of every state. > "There are some 700page thirdgrade math books out there," says > N.C.T.M.'s current president Francis (Skip) Fennell, professor of > education at Maryland's McDaniel College. > > Now the N.C.T.M. itself has come riding to the rescue. In a notably > slim document, it has identified just three essential goals, or > "focal points," for each grade from preK to eighth, none of them > fuzzy, all of them building blocks for higher math. In fourth > grade, for instance, the group recommends focusing on the quick > recall of multiplication facts, a deep understanding of decimals > and the ability to measure and compute the area of rectangles, > circles and other shapes. "Our objective," says Fennell, "is to get > conversations going at the state level about what really is > important." In recent weeks, that's begun to happen. Florida and > Utah and half a dozen other states are talking about revising their > math standards to match the pareddown approach. That pleases > academic mathematicians like Milgram, who notes that this kind of > instruction is what works in mathproficient nations like Singapore. > > So do we have a solution to the national math problem? We certainly > have the correct formula. The question is, Can we apply it? Already > the N.C.T.M.'s focal points are being called a backtobasics > movement, another swing of the ideological pendulum rather than a > fresh look at what it would take to get more kids to calculus by > 12th grade. If the script follows that of the Reading Wars, what > comes next will be dreary timestables recitals in unison, dull new > books that fail to inspire understanding, and drill, drill, drill, > much like the unhappy scenes in many of today's "Reading First" > classrooms. And that would be just another kind of math fiascoof > the red variety. Kids will learn their times tables for sure, but > they'll also learn to hate math. > *************************************** >  > Jerry P. Becker > Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction > Southern Illinois University > 625 Wham Drive > Mail Code 4610 > Carbondale, IL 629014610 > Phone: (618) 4534241 [O] > (618) 4578903 [H] > Fax: (618) 4534244 > Email: jbecker@siu.edu



