Parts 3, 4 and 5 and their enclosures of the Open Letter to NCTM President Jack Price are being resubmitted in more readable form.
3. The Need for Reform Reform! Don't we wish that our students could again attain the higher performance levels they reached in the 40s, 50s and early 60s? Instead of talking about "reform" we should be talking about regaining lost ground.
Keep in mind that when the Standards writers talk about reform they are talking about curriculum and teaching reform not about social reform that would send kids to school ready to learn (Goal 1). Has the council considered the implications of this situation? (See Enclosure 3 Crisis in school mathematics due to social conditions for which standards provide no remedy)
Enclosure 3 Crisis in school mathematics due to social conditions for which Standards provide no remedy.
The standards writers have failed to provide an analysis of existing conditions in order to show a need for these changes. While they refer briefly to "A Nation at Risk" they do not seem to realize that conditions deleterious to learning have intensified by at least one order of magnitude in the last 30 years. Consider that not all pupils are clear-eyed seekers of truth from Central Casting with unlimited time for data gathering and individual conferences. A very substantial number of our "students" come to school in no condition to learn. It is difficult to teach students who, due to social conditions outside of school, are bone-tired, terrified, drug sodden or absent. As Clarence Page says, "The public schools have become a dumping ground for the problems of the larger society." Maybe--just maybe--this has something to do with lower test scores. Plans to reform our schools overlook that about half of our youngsters grow up in families that are not adequately instilling traits that are pedagogically essential. Frequent divorces, a bewildering rotation of significant others, and parents who come home from work exhausted both physically and mentally have left many homes with a tremendous parenting deficit. Instead of providing a stable home environment and the kind of close, loving supervision that character formation requires, many child-care arrangements simply ensure that children will stay out of harm's way. As a result, personality traits essential for the acquisition of math, English and various vocational skills are often lacking. Children come to school without self-discipline, and they cannot defer gratification. Nor can they concentrate on, or mobilize themselves for, the tasks at hand.*
But an influential group of our math educators, who are insulated from these unpleasant classroom realities, seem to be completely unaware of the appalling school conditions that are prevalent in many depressed areas of our country including our inner cities. They have seized upon the present emergency, that was largely caused by these conditions, to proclaim a need for far-reaching changes in teaching and curriculum that have little substantive support in either research or experience and are not relevant to the problems that beset us. (The Titanic has hit an iceberg and is sinking. Let's rearrange the deck chairs.) The suburban schools in affluent areas don't need these changes. Their math departments are staffed by an elite group of highly trained, highly skilled professionals. While some suburban schools are beginning to have their problems (the rise of gangs and the sentiment that only "geeks" do homework) they are already incredibly good insofar as curriculum and instruction is concerned. The problems confronting schools in our depressed areas are, for the most part, not amenable to the changes proposed in the Standards. Since the Standard's writers have misapprehended the cause of the present crisis in school mathematics, how can we trust their solution?
Frank B. Allen
*From an article entitled, "First, educate the reformers" by the nationally syndicated writer Amitai Etzioni. (Chicago Tribune 7/9/91)