From NCTM News Bulletin, July/August 1998, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp. 1, 4
NCTM Responds to "Math Wars" Report
"Math wars have ignited," said reporter Lee Hochberg on a News Hour with Jim Lehrer segment titled "Math Wars." Aired on 11 May 1998, the segment aimed to show the disagreements and concerns about the different ways mathematics can be taught. In a letter to the News Hour, NCTM President Glenda Lappan sought to clarify several points. You can see the full transcript of "Math Wars" on the Web at www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/ education/jan-june98/math_5-11.html. Here are excerpts from Lappan's letter:
"I do not deny the fact that debates over how math should be taught exist throughout the country and even the world. One of the core issues surrounding the debate continues to be the teaching of basics in the mathematics classroom. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics strongly upholds the belief that students should 'model, explain, and develop proficiency with basic facts and algorithms.' Yet, NCTM believes that is not enough.
"To be successful in today's world, students need proficiency with basic facts and they must be adept in reasoning, problem solving, and communicating mathematically. To my dismay, nowhere in your segment was this position mentioned. In fact, when the segment included the statement about students who studied the basics scoring less on state tests than students who studied math that included problem solving and reasoning, the discussion came to a sudden halt. No room was left for expounding upon this finding in support of teaching more than the basics. This fact is important support for the success of this change in mathematics, and viewers have the right to know.
"Another clearly relevant issue which failed to be mentioned regards the state tests. The exams weighted toward being able to answer the question in writing revealed the following: Back-to-basics students were not able to explain how they arrived at an answer.... [And they] could not apply their knowledge in unfamiliar situations. On the other hand, students who were taught mathematics in a beyond-the-basics approach scored higher. They learned how to approach and tackle a problem--not just recall the answer.
Sidebar: To be successful in today's world, students need proficiency with basic facts and they must be adept in reasoning, problem solving and communicating mathematically. -- Glenda Lappan, President, NCTM
"NCTM's Standards do recommend a transformation of mathematics teaching in the classroom in support of learning mathematics. The Standards recommendations have been highly effective when implemented by competent teachers who keep the focus on learning mathematics....
"Indications from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study are that many of the recommendations noted in the NCTM Standards for mathematics excellence are right on target. High academic standards, a focused curriculum, and professional development opportunities for teachers--recommendations within the Standards--are all evident in high-performing countries.
"I would hope in the future that we can come together with a better understanding of NCTM, its beliefs, and the changes espoused in the NCTM Standards." ********************************************************* Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU