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Topic: NCTM Responds to 'Math Wars' Report
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
NCTM Responds to 'Math Wars' Report
Posted: Aug 11, 1998 5:43 PM
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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
education/jan-june98/math_5-11.html. Here are excerpts from Lappan's

"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

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
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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