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Topic: Recalculating the Standards
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 14,470
Registered: 12/3/04
Recalculating the Standards
Posted: Nov 11, 1998 9:02 PM
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[Note: From a colleague on the east coast.]

Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1998, Home Edition, p. 2

Section: Metro; Part B - Metro Desk




Byline: Richard Lee Colvin

Old math. New math. New-new math. And coming soon to a classroom near you
. . .
new-new math, modified.

For decades, math educators have tried to "fix" this often vexing school
subject by revamping the content of lessons and methods of instruction.

Yet the record on math achievement remains mixed. On one hand, the math
scores on the SAT college entrance exam have hit an all-time high. On the
other, for all the reform efforts, the average 17-year-old today doesn't
know math any better than his counterparts 20 years ago, according to
the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

In the most recent chapter of math reform, educators have been guided by
the 1989 standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. That
document emphasized hands-on, real-world math. It sought to portray math as
a thinking process rather than a body of facts to be memorized.

But critics of the new approach derided it as new-new math and said
pondering real-world dilemmas didn't necessarily teach students much math.

Now, the council is modifying its original document. Part of the motivation
for doing so was what it now says were misunderstandings of its efforts--such
as the idea that correct answers and memorizing the multiplication tables
are not important.

Leading the revision effort is Glenda Lappan, a Michigan State University
education professor who has been council president since April. She says
the goal remains the same as a decade ago.

"We continue to educate some very bright children very well indeed, but we
were failing to educate even the kids in the bottom 80%," she said. "We were
not engaging them in math in a way that was the least bit exciting."

The national council, she said, pushed "really hard to take an inert system
and get it moving." In retrospect, she said, the organization's rhetoric
may have been too extreme. But the point was to get a "conversation started."

Take the issue of correct answers. Lappan said the idea that the council
was not interested in correct answers was a "gross misinterpretation" of
its intent.

What the organization was trying to do, she said, was encourage teachers to
listen to their students talk about how they solved problems, to gauge their

Most of the criticism of the standards has come from parents and
mathematicians who thought the needs of students who wanted to pursue careers
in science, medicine or mathematics were being neglected.

The draft of the new document acknowledges that, in emphasizing
"mathematics for all," such students may have gotten short shrift. The
rewrite "reaffirms NCTM's commitment to providing the highest-quality
mathematics instructional programs for all students."

Consulting on the revisions are the leading professional mathematics
groups. A first draft of the rewrite--due to be completed in 2000--is now
available on the Internet at:

One outcome of the 1989 standards is the spread of calculators. The
council's report advocated that all students have access to calculators at
all times.

That proliferation led to perhaps apocryphal stories of college students
turning to calculators to
multiply 25 by 10 or divide 18 by six.

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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