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Recalculating the Standards
Posted:
Nov 11, 1998 9:02 PM


[Note: From a colleague on the east coast.] ***************************************************
Los Angeles Times, November 11, 1998, Home Edition, p. 2
Section: Metro; Part B  Metro Desk
HEADLINE: EDUCATION
ON LEARNING
RECALCULATING THE STANDARDS OF MATH INSTRUCTION
Byline: Richard Lee Colvin
Old math. New math. Newnew math. And coming soon to a classroom near you . . . newnew 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 alltime high. On the other, for all the reform efforts, the average 17yearold 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 handson, realworld 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 newnew math and said pondering realworld 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 effortssuch 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 understanding.
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 highestquality mathematics instructional programs for all students."
Consulting on the revisions are the leading professional mathematics groups. A first draft of the rewritedue to be completed in 2000is now available on the Internet at: http://www.nctm.org/standards2000
* 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 629014610 USA Fax: (618)4534244 Phone: (618)4534241 (office) Email: JBECKER@SIU.EDU



