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Topic: Traditionalists Mathematically Right?
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Traditionalists Mathematically Right?
Posted: Mar 16, 1999 11:31 AM
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[Note: Just received from the West Coast ...]

(You might recall the recent TPPF-sponsored math textbook review conducted
by Mathematically Correct, available at )

TPPF = Texas Public Policy Institute


San Antonio Express News (Texas), Sunday, February 21, 1999

By Rick Casey

Are the traditionalists mathematically right?

As if they weren't already busy enough trying to purify the state
bureaucracy, privatize VIA's bus operations and revolutionize the Texas
public school system through vouchers, our friends at the conservative
Texas Public Policy Foundation have taken on another task.

They want to teach your children math.

Well, actually, they don't want to do the teaching themselves. They just
want to tell your children's math teachers how to teach.

TPPF has become, in effect, the Texas arm of a California-based movement
called "Mathematically Correct." This organization wants to take America
back to traditional ways of teaching math methods based on teaching kids
the right formulas so they can get the right answers.

The group accuses the "educational establishment," and particularly the
National Science Foundation, of using soft-headed, feel-good methods that
dumb down the curriculum.

TPPF officials have gone before editorial boards, lobbied school boards
over textbook selection and made the case for "classical" math education
through their Web site.

In a recent op-ed piece in this newspaper, Anne Newman, president of the
San Antonio-based Texas Family Research Center, cited the TPPF Web page in
arguing for traditional math. Well she should. Much of her piece was taken
from the Web site.

She criticized a training program in which teachers were tossed a beach
ball printed as a globe and asked to remember where their right indexes
were when they caught it. This was an example of an exercise in which
students could learn probabilities--in this case, the probability of a
meteorite crashing on land as opposed to water.

Mathematically Correct named themselves, apparently with no sense of
irony. They have several things in common with the left-wing politically

Both include intelligent, well- intentioned people. Both are ideologically
based. Both are intolerant of those who think differently.

And while the politically correct have an idealized view of the future,
Mathematically Correct has an idealized view of the past.

If you're old enough to have been taught under traditional methods, as I
am, just ask yourself this: Was math a subject in which your average
classmate felt he or she could perform well? Or was math considered
the sole domain of the brainiest?

Mathematically Correct cites studies to show the superiority of
traditional math teaching, but were the good old days really that good? And
are present methods really that bad?

Maybe California math went buggy, but it's not so clear that national
performance has. One of the most ambitious measurements is the SAT, which
most college-bound seniors take. A substantially higher percentage of
seniors take the test today than in 1972. Because of that, you would expect
scores to go down. The average verbal score has, from 530 in 1972 to 505 in

But the average math score has gone up 3 points to 512. In Texas, the
results are better. While Texas seniors held verbal skills even from 1988
to 1998, their average math score jumped 11 points.

We're still below the national average, but we're moving in the right

Improvement among Texas fourth- and eighth-grade students on another
standardized test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has
been among the best in the nation since 1990.

That's why I'd like Anne Newman to meet Melinda Rodriguez, who has taught
math at elementary and middle schools and now teaches ninth-grade algebra
at Lee High School.

More importantly, I'd like the school boards that will be selecting
textbooks (and thereby curricula) in the next few weeks to meet Rodriguez.

(Later, in another column, I'd like you to meet Rodriguez.)

I don't know if Rodriguez uses beach balls (though she took the workshop),
but she uses such methods as having kids chart the number of jumping jacks
they can do minute-by-minute for five minutes. She has them punch a hole
in a cup of water and measure the rate of leakage, then go home and
calculate how much such a leak would cost on their water bills.

In other words, she teaches just the way Newman and Mathematically Correct
find abhorrent. The latest results: 70 percent of her students passed the
statewide end-of-course exam, including 60 percent of her special
education students.

By comparison, 39 percent (not including special ed) passed statewide in
1998. But that figure is up from 28 percent in 1996.

So before TPPF and their friends fix this problem, let's make sure it's broke.

From the Web site:

TPPF-"Providing the intellectual ammunition for a better Texas."

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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