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Topic: [ME] "Fuzzy Math"<-->"Just the Basics"?
Replies: 1   Last Post: Mar 31, 1999 2:41 PM

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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 15,675
Registered: 12/3/04
[ME] "Fuzzy Math"<-->"Just the Basics"?
Posted: Mar 31, 1999 1:34 PM
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[Note: Cathy Seeley wrote the following commentary, which recently appeared in
several Texas newspapers. (Cathy is Director of Policy and Professional
Development for the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative at the Charles A.
Dana Center of the Unversity of Texas at Austin.)]

"Do We Really Want Just the Basics?"

In their recent commentary on "Fuzzy Math," David Bradley and Richard
Neill, two of fifteen members on the Texas State Board of Education, join a
small but vocal group of critics using labels like "Fuzzy Math," "New New
Math," and "Whole Math" to attack school improvement efforts in Texas and
the nation.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Neill appeal to the public's fear that students might
not learn the mathematics they need if Texas education continues on its
current course. It is time to set the record straight about what is really
going on in Texas mathematics classrooms.

What is going on is dramatic improvement in students' mathematical
achievement. The National Assessment of Educational Progress shows solid
evidence that the performance of U.S. students on mathematics problem
solving is on the upswing, and that mastery of computation skills is
stronger than at any time in the past 20 years.

Texas, especially, has reason to be proud. The state was singled out in a
1998 National Education Goals Panel report as one of two states leading the
nation in improving mathematics performance, and as the state making the
most significant progress in closing the achievement gap between various
ethnic and socioeconomic groups. With the 1997 adoption of rigorous Texas
mathematics standards - the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)-Texas
students today show greater promise for the future than at any time in

Mr. Bradley, Mr. Neill and other critics of recent mathematics improvement
efforts use epithets like "Fuzzy Math" to advocate reversing Texas's
current direction in favor of teaching only computational skills.

Of course Texas students need to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and
divide. But this "Basics Only" mathematics falls short of the rigor,
challenge, and usefulness they need for their future. They also need to
learn how to use measurement and geometry in the physical world, interpret
data, and use statistics to make sense of the flood of numerical
information they encounter every day.

In their blanket attack on mathematics improvement efforts, Mr. Bradley and
Mr. Neill include specific allegations about the Connected Mathematics
Project (CMP) and the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative (SSI), calling
the SSI "the spider working with all these (CMP) flies."

This vivid metaphor conjures up an insidious picture, with the SSI enticing
unwitting schools to enter its evil web, lured by "free taxpayer money" and
"huge grants." The facts are quite the opposite, as described in detail in
the SSI's "Setting the Record Straight" website

The SSI has funding from multiple sources, including the National Science
Foundation (NSF) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA), to work with Texas
schools to improve mathematics and science programs. No state funds and
less than 6 percent of NSF funds are devoted to work with Texas schools
using CMP materials.

The SSI supports 43 Texas schools who requested assistance in implementing
CMP, a research-based mathematics program with seven years' evidence
showing significant student learning. Mr. Bradley and Mr. Neill neglect to
mention that Texas CMP students are showing similar gains on Texas

There are no "huge grants" to schools from the SSI, and the SSI has no
intention of influencing schools' local textbook adoption decisions.
Consistent with Texas's emphasis on local control, it is important for
communities to conduct their own analyses of materials based on local needs
and values and their in-depth evaluation of how well the materials support
the TEKS.

Critics such as Mr. Bradley and Mr. Neill mistrust educators and local
community decision-making processes. They diminish the efforts of teachers
everywhere when they imply that educators are part of a "conspiracy" to
dumb down America. They make fun of programs calling for students to use
mathematics in real situations or solve problems that might be interesting.

Mr. Bradley and Mr. Neill belittle every achievement and discount
legitimate research that disagrees with their point of view, including
research from the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science
Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

To improve requires change. We have a responsibility to build on the best
of what has worked in the past, strengthened by incorporating what is
working now. Regardless of our selective memory about how well traditional
programs may or may not have worked, yesterday's schools simply will not
work in today's world.

Bradley and Neill have strong views about how schools and teachers should
teach mathematics. They label all other approaches as "Fuzzy Math" or
"Whole Math." If Texas citizens follow their lead, we risk undoing
significant progress in classrooms across Texas. Should we really ask
teachers to teach "Basics-Only," "Partial" math? Instead, why not work
together toward challenging, rigorous, applicable math- the kind of
mathematics defined by the TEKS? This is what is going on in the best Texas
mathematics classrooms, and this is what every Texas student deserves.
There is nothing fuzzy about that.


From the Texas SSI Web site:

Setting the Record Straight

A number of articles and opinion pieces have recently appeared in Texas
newspapers and on school district fax machines with recommendations about
how schools should make mathematics textbook adoption decisions. Some of
these articles have also questioned the role of the Texas Statewide
Systemic Initiative (SSI) in decisions. Because of the amount of
conflicting information, this website has been established to clarify these
and related issues.

* Recent media articles and public notices

* Clarifications by the SSI concerning...

o Fuzzy Math and Math Reform
o Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative
o Connected Mathematics Program

* Textbook/Instructional Materials Reports and Rankings

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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