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[ME] "Fuzzy Math"<>"Just the Basics"?
Posted:
Mar 31, 1999 1:34 PM


[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 history.
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 (http://macdns.cc.utexas.edu/ssi/).
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 researchbased 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 assessments.
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 indepth evaluation of how well the materials support the TEKS.
Critics such as Mr. Bradley and Mr. Neill mistrust educators and local community decisionmaking 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 "BasicsOnly," "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.
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From the Texas SSI Web site: http://macdns.cc.utexas.edu/ssi/
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 629014610 USA Fax: (618)4534244 Phone: (618)4534241 (office) Email: jbecker@siu.edu



