[From S. Cohen and C. Fry Bohlin ...] ************************************************
Education Beat, June 25, 1999
State board sides with 'elite' professors - Math wars continue
By Kathleen Cairns
When the state Board of Education adopted 23 math books for grades K-8 June 10, it didn't end the longstanding political battles over basic math versus the hands-on approach of reformers.
While the conflict seems to have been won by advocates of basic math instruction, reformers aren't giving up the fight. And the debate over which books are best seems to have created a new set of antagonists - elementary and high school math teachers who favor the experiential approach versus college math professors who favor old-style rote memorization,
The recent textbook adoption for math and language arts is part of a four-year, $1 billion effort to pair standards and educational materials.
Districts are receiving about $43 per student for each of the next four years for new math and reading books.
The most recent adoption covers only grades K-8 because the state board governs the majority of these selections. For ninth through twelfth grade, districts can choose their own materials, said Greg Geeting, interim executive director of the state board. But they have to be aligned with state standards, he added.
Even in grades K-8, districts can supplement required texts with those not on the approved list, but they have to seek waivers from the state board and find money from other sources.
"The reason this list (of adopted textbooks) is unusually important," Geeting added, "is that the state is in the middle of a program of special allocations for standards material in the core curricula."
The process that led to the June 10 adoption was squeezed into less than a year, beginning last fall when legislators passed a measure to expedite textbook adoption to provide teachers with standards related material.
Publishers submitted more than 300 books and pieces of supplementary material in both math and reading.
While there are still disputes over the best kinds of reading materials for students, this subject is not nearly the battlefield that math has become, partly because even reformers have agreed that phonics is the best approach. The state board adopted more than 70 books and supplemental materials for reading on June 10.
The war over math instruction dates back to the creation of state standards in 1997 when two competing camps on the standards commission fought to put their stamp on the standards document.
The original standards document sent to the state board reflected a "balance" of hands-on and basic instruction. But the board, at the urging of member Janet Nicholas, ultimately replaced the standards document with one focused much more heavily on basics. This occurred after William Evers, a Stanford University professor and member of the standards commission, publicly rejected the initial standards document approved by his colleagues.
The "balanced approach to math instruction was favored as well by one of three committees set up to review and analyze reading material submitted by publishers. The Instructional Materials Advisory Panel (IMAP) was comprised of math teachers from K12 as well as university education professors who train public school teachers. A second committee, the Content Review Panel (CRP), was made up of university math professors. It came down on the side of basic instruction.
The Curriculum Commission looked over the findings of both panels and then made recommendations to the state board.
When it came time to vote June 10, the state board ignored the recommendations from IMAP and adopted texts favored by members of the CRP and the Curriculum Commission. In some cases, however, the Curriculum Commission recommended math texts that had not been favored by either the IMAP or CRP, said Frances Lang, an education professor at California State University, Los Angeles, who served on the IMAP.
"It's obvious where the power lies," Lang added. "The state board did what it wanted to do."
Another participant in the process who asked not to be named said that the board followed Janet Nicholas, right down the line.
Nicholas not only has hammered away at basics ever since Gov. Wilson appointed her in 1996, she also has been enamored of math professors from elite universities. She frequently has called on Henry Alder from the University of California, Davis, and Hung-Hsi Wu of the University of California, Berkeley, to testify before the board whenever a math-related issue arose.
Both men have served on a variety of board-appointed committees, including the Content Review Panel, which was composed entirely of men.
Wu also participated, along with Nicholas and board member Marion Joseph-another devotee of basic instruction-in a recent math conference at California State University, Northridge.
At the conference, Wu said that university math professors have long "neglected" math education. This "has led to all kinds of misconceptions and errors that have crept into the school mathematics textbooks as well as the mathematics classrooms," he said.
Those favoring hands-on instruction had hoped that four new board appointees of Gov. Davis might swing away from Nicholas, but that did not occur, at least with math materials.
Board members voted, virtually unanimously, on all of the selections, said Executive Director Geeting.
Lang called the process of reviewing math materials "unpleasant." It seemed to be tilted in favor of basic instruction from the beginning, she said. "Publishers were asked to submit only materials that conformed to basic skills testing. What could they assume? They were under the impression that California only wanted skills-based materials.
"Unfortunately, some of us believe it is important to have a balance, but we weren't able to got our message across."
Asked to compare the basic to the hands-on approach, Lang said that hands-on proponents "focus on strategies that help all children learn math. Teaching is not a matter of explaining, it's a matter of letting kids get involved in the process of learning."
University professors such as Alder, Wu and Evers "have the mindset that only certain people are able to do math," said Lang. "None of them has ever taught in a K 12 classroom and they aren't concerned with how kids learn math," she added. "When formerly unsuccessful math students begin to succeed, they get nervous," Lang added.
Although Lang didn't enjoy her experience on the front lines of education policy making, she plans to stay involved. "I learned that I have to stay active in the process."
Classroom teachers and those who teach them "have to make our voices heard. And teachers need to know how the process works, why they have to use these books."
******************************************************* * Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org