The Detroit News
Metro Section

June 17, 1998

Math debate heats up Professor won’t give up controversial data on Core-Plus
program in Bloomfield Hills By Rusty Hoover / The Detroit News

BLOOMFIELD HILLS — A math program at Andover High School that students say has
cheated them out of a solid math education is now causing a second round of

This time, a university math professor, trying to find out if students in Core-Plus
math are learning anything, is battling the Bloomfield Hills School District to keep
his data confidential. Wayne State University math professor Gregory Bachelis vows
not to turn over his surveys about the math program without a court order. At issue
is whether teaching Core-Plus math at Andover is seriously handicapping
college-bound students, as indicated by some survey comments collected by Bachelis.

But the school district, which includes Andover and another high school that doesn’t
use the math program, has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain
Bachelis’ documents.

Some Andover parents are angry that their children were forced into the Core-Plus
pilot program, which relies on the use of graphing calculators, which allow students
to enter an equation and get a visual representation of it. Parents have demanded a
choice of math courses.

That is too late for Melissa Lynn, 18, who graduated summa cum laude with a 3.97
grade point average from Andover last year. She failed the math placement test at the
University of Michigan, scoring in the first percentile, the lowest possible.

Worse, she didn’t recognize what was being asked on the test. She called 14 other
U-M students who had taken Andover’s Core-Plus math and found they placed
anywhere from the first to the sixth percentile, she said. “Everything I didn’t know
was algebra,” Lynn said.

But proponents of Core-Plus say the program does a better job of preparing students
to handle math and higher order thinking in a complex world. But critics say the
program doesn’t focus heavily enough on basic algebra. Core-Plus was implemented
as a pilot program at Andover five years ago, with the first class of Core-Plus
students graduating in 1997.

The battle has widened. John Toma, Andover principal, has written to Wayne State
University President Irvin Reid, calling Bachelis’ character into question and saying
that Andover will caution students about attending Wayne State.

“Our community and our educators have been maligned and I think we have the right
to see the complete information,” said Gary Doyle, superintendent of the Bloomfield
Hills School District. Bachelis said a parents’ group is funding the survey, which he
is doing on his own time. Bachelis sent surveys to all the 1997 graduates of the
Bloomfield Hills School District — students who took traditional math and those who
took four years of Core-Plus, a controversial new math program. Bachelis wants to
see how Core-Plus students did their first year in college, compared to students who
took traditional math — algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus. Wayne State
officials said Bachelis’ survey is not a Wayne State project and they don’t have the
documents to give to Bloomfield Hills.

Bachelis said he wants to make sure that students’ names won’t be revealed because
he promised them confidentiality. Doyle said he doesn’t care about the names, he just
wants the data. It would be of interest to Andover graduate Loren Thal, 19. He is
taking a beginning math course this summer to make up for what he didn’t learn in
four years of Core-Plus, earning A’s and B’s. He took a math placement test at
Michigan State, and wound up in Math 103, the lowest level math course a student
can take for credit. He had to drop the class. “I was having tremendous difficulty with
it. It stems back to Core-Plus.

The basic and fundamental ideas weren’t covered in class,” he said. “I got (stuck) in
this program. I did not have a choice,” he said. Although he had tested in the superior
range in math capability, he said he is not successful in math right now. “I have to
relearn all my math.” Bachelis said that the problem with Core-Plus is that students
do not drill in algebra — practice solving a number of similar problems. If a
student can’t do algebra, the student can’t move on to calculus, Bachelis said.

But Christian Hirsch, a Western Michigan University math and math education
professor who developed Core-Plus, said that algebra is integrated into the program.
Since the first four-year Core-Plus class graduated from Andover in 1997, the
course has been revised with more emphasis on things like algebraic factoring.

He said that many students from traditional math programs go to college and fail the
placement tests. “People then tend to say the student didn’t have a good day and the
failure isn’t ascribed to the math program.” Andover will add a traditional algebra
class to the curriculum this fall, along with a survey class of algebra and geometry.
Students can also opt to take a traditional math curriculum by going to nearby
Lahser High School, Toma said.

Behind the debate

Core-Plus math Students work in groups to investigate, experiment with and apply
math concepts. Students use graphing calculators to solve problems, but don’t spend
as much time on drills — doing repetitive problems to learn a concept.

Critics say Program is light on algebra. Proponents say Algebra is woven into many
lessons. Origin Developed at Western Michigan University and financed by the
National Science Foundation. Goal To apply new standards developed by the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Where offered Bloomfield Hills, West Bloomfield, Southfield-Lathrup, Ypsilanti and
Southwestern High School in Detroit.

Sources Western Michigan University, Bloomfield Hills Schools and Detroit

News research.

Copyright 1998, The Detroit News