LAST OCTOBER, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 10 math programs which department educrats considered “exemplary” or “promising.” It would have been more accurate to rate the 10 programs as “trendy” or “math-lite.” Some 200 appalled mathematicians and scientists — including three Nobel laureates — ran an ad in the Washington Post calling on Secretary Richard Riley to rescind the seal of approval.
On Wednesday, two House Education subcommittees held a hearing on the issue. Educrats defending the Top Ten talked about process. Critics of the trendy new-new math talked about results.
Susan Sarhady, a parent from Plano, Texas, knows what the middle-school Connected Mathematics program — rated “exemplary” — did for her community. Some high-achieving students didn’t test well in math. Parents were baffled by assignments, like the tossing of marshmallows to see how many landed on their ends or their sides. Her friend Kathy bought a traditional math textbook and started spending a half hour every night with her son to make sure he didn’t miss math he would later need. Kathy found it galling that if her son scores well, Connected Math will get the credit.
Rachel Tronstein, a University of Michigan freshman, was enrolled in an accelerated Core Plus program — also “exemplary” — at Andover High School in Michigan. When she attended Stanford University’s summer session in 1998, she took the pre- calculus course after taking pre-calculus in Core Plus. She said, “the vast majority of material in that course was material to which I had never been exposed.”
Stanford mathematics professor R. James Milgram explained that he became interested in K-12 math curricula when he noticed that highly motivated math students couldn’t do well in their college math classes because they had received a “third-rate education.”
In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics released the trendy math standards — which eschewed traditional math in favor of group work and discovery learning — which were the basis for the Department of Educrats’ Top Ten. By 1989, California schools had started using at least three trendy programs that were written to in conjunction with the new pedagogy. Milgram noted that since 1989, the percentage of California State University students — who are restricted to the top 30 percent of state high school graduates — who were required to take remedial math has more than doubled from 23 percent in 1989, to 55 percent.
Linda Rosen of the Department of Education argues that 23 percent is not exactly a number to brag about. And: “These new materials have only been out” for two to three years. She has a point. In 1989, participation in new-new math was uncommon. Since then, not every school has gone fuzzy, although many have.
California led the nation in the rush to dumb down math. The state’s 1985 math framework began the slide and the 1992 framework mastered it. Teachers who followed the framework adopted the math- lite approach years ago. Five years ago, the dissident math group Mathematically Correct was born when parents angry about the “exemplary” College Preparatory Mathematics realized the problem wasn’t just in their three school districts, but had become widespread.
Fact is, remedial math at CSU has more than doubled since 1989. Fact is, no one knows how many schools use new-new math because that is the rare education statistic which state and federal bureaucrats don’t collect.
Get the feeling they don’t want to know?
Michigan parent Mark Schwartz testified, “If medical doctors experimented with our kids in the same fashion school districts do, they would be in jail.” In edu- land, they get named to a on a panel that chooses pet math programs.
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