Professor of Mathematics
California State University, Northridge
Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Activities
Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.
Last October, the U.S. Department of Education released a report to the nation’s 16,000 school districts. The report designated 10 mathematics programs for K-12 as “exemplary” or “promising.” The following month, I sent an open letter co-authored with mathematicians Richard Askey, R. James Milgram, and Hung-Hsi Wu with more than 200 other co-signers to Education Secretary Richard Riley urging him to withdraw the Department of Education’s recommendations (http://www.mathematicallycorrect.com/riley.htm).
Among the endorsers are many of the nation’s most accomplished scientists and mathematicians. Department heads at many universities, including Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, along with two former presidents of the Mathematical Association of America also added their names in support. Seven Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics, also endorsed. In addition, several prominent state and national education leaders co-signed our open letter.
The ten so-called “exemplary” and “promising” math programs recommended by the Department of Education for our children include some of the worst math books available. The programs I have examined radically de-emphasize basic skills in arithmetic and algebra. Uncontrolled calculator use is rampant. One can draw a parallel between the philosophy that underlies the failed “whole language learning” approach to reading, and the Department of Education’s agenda for mathematics.
The effects of this philosophy in Los Angeles have been devastating. According to a recent Los Angeles Times article(3/17/2000): “Sixty percent of the eighth-graders in L.A. Unified, it is estimated, do not yet know their multiplication tables.”
Proponents of these watered-down programs believe that they are appropriate for minority students and women. For example, Jack Price, one of the Expert Panel members for the Department of Education, said on a radio show in 1996 (http://mathematicallycorrect.com/roger.htm) that minority groups and women do not learn math the same way as white males. He stated:
“… women have a tendency to learn better in a collaborative effort when they are doing inductive reasoning.“
This was in contrast to the way white males learn math. According to Jack Price, “males … learn better deductively in a competitive environment.“
This misguided view of women and minorities is consistent with the Department of Education’s math books. They rely heavily on superficial repetitive patterns to draw conclusions rather than logical deduction, which is the core of mathematics.
It is true that the National Council of Teachers of Mathemtics, or NCTM, has endorsed the Department of Education’s list of math books, and the National Science Foundation has spent millions of dollars to develop and promote several of them.
But these organizations represent surprisingly narrow interests, and there is a revolving door between them.
Steven Leinwand, a co-chair of the Expert Panel, was also a member of the Advisory Boards for two programs found to be “exemplary” by his panel. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the NCTM. Expert Panel member, Jack Price, who I just quoted, is a former president of the NCTM.
Luther Williams, who as Assistant Director of the NSF approved the funding of several of the recommended curricula, also served on the Expert Panel. Glenda Lappan, the current president of the NCTM, is a co-author of the so-called “exemplary” program, Connected Mathematics, which her organization endorses.
These facts suggest obvious conflicts of interest. According to the official minutes of the Department of Education’s Expert Panel, the panel members were themselves aware of this conflict.
I quote from the November 15 and 16, 1996 minutes of the second meeting of the Expert Panel.
“Some members expressed their concern about serving as chair, because their organizations develop products that may be reviewed by the panel, and they were concerned about conflict of interest. The panel agreed that if conflict of interest were an issue, it would not matter whether one served as chair or simply as a member. The panel agreed that whoever is panel chair ought to be able to act independently of his or her own interests.“
I urge the distinguished members of the Appropriations Committee to investigate the possibility of conflict of interest within the Expert Panel.
I also urge the distinguished members of this committee not to allocate funds to promote mathematics programs premised on the misguided notion that women and minority groups need a different and inferior kind of mathematics.