Thursday, July 17, 2008

New Battles Every Year

A few years back, when I first got word that there were math wars going on, it was because a parent told me what she was learning by searching the internet. She had discovered that our middle school curriculum was rated quite low by Mathematically Correct. And why was she searching? Her daughter was struggling through the 6th grade curriculum and she was initially looking for something to help her daughter.

As I searched, I came across "math wars" and "fuzzy math" and "new math" and "new, new math" and were my eyes opened to what had been going on for years in California, in New York, in Illinois, in Plano, in Penfield, in Utah . . . it just kept going on and on. And I realized that I had been in the dark about all of this. That was back in 2004, 2005.

And as I searched to learn what was causing all of the wars, I read about the college professors who had spoken out years earlier, and who were continuing to speak out and who were taking an active part in making known their concerns of what was happening at the universities because of the math taught at lower levels.

I saw what I thought was the beginning of some success in stamping out the math curricula which were causing all of the confusion and problems, and I breathed with a sigh of relief that perhaps things were getting better for those folks who had fought so relentlessly to get rid of their bad math programs, (after, of course, so much damage had been done to their own children).

* * * * * * *

Now I see that "math wars" are springing up again and sadly now another group of students is suffering and struggling in places such as Florida and Missouri.

And now another group of college professors is speaking out against what they see happening.

The "fuzzy math authors" do not give up so easily. They have their fingers in their ears and masks over their eyes. They refuse to believe that their precious, new math curricula are the cause because after all, "research shows" that students need to learn by discovering and investigating, that students remember best what they figure out on their own without any interference from the teacher, that students need to know they are valued.

In a Missourian article entitled "Math Professors Seek Change in State's K-12 Math Curriculum", college professors are quoted expressing their concerns with the state's math standards and the curriculum. Below is a quote from Missouri Univerisity math professor Adam Helfer:

"One of the most painful things for me as a math professor at Missou is to work with students who have native ability in math but are not going to be able to capitalize on it because their K-12 preparation is inadequate. There is just nothing that can be done at the college level to make up for this -- it's far too late."
Another MU math professor, Alex Koldobsky, is also quoted in the article:
"I have been teaching Calculus I for the last few years and I clearly see the deterioration of computational and algebraic skills of incoming freshmen. Instead of working on the concepts of calculus, the majority of the students have to think for a long time about every elementary arithmetic and algebraic step, which at this point have to be automatic for them."

More than 50 math professors signed the letter, critical of the "student centered focus" which dominates the Missouri K-12 standards -- which repeatedly prescribes that students 'explore', 'investigate', 'develop models', and 'conduct experiments'.

Go here to read the entire article, and while reading it, take the time to go to the side link to the 9-page letter (5 pages of which are signatures of college professors) dated May 5, 2008, sent to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

If you live in the state of Missouri your children may be affected by the weak standards and "fuzzy math" curriculum. If you are in other states, you need to be vigilant to what is being taught in your state. This is not going away.