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>vote with their feet

>Notwithstanding the optimistic title of the following article, its author recommends that parents dissatisified with their district’s math program vote with their feet.


How to Promote a Good Math Curriculum

Q. How can you tell if your school’s math curriculum is any good, and what can you do if it isn’t?

If you spend time on the website,, you will see that there have been tremendous efforts in recent years to battle back “fuzzy math,” but not much progress has been made. “Fuzzy math” curricula are listed there. You can pass along that link to your child’s math teacher, but don’t expect anything to change.

One of the problems is that there are a lot of educators who have risen through the ranks who really don’t “do math” very well, yet they’re making decisions about curriculum and influencing policymakers, when they shouldn’t be. Even a well-regarded math teacher has little, or no, chance of changing those big decisions as long as the big money and big power is behind “fuzzy math.”

You can tell this is a problem, because the REAL math professionals – mathematicians and scientists who DON’T work for schools – hate the “fuzzy math” curriculum so many schools are using. If your district is using Everyday Mathematics, Connected Math, TERC, or one of the other math curricula blasted on that website, then you’re in the midst of a national controversy that doesn’t appear to be ending any time soon.

If you really want your child to be good at math, you’d better run, not walk, to a private, after-school math tutor and keep your child there for years, or pull your child out of public school and into the best private school you can afford. Of course, that’s after you’ve made sure that the tutor or the private school aren’t blindly following the lead of the public schools in using ineffective math programs just because they’re “popular.”

Chances are, if your child attends a public school, your district’s selected curriculum has been recommended by the federal government because the National Science Foundation has funded its development. The problem is, the National Science Foundation, otherwise an excellent organization, has gone off the deep end toward “whole math,” and in so doing has ruined the course of math education in this country in recent years.

The basic problem is that it’s “in style” among educrats and policymakers to NOT teach the math basics. They honestly believe this is best, even though in the case of math curricula there has been a tidal wave of protest from parents, taxpayers, mathematicians and scientists against NOT teaching the basics. Because the “fuzzy math” curriculum marketing has been smart about targeting certain large, influential districts, and placing their curriculum in them, there’s a widespread “monkey see, monkey do” effect in which other districts copy what the Big Boys are doing – to the detriment of all the students.

Making matters worse is that large, nongovernmental entities that are highly influential in K-12 education because they sprinkle around millions of dollars in grants – for example, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – make those grants conditional on retaining the educrats who will favor the “progressive” curricula that the foundations prefer because they’re in “style.”

Why is this such a problem?

“Whole math” deemphasizes routine arithmetic and algebra as being “drill and kill” or “mindless symbol manipulation.” Instead of memorizing math facts and working increasingly difficult computation problems, the kids are given calculators. So they don’t get any practice or skill in the actual mathematics which they are supposedly being taught. Obviously, this dumbs them down.

Instead, they develop their own strategies for solving story problems, work in groups, write math journals, and do other nonsense work, without a competent adult teacher guiding their work, but their age peers. Obviously, this ingrains misinformation and bad habits.

They don’t do long addition problems, they don’t learn how to make change, they don’t learn how to subtract with borrowing, they don’t work with fractions, and certain other college-prep skills that are necessary for physics and calculus and other higher-level math and science courses go by the wayside. Obviously, then, they aren’t equipped to major in the “hard” sciences or math-related fields, and instead of going in to productive and highly-sought-after fields like technology, medicine and engineering, they major in “soft” fields like psychology and education. Actually, they aren’t even capable enough to work at a cashier in a retail store, because they can’t even make change for a simple cash transaction.

So how can a lowly parent influence curriculum selections? Well, you can sure write letters and make phone calls to your school board. But the best thing may well be to “vote with your feet.” Get your child out of a system that’s using a poor math curriculum, tell the district why, and go on with your life. If they lose enough money, they’ll eventually do the math – and make the correct change.

By Susan Darst Williams • • Show ‘n’ Tell For Parents 110 • © 2006

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