Touted math program proved to be a failure

Letters, The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 7, 2004

By Wayne Bishop

Connie Langland's glowing appraisal of F. Joseph Merlino in the April 2 Inquirer ("He enhances math by teaching the teachers") needs a reality check. Parents and other decision-makers need to know that there is plenty of data-based evidence that the approach to secondary-school mathematics being recommended by Merlino is a clear threat to the academic futures of innocent children.

The secondary program most favored by the Philadelphia Regional Integrated Math Project, with which Merlino is associated, is the Interactive Mathematics Project, with Core-Plus right behind. Neither program compares favorably with strong traditional programs, algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, and beyond, as proper preparation for math-based university work. Massive supplementation or eventual remediation will be needed for success.

In the 1990s, the interactive project was tried across California. First to opt out were high-end students, but schools soon phased it out entirely. Only dozens of schools still use it as their primary math curriculum.

The project has been around the Philadelphia area long enough that local data are accumulating as well. The article mentioned "big gains" in Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores at Strath Haven High School in Wallingford and Carver High School in Philadelphia; the latter jumped 100 points to 1,470 in 2002. Not mentioned was that in subsequent years, Strath Haven has dropped 50 and Carver immediately dropped that 100 points back to 1,370 in 2003. By contrast, Central High School in Philadelphia tried IMP in the mid-1990s, dropped the project for a more traditional program and has far higher scores: 1,500 in 2003 for seventh in the state versus 140th for Carver.

This important national debate needs less rhetoric and more reality.

Wayne Bishop
Department of mathematics
California State University
Los Angeles

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