Re: "Math: Its No Longer Just by the Numbers"

By Elizabeth Carson
Submitted to Newsday

April 13, 2002

I appreciated John Hildebrand's recent report, on the implementation of constructivist math in Oceanside.("Math: Its No Longer Just by the Numbers" April 9, 2002)

It is important to emphasize that parents and mathematicians who condemn programs like the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP), share equally with proponents, a desire for children to think for themselves, to "make sense" of the math they are learning and to be engaged. Shared too, is a deep concern for the performance gap between subpopulations of children, that continues to plague our country; as well as concern for our mediocre global ranking in international studies of student achievement.

Where critics and proponents part company, most fundamentally, is on what skills and concepts should be mastered and when, in order to provide all children the widest opportunity to pursue their dreams, in the increasingly high tech world in which we live. At issue, is the proper provision of a coherent, adequate K-12 foundation in pre-calculus skills required of all students intending to pursue a wide range of university majors including: accounting, engineering, computer science, medicine, mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, physical therapy, occupational therapy, architecture, economics, business, and math education.

The "constructivist" math programs developed over the last decade fail to provide this requisite foundation, and are profoundly limiting our children's future educational options.

Ms Bridgeman's 8th grade classroom exercise, highlighted in Mr Hildebrand's report, exemplifies the substandard mathematical content of CMP, egregiously inadequate for a college preparatory middle school math program. Children are "investigating" the distributive property and finding the area of a rectangle. The understanding and use of the order of operations and the formula for finding area is placed at the fourth grade level in the top rated California Mathematics Framework, and placed in the 5-6 grade-band in the New York State Mathematics Core Curriculum. The fact that some "teams" of MS Bridgeman's 8th grade students struggled with an elementary grade task is troubling.

A report to the National Science Foundation, which funded the development and implementation of the CMP, ("Middle School Mathematics Comparisons for Singapore Mathematics, Connected Mathematics Program, and Mathematics in Context: A Summary," Adams, Tung, Warfield, et al, University of Washington, Nov 2, 2000 recognized the strengths of the constructivist approach but warned:

"The number strand is arguably the most basic and fundamental mathematics strand and much of the presentation in CMP is below the level articulated in the 2000 NCTM number strand for grades 6-8. Specifically we find that CMP students are not expected to compute fluently, flexibly and efficiently with fractions, decimals and percents as late as 8th grade. Standard algorithms for computations with fractions ( eg multiplication and division) are often not used... A discussion of long division is missing...Long division is a basis for the division of algebraic polynomials that students will see in high school.." (page 10)

"CMP does a good job of helping students discover the mathematical connections and patterns in the algebra strand, but falls short in a follow-through with more substantial statements, generalizations, formulas or algorithms." (page 11)

The same conclusions are reached in other analyses of CMP, including critical papers cited in the open letter to Secretary Riley referenced in Mr Hildebrand's report. Included among the over 200 endorsers of the letter were the Department heads of Caltech, Stanford and Yale, and seven Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics. ( "An Open Letter to United States Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Dr David Klein, et al. Washington Post, November 18, 1999 )

No amount of time spent by Oceanside administrators "reassuring parents" will fix CMP.

The "gaps" will require far more than an 8th grade workbook to fill.

We need balanced, research-based K-12 mathematics education reform, rather than the present batch of NSF funded content-lite programs, based on little more than so-called good intentions and unproven theories.

And we'd better get to it.

Our children have no time, NO TIME to wait while endless political and ideological education debates rage on.

Elizabeth Carson
Parent, Manhattan CSD #2 NYC
Co-Founder, NYC HOLD Honest Open Logical Debate on math reform A Consortium of parents, educators, mathematicians and scientists working to improve mathematics education in NYC schools

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