NSF Education and Human Resources Directorate and K-12 Mathematics

Email letter to Representative Nick Smith (Chairman, House Subcommittee on Research) and Representative Sherwood Boehlert (Chairman, House Committee on Science) from Professor Wilfried Schmid (Harvard University, Department of Mathematics)

Date: Tue, 07 May 2002

Subject: NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources

Dear Chairman Smith, Dear Chairman Boehlert,

I am writing to you in the dual role of parent of a 4th grader and of research mathematician with a strong interest in K-12 mathematics education.

The NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) has caused tremendous damage to mathematics education in the United States. I say this with a sense of sorrow, since the science-directed activities of the NSF have done much to maintain and extend the US lead in science and mathematics research.

In contrast, EHR has pushed faddish, unbalanced mathematics education programs. My daughter's school uses what is possibly the most extreme of these, "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space". EHR got this K-5 curriculum started with an initial $7,000,000 grant to the authors. Subsequent grants were given to local school systems, encouraging them to adopt "Investigations". In this brief message I cannot describe all the defects of "Investigations". Let me mention only that the authors strictly oppose the teaching of all standard algorithms, such as long addition, and discourage memorization of basic number facts, e.g., memorization of the multiplication table. Instead, students are made dependent on calculators and mental crutches, including fraction strips and counting on fingers.

Other programs funded by EHR are as not as extreme as "Investigations", but all pay allegiance to one particular ideology in mathematics education, an ideology that horrifies most mathematicians who have examined it. One or two bad programs funded by EHR would not be a disaster if more balanced curricula also received support. Not so - EHR has consistently pushed one extreme approach.

I know what I am talking about. I helped write the Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework two years ago, serve as mathematics advisor to the Massachusetts Department of Education, and was a member of the Mathematics NAEP Steering Committee in 2000/2001.

Sincerely yours,
Wilfried Schmid
Professor of Mathematics
Harvard University

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