Educators Say Harder Math Classes Are Needed; Students Not Mastering Basic Skills

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Byline: George Archibald, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The "dumbing down" of school math courses and the lack of student accountability are producing millions of math illiterates, despite increased spending on education, mathematics educators say.

"All children can learn? Nope. Not unless they work," Paul J. Sally Jr., head of the University of Chicago's undergraduate mathematics program, told joint meetings of the Mathematical Association of America and the American Mathematical Society at a Baltimore convention center yesterday. "All children can learn if they're willing to work. If they're not willing to work, they won't."

Conference officials said 4,477 mathematics educators from throughout the country and abroad were registered for the meeting. Mr. Sally was commended for his criticism of widely used mathematics textbooks, which he said "belonged on the coffee table, not in the classroom."

He said the books taught "descriptive mathematics," which critics call "fuzzy math." The technique is responsible for students failing to master even the most elementary skills by the time they graduate from high school or enter college, said Mr. Sally.

"Why are these books necessary?" he asked. "Are they supposed to represent a good way to teach mathematics, or are they simply a default position?

"The notion that one has to 'interest' students in mathematics in order to make them do it has gone much too far, to the point where real mathematics in many cases has just disappeared entirely from the courses," he said. …