Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Taking Stock of Math Education

Magazine article Curriculum Administrator

Taking Stock of Math Education

Article excerpt

Experts debate the ills, and possible solutions, for what ails math curriculum.

After literacy, no other issue associated with contemporary education is more hotly debated than mathematics education. Well-organized citizen and academic groups desperate for rigor and greater student achievement have engaged in an openly hostile conflict known colloquially as the Math Wars. One group believes in "traditional" math including memorizing tables while the other group tries to create an "authentic" context where math can be learned and used. These "battles" are fought in hearing rooms and textbook publishing companies. The casualties are in the nation's classrooms. In the following story, CURRICULUM ADMINISTRATOR'S Editor-At-Large, Gary Stager, has asked leaders in mathematics education to share their observations and concerns on this issue. All of these educators have spent years working in professional development, curriculum design and the use of computers in mathematics learning.

How would you describe the current state of math education?

Doug Clements: It's still suffering from needless conflicts of points of view, when research considerations tell us enough to guide our educational actions.

Ricky Carter: It's a very mixed bag. At the elementary level the new standards-based curricula, such as Everyday Math, Investigations in Number, Data and Space and Trailblazers, have doubled each year since they were all published and are now being used in 10 percent of the schools nationwide. And there is growing evidence that even in beleaguered urban districts, student achievement is better in the classrooms that have strongly implemented standards based curricula. While I'm encouraged it's important to remember that in the majority of schools students are still being fed a mathematical diet of memorized facts and procedures through a drill-and-practice based pedagogy.

Ihor Charischak: It's business as usual. We're in flux. The well-oiled curriculum pendulum continues to swing on its predictable path. Each swing brings new contexts, people and issues, but it's the same "war". Naive mathematicians on one side that can rally the average person behind a nostalgia-driven, traditional curriculum to the lefties on the other side who thinks the whole system needs to be bagged because it's destroying young minds. So the solution must lie in the middle--a curriculum that meets the needs of both righties and lefties? Right? Wrong. Even if it was correct, it would be impossible to implement such a system on any large scale because the lobbyists from both sides are too formidable.

To ask who is right is the wrong question. That's the one that leads to our current (and never-ending) condition. Both sides are sometimes right and sometimes wrong. It is extremely difficult to set agendas based on that conflict.

So the political challenge of 2001 and beyond is to come up with grassroots approaches that put intellectual curiosity in harmony with other practical needs. There is a wonderful blueprint for this.... I'm just about finished with Radical Equations--Math Literacy and Civil Rights by Robert Moses, founder of the "Algebra Project." Moses is not approaching things by blaming "evil forces," but rather trying to see what he can do to fix things. I'm inspired by his ideas.

What excites you about the future of mathematics teaching and learning?

Carter: The good news is that the implementation of standards-based curricula means we should soon be seeing high school students who have been brought up to be active thinkers. The advent of the Internet opens up the possibility of providing direct support to teachers who want to explore new content and new ways to support teaching and learning.

Clements: We do know enough about research to give a firm grounding to mathematics education.

In just one example, the ExxonMobil Foundation and the National Science Foundation funded a Conference on Standards for Preschool and Kindergarten Mathematics Education. …

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