My column this week covers the long-fought fuzzy math wars and the parental revolt against poisonous edu-fads. The Texas state school board voted before Thanksgiving to ditch the infamous “Everyday Math” textbook for third-graders. This is the faulty curriculum the NYC schools were forced to adopt despite an outcry from teachers and parents. It’s difficult to find a school district where this dumbed-down virus hasn’t infected the education bureaucracy. If you know of any, let me know. Here’s my article:
Fuzzy math: A nationwide epidemic
Do you know what math curriculum your child is being taught? Are you worried that your third-grader hasn’t learned simple multiplication yet? Have you been befuddled by educational jargon such as “spiraling,” which is used to explain why your kid keeps bringing home the same insipid busywork of cutting, gluing and drawing? And are you alarmed by teachers who emphasize “self-confidence” over proficiency while their students fall further and further behind? Join the club.
Across the country, from New York City to Seattle, parents are wising up to math fads like “Everyday Math.” Sounds harmless enough, right? It’s cleverly marketed as a “University of Chicago” program. Impressive! Right? But then you start to sense something’s not adding up when your kid starts second grade and comes home with the same kindergarten-level addition and subtraction problems — for the second year in a row.
And then your child keeps telling you that the teacher isn’t really teaching anything, just handing out useless worksheets — some of which make no sense to parents with business degrees, medical degrees and Ph.D.s specializing in econometric analysis. And then you notice that it’s the University of Chicago education department, not the mathematics department, that is behind this nonsense.
And then you Google “Everyday Math” and discover that countless moms and dads just like you — and a few brave teachers with their heads screwed on straight — have had similarly horrifying experiences. Like the Illinois mom who found these “math” problems in the fifth-grade “Everyday Math” textbook:
A. If math were a color, it would be –, because –.
B. If it were a food, it would be –, because –.
C. If it were weather, it would be –, because –.
And then you realize your child has become a victim of “Fuzzy Math,” the “New New Math,” the dumbed-down, politically correct, euphemism-filled edu-folly corrupting both public and private schools nationwide.
And then you feel like the subject of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” as you take on the seemingly futile task of waking up other parents and fighting the edu-cracy to restore a rigorous curriculum in your child’s classroom. New York City teacher Matthew Clavel described his frustration with “Everyday Math” in a 2003 article for City Journal:
“The curriculum’s failure was undeniable: Not one of my students knew his or her times tables, and few had mastered even the most basic operations; knowledge of multiplication and division was abysmal. . . . what would you do, if you discovered that none of your fourth-graders could correctly tell you the answer to four times eight?”
But don’t give up and don’t give in. While New York City remains wedded to “Everyday Math” (which became the mandated standard in 2003), the state of Texas just voted before Thanksgiving to drop the University of Chicago textbooks for third-graders. School board members lambasted the math program for failing to prepare students for college. It’s an important salvo in the math wars because Texas is one of the biggest markets for school textbooks. As Texas goes, so goes the nation.
Meanwhile, grass-roots groups such as Mathematically Correct (mathematicallycorrect.com) and Where’s The Math? (wheresthemath.com) are alerting parents to how their children are being used as educational guinea pigs. And teachers and math professionals who haven’t drunk the p.c. Kool-Aid are exposing the ruse. Nick Diaz, a Maryland educator, wrote a letter to his local paper:
“As a former math teacher in Frederick County Public Schools, I have a strong interest in the recent discussion of the problems with the math curriculum in our state and county. . . . The proponents of fuzzy math claim that the new approach provides a ‘deep conceptual understanding.’ Those words, however, hide the truth. Students today are not expected to master basic addition, subtraction and multiplication. These fundamental skills are necessary for a truly deep understanding of math, but fuzzy math advocates are masters at using vocabulary that sounds good to parents, but means something different to educators.”
Members of the West Puget Sound Chapter of the Washington Society of Professional Engineers also stepped forward in their community:
“For 35 years, we have been subjected to a failed experiment, ‘new math.’ Mathematics depends on individual problem-solving ability to arrive at the correct answer. Math does not lend itself to ‘fuzzy’ answers. The solution is to recognize the failure of the Constructivist Curriculum as it relates to mathematics and science, eliminate it and return to the hard core basics using texts like the Singapore Math.”
If Fuzzy Math were a color, it would be neon green like those Mr. Yuk labels warning children not to ingest poisonous substances. Do not swallow!
A classic, anti-fad video from M.J. McDermott in Washington state:
And check out Weapons of Math Destruction, a cartoon website dedicated to “peacefully disarming fuzzy math.” You need a sense of humor to fight this crap. Otherwise, you’ll go mad:
Update 10:18am Eastern. Fuzzy math goes hand-in-hand with fuzzy reading. And the results show: It’s failing. This just in…
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U.S. fourth-graders have lost ground in reading ability compared with kids around the world, according to results of a global reading test.
Test results released Wednesday showed U.S. students, who took the test last year, scored about the same as they did in 2001, the last time the test was given—despite an increased emphasis on reading under the No Child Left Behind law.
Still, the U.S. average score on the Progress in International Reading Literacy test remained above the international average. Ten countries or jurisdictions, including Hong Kong and three Canadian provinces, were ahead of the United States this time. In 2001, only three countries were ahead of the United States.
The 2002 No Child Left Behind law requires schools to test students annually in reading and math, and imposes sanctions on schools that miss testing goals.
The U.S. performance on the international test of 45 nations or jurisdictions differed somewhat from results of a U.S. national reading test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card. Fourth-grade reading scores rose modestly on the most recent version of that test, taken earlier this year and measuring growth since 2005. During the previous two-year period, scores were flat.
On the latest international exam, U.S. students posted a lower average score than students in Russia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, Hungary, Italy and Sweden, along with the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario.
Last time, Russia, Hong Kong and Singapore were behind the United States.
Hong Kong and Singapore have taken steps since then, such as increasing teacher preparation, providing more tutoring and raising public awareness about the importance of reading, said Ina Mullis, co- director of the International Study Center at Boston College, which conducts the international reading literacy study.
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