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Math        < Previous        Next >

 

How Parents and Taxpayers

Can Get Math Basics Back In Schools

 

Q. I've seen young cashiers who can't subtract 14 cents from a dollar and have to rely on the computer to tell them how much change to give me. I've seen mistakes made in measuring at my company that have cost us some money. I know that local teachers don't get to choose the curriculum and instruction methods, so I'm not blaming them. I'm not blaming anybody, really - I just want tried-and-true, traditional math back in our schools. I'm ready to tell our school boards and legislators to make our schools get back to the math basics. But how do I go about it?

 

Just about everybody knows we have to do it - get back to traditional math with basic skills and lots more computation. Everything from brain research to our nation's international competitiveness points to that need.

 

The biggest problem appears to be how to do it in a way that everybody can live with, including math educators. They are pretty deeply entrenched with the "fuzzy math" methods that the rest of us agree have to go, through colleges of education and their national associations.

 

But here are some common-sense suggestions for how to turn the tide back to traditional math in schools:

 

Use the media. Write letters to the editor and persuade your friends and family to, too. Use anecdotes like your clueless cashier or expensive measuring mistakes. If 10 out of the last 10 engineers your company has hired are all working here on foreign visas because your company couldn't find any Americans with the math skills for the job, tell about that. Demand traditional math, and say it loud.

 

Use politics. The other side certainly has used political connections to protect its positions. Why shouldn't those who want traditional curriculum and instruction to be put back into schools? Whole Math is supported by the National Science Foundation, the teachers' unions and a host of left-wing foundations. Why? Because it brings more jobs and resources into the schools, to reinstruct and remediate all the kids who are left underachieving in math, ill-prepared for college, or innumerate and not really employable. Tax groups are a great place to start to build support for traditional math and getting a better bang for our instructional bucks. Be bold: no one who is NOT employed by the schools or attempting to contract with them in some manner typically testifies at many school board meetings on state and local levels, or in front of legislative committees, on matters such as switching math curricula. If you have no ax to grind other than wanting improved math instruction, start being a presence at those meetings and speaking out. Wealthy conservatives and business owners are no doubt extremely anxious about the math educations of their grandchildren. So use that emotion to your benefit, to direct political contributions to candidates who agree that traditional math is best. You'd be surprised how little money in a campaign contribution to a state senator or state board of education member will make a huge impact and get you a listening ear. Then use it! Educate the decisionmakers. Help them overrule the education bureaucracy.

 

Do what works. The back-to-the-basics movement has made great inroads in reading through the No Child Left Behind grants program, Reading First. They're beginning to turn around the disaster caused by the Whole Language philosophy of reading instruction. It's the language equivalent of Whole Math, and it's also under fire for being ineffective and overly expensive. But Reading First has some good lessons for the math world to follow. What appears to work is to offer sizeable federal grants in exchange for offering traditional curriculum and instruction in schools. Federal support can be a real catalyst, and add peer pressure to the mix by publicizing the successes of schools which have gone back to the basics and helped their students do better.

 

Use the truth. There is no evidence Whole Math is best. But there's a lot of evidence that traditional, computation-based math instruction works well. Find peer-reviewed studies published in bona fide journals and promulgate them. Count up how many problems there are in a traditional math textbook such as Saxon Publishing's series, vs. the much fewer number in a Whole Math textbook, to show how little practice and replication the kids are getting with Whole Math. Get a sympathetic professor or concerned computer company president to write an op ed for your local paper.

 

Study the success stories. Spend time on these popular math advocacy websites and model your organization after theirs:

 

www.mathematicallycorrect.com

 

www.nychold.com

 

www.illinoisloop.org/math.html

 

www.POBMath.com

 

www.VORMath.info

 

Use the Internet. Save money whenever you can by sending links via the Web to your friends, colleagues, and political decision-makers such as school board members and state senators. Send these:

 

www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymvSFunUjx0 to everyone on your email lists, and urge the recipients to watch AND send the link on to the people they know.

 

Please also include the link to the original video (Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth) in your emails: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr1qee-bTZI

 

 

Homework: Here's a good article: http://www.ednews.org/articles/8082/1/The-Road-to-Building-Critical-Mass-Or-How-to-Bring-Real-Change-to-US-Mathematics-Education/Page1.html

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Math 03 2008

 

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