Friday, October 10, 2008

Fuzzy Math--It's Not Dead Yet

I came across the following on an email list of which I am a member, and received permission from the author to repost it here.

"Mathematicians Fault Fuzzy Math Report"
by Donna Garner
October 10, 2008

Jo Boaler, an education professor, has published a report on constructivist math (often referred to as reform math, fuzzy math, "Rain Forest Algebra," etc.). Constructivist math means the student "constructs his/her own understanding. " Most parents simply want their students to know that 2 + 2 = 4 without trying to construct their own understanding. Parents also want their children to learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide with quickness and accuracy. Boaler and those who support constructivist math have a different view. She presented her report at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) meeting in Anaheim, California, where she received enthusiastic applause.

The problem is that Boaler's report has holes in it. This report deliberately misleads the American public into thinking that reform math has raised students' academic achievement.

People such as Boaler want to institutionalize reform math and play down the importance of students learning basic math functions even though parents all over the country are worried sick because their children cannot function in the higher-level math classes without knowing their basic algorithms.

Jim Milgram, Wayne Bishop, Paul Clopton (three brilliant and well-known mathematicians) have taken Boaler's report and shown where her data is faulty. Not only is much of Boaler's data in error, but the questions she used as part of her testing instrument demonstrate lack of math facility on her own part.

It will be very important for the public to retain the website link to Milgram/Bishop/ Clopton's report entitled "A Close Examination of Jo Boaler's Railside Report." [Railside is a pseudonym for a make-believe elementary school to which Boaler refers in her study.] Whenever Boaler's less-than-factual report is referenced in the press and is acclaimed by constructivist math advocates, the public can now pull out the work of Milgram/Bishop/ Clopton to counter Boaler's claims.

Below is the Internet link and an excerpt from the Milgram/Bishop/ Clopton abstract:

ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/combined- evaluations-version3.pdf

This, together with a careful review of the test items used in the [Boaler] study , makes one extremely skeptical of the value of the Railside study’s tests for assessing achievement in mathematics. The Railside students show through AP, SAT, and state assessments that they do not have a good understanding of mathematics. This phenomenon speaks more to the flawed nature of the tests used in the study than it does to any claim of adequacy or inadequacy in the reform approach at Railside.

Update, 10/11/08: Link is fixed now.

4 comments:

Mrs. C said...

Tried the link a couple different ways and it didn't work for me.

Our district teaches a fuzzy math curriculum, but most teachers also teach the methods the old-fashioned way in addition to the lattices, etc.

Law and Order Teacher said...

Who knew? 2+2=4 isn't true? I spent all those years in school fighting through math when I could have "constructed" my own answers. I could have been an A student rather than the B/C student I was. I foolishly tried to gives the answers the teacher said were right. Once again, something to hate teachers for. Who knew?

Joanne Jacobs said...

I noticed an error: CSU eligible students are in the top third of the graduating class statewide (judged by GPA and test scores), not the top third at their school. This doesn't invalidate the response to the study.

I don't see how Boaler can brag that more Railside students take AP Calculus than students at comparison schools when not a single Railsider has taken the AP exam.

PeggyU said...

Where I live they call it "integrated math". It sucks.