Sunday, August 01, 2010

We Have Always Been At War With Oceania

The California math wars of the 90's, pitting the "fuzzy math" proponents against the "real math" adherents, are about to heat up yet again:

I am a veteran of the math wars. I was there in 1995 when the shiny new California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) test told graders to award a higher score to a student who incorrectly answered a math problem about planting trees -- but wrote an enthusiastic essay -- than to a student who got the answer right, but with no essay.

The genius responsible for that math question explained that her goal was to present eighth-graders with "an intentionally ambiguous problem in which no one pattern can be considered the absolute answer." Gov. Pete Wilson's education czar, Maureen DiMarco, promptly dubbed new-new math "fuzzy crap."

I was there in 1997, when a trendy second-grade math textbook featured a lesson called "fantasy lunch," which instructed students to draw their fantasy lunch on paper, cut out the food and place their drawings into a bag.

I've heard from young adults who aced high school math only to find themselves utterly unprepared for college math. So it was no surprise when Stanford University math professor James Milgram found that the number of California State University students who needed remedial math had more than doubled, from 23 percent in 1989 to 54 percent in 1997...

A battle won, alas, is not won forever. A key win for true math enthusiasts was the California standard that called for eighth-graders to learn algebra -- and that standard has been a target ever since.

On Monday, the state Board of Education will vote on a proposal to adopt national Common Core State Standards, commissioned by President Obama and adopted by 27 states. If the board votes yes, as recommended by the 21-member state Academic Content Standards Commission, the Golden State's eighth-grade Algebra I standard will go the way of old soldiers.

I've long admired Debra Saunders' work, and this article just adds to that volume.


Ellen K said...

The problem with education is that we have administrators that attend seminars. Administrators are bottom line kind of guys. When some salesman from a book company tells them that this software or that program or this system will improve test scores, they bite. This is why we have had such travesties as New Math, Whole Language, Open Classrooms and more. If education would focus less on gimmicks and more on teaching, we would all be in better shape.

mazenko said...

Do you have an opinion of Everyday Math?

Darren said...

Everyday Math is among the worst of the New Math fuzzy stuff.

Ellen K said...

I thought we were always at war with Eurasia.

Darren said...

Perhaps so. It's been years since I read the book. Perhaps Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania. Oh well.

Maybe the title is "fake but accurate", or whatever.

Ellen K said...

Actually, that is the catch. Big Brother keeps changing the name of the enemy. Thus the pppulation is supposed to adhere to the hatred of the enemy of the moment-Oceania or Eurasia.