Students enjoy constructivist math in Ossining, New York, writes Samuel Freedman in the NY Times. But the kid who learned math in the traditional way in Catholic school is way ahead.
Worried that students fell behind in math in the upper grades, Ossining looked for a new math curriculum.
A math consultant, Dr. Benjamin Lindeman, prepared an audit that took as a starting point, a veritable first principle, the notions that “sitting and listening to the teacher” or “memorization and drill and practice” were failed methods.
Quite understandably, Ossining administrators decided to choose only from those curriculums bearing the imprimaturs of the National Science Foundation and the math teachers’ council – all of which just happened to be more or less constructivist.
The vast majority of the town’s elementary school teachers, after all, did not possess or claim any expertise in math; virtually all of them held degrees in education, special education, or reading education, and were more confident in their judgment, and more able to resist cant and dogma, in the humanities rather than in math. No rational person could blame them for assuming that the support of the National Science Foundation and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for a given curriculum should have amounted to what Jewish tradition calls a hechsher – proof a product is kosher.
This is a first-rate analysis of the problem, though it doesn’t pick a right answer.