Math basics are back in the new report issued by the influential National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The Wall Street Journal (pay to read the whole thing) reports:
The nation’s math teachers, on the front lines of a 17-year curriculum war, are getting some new marching orders: Make sure students learn the basics.
In a report to be released today, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which represents 100,000 educators from prekindergarten through college, will give ammunition to traditionalists who believe schools should focus heavily and early on teaching such fundamentals as multiplication tables and long division.
The council’s advice is striking because in 1989 it touched off the so-called math wars by promoting open-ended problem solving over drilling. Back then, it recommended that students as young as those in kindergarten use calculators in class.
NCTM’s approach heavily influenced textbooks and education school courses, setting off a parent rebellion against “fuzzy math.”
The council says its earlier views had been widely misunderstood and were never intended to excuse students from learning multiplication tables and other fundamentals.
. . . Francis Fennell, the council’s president, says the latest guidelines move closer to the curriculum of Asian countries such as Singapore, whose students tend to perform better on international tests. There, children focus intensely on a relative handful of topics, such as multiplication, division and algebra, then practice by solving increasingly difficult word and other problems.
The 1989 standards tried to promote understanding of math concepts by downplaying “right answers” in favor of estimation.
For example, an elementary-school student tackling the problem 4,783 divided by 13 should instead divide 4,800 by 12 to arrive at “about 400,” the 1989 report said. The council said this approach would enable children using calculators to “decide whether the correct keys were pressed and whether the calculator result is reasonable.”
By 2000, NCTM was moving away from its focus on calculator use instead of “pencil-and-paper proficiency.”
The story goes on to describe the success of the very unfuzzy Singapore Math at a heavily minority, low-income school in Massachusetts.
Better late than never, writes Darren, a high school math teacher. “It only cost a single generation of students who couldn’t learn math.”