Tuesday, November 14, 2006

NY Times on Math Ed

Apparently not everyone agrees that mathematics education research is the gold standard. In the NY Times today, there was an article on parents and mathematics professors rebelling against "fuzzy" math.
“The Seattle level of concern about math may be unusual, but there’s now an enormous amount of discomfort about fuzzy math on the East Coast, in Maine, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, and now New Jersey is starting to make noise,” said R. James Milgram, a math professor at Stanford University. “There’s increasing understanding that the math situation in the United States is a complete disaster.”

Who is James Milgram? What research has he conducted in how people learn? This leads me to their website, refuting several of the NCTM standards, by citing 3 peer-reviewed studies (and numerous other opinion articles). There are thousands of papers written in mathematics education, so three studies does not make a case. (In particular Klahr and Nigam.)

It seems so strange to me who is "allowed" to criticize education, teachers, curriculum, and standards. Does succeeding at math make you an expert on how people learn math, or how to best teach math? Anyone who has taken a university mathematics course surely can answer that question with a "no."

This is not to say that learning the "basics" is a meaningless endeavor or should not be part of the standards (though I can't tell you the last time I did long division, and I use problem solving strategies daily). I just think the research is ongoing, we don't know the answer yet, and anyone who claims differently has a limited view of what it is to have learned math.

One interesting point that this article does raise is a parent quoting a teacher who notes: "We don’t teach long division; it stifles their creativity." The disconnect between the intent of curriculum and the perceived intent by teachers is worrisome.

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