Thursday, April 20, 2006

Reform Math

If the thought of selecting a homeschool math curriculum stresses you out, don't worry you're not alone. Every homeschooler faces the decision of which math curriculum at some point in time. Saxon, Math-U-See, Singapore, there are so many out there to choose from. The choices can be daunting. (We use Saxon.)

Homeschoolers aren't the only ones stressing about math curriculum. In many parts of the country it's becoming divisive in the public schools. It's not just which curriculum but which method, traditional math or reform math. It's the reform math that is creating the stir.

Seattle is the latest to introduce reform math into its school district; leaving many parents confused and unhappy.

Traditional math is just what its name implies. The traditional memorization, drill, and practice method. The teacher teaches and the student learns. Mastery of the basic concepts is believed necessary to teach higher math.

Reform math is a complete departure from traditional math.
Reform math also emphasizes estimating and being able to analyze whether the answer derived is correct and reasonable. Students are urged to use calculators from an early age, "because as adults, that's how we do it -- we either do mental math or use a calculator," said Ruth Balf, who teaches fourth and fifth grade at Olympic View Elementary.
The emphasis is on discovery of concepts by the student instead of teaching the concepts and mastery of them. (We wouldn't want to hurt their self esteem by telling them something's wrong!) So the teacher "guides" and the student "discovers" the answers. Or at least makes a good guess. Here's an example,

How do you convert a fraction to a decimal? Divide the numerator by the denominator? Not in CMP [Reformed] math. That might call for long division. Too difficult! CMP students use "models." They have 9 "fraction strips," with a separate fraction strip for the denominators 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 12. Students also have a "hundreds strip." To convert 7/8 to a decimal, the student compares the eighths strip to the hundreds strip, looking to see where 7/8 "hits" the hundreds strip. Answers can be expected to range from .86 to .89. The "right answer" is .87 or .88
To make it even more confusing, it varies from year to year which method is used. This leaves huge gaps in students' foundational math skills. Parents are so baffled by the reform math that they can't even help their children with their homework. "Family math nights" are being offered by the district to teach parents how to help their children.

I tutored a fourth grade public school girl in math recently. I asked her to bring her math book to our session. Her mother told me she wasn't allowed to bring it home. How can you do your homework without the book? Further, she told me all her homework made no sense to her or her daughter. Most of the problems had to be solved in a group. To complicate it even more, her daughter didn't even have basic addition memorized. In desperation the mother came to me looking for materials in basic math skills.

This all reminds me of the "inventive" spelling that they introduced into the schools years ago. Now reformers want to tinker with math the same way. And they wonder why we're behind other countries?

So if you're a homeschooler baffled by which curriculum, take heart. You're not alone. But at least your in control of how they are taught and they won't be guinea pigs for the "dumbing them down" reform math.

If you're a public school parent (and many readers here are) then I would be beating a path to my child's school demanding to see the math curriculum.

Some parents are ready to ditch the public schools over this issue. Here's what one Seattle parent said,

"It would be very depressing to me," she said. She says she's a firm supporter of public schools -- "but if they muck up the math, I'm going somewhere else."
Here's some websites if you would like to learn more about reform math.
Mathematically Correct
The Root Cause of the Math Wars Reform Mathematics

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