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Morning Shots

Living in a Post-National Math Panel World (Barry Garelick)

The British mathematician J. E. Littlewood once began a math class for freshmen with the following statement: "I’ve been giving this lecture to first-year classes for over twenty-five years. You’d think they would begin to understand it by now."

People involved in the debate about how math is best taught in grades K-12, must feel a bit like Littlewood in front of yet another first year class. Every year as objectionable math programs are introduced into schools, parents are alarmed at what isn’t being taught. The new "first-year class" of parents is then indoctrinated into what has come to be known as the math wars as the veterans – mathematicians, frustrated teachers, experienced parents, and pundits – start the laborious process of explanation once more.

It was therefore a watershed event when the President’s National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP) held its final meeting on March 13, 2008 and voted unanimously to approve its report: Foundations for Success: The Final Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.

Unlike Littlewood addressing his perpetual first-year students, the report assumes that the class has actually begun to understand it by now and moves on. It does so quickly and efficiently: "he system that translates mathematical knowledge into value and ability for the next generation – is broken and must be fixed. This is not a conclusion about teachers or school administrators, or textbooks or universities or any other single element of the system. It is about how the many parts do not now work together to achieve a result worthy of this country’s values and ambitions."

The report provides benchmarks for the critical foundations of algebra, setting out grade level expectations of mastery for fluency with whole numbers, fluency with fractions, and geometry and measurement. It also provides recommendations for the major topics of an

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On Governors, Education and Leadership – For a Change

How is it that governors – who have nearly ultimate power to change education laws for the better – spend most of the education space in their State of the State addresses year after year touting money as their "unique" answer to improving education in their state?

A review of Education Week’s digest of these traditional speeches shows that, regardless of party or state, almost all the nation’s chief executives punt to business-as-usual when talking about this most fundamental of issues.

The notable exception this year seems to be Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who announced he would seek to implement many of the recommendations of his Committee on Education Excellence, including the novel ideas of allowing non-traditional entities to enter the teacher-preparation market and pursuing new routes to earning a teacher credential. These recommendations won him the headline from Ed Week that the Gov "backs off planned ‘year of education’" – "back off," I suppose, because he didn’t offer the proverbial chicken in every education pot. Thus, the establishment believes, he has backed off his dedication to schools.

It all depends on how you look it.

Now the Gubernator, who has never been one to take the establishment too seriously, could be like his New Jersey colleague Jon Corzine, whose entire education focus is on money, despite his state, already among the top education spenders in the nation at $12,252 per student, being home to some of the most pathetic school systems in the world. Or he could be like the purportedly progressive Tim Kaine of Virginia, who rededicated himself to statewide pre-school, but who presides over one of the weakest charter states in the nation, ignoring for the second year now a reform that is much in-demand and, even more importantly, needed in the state. Or he could be

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Traditional Math Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry (Barry Garelick)

Last year at a meeting of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (a Presidential appointed panel charged with drafting recommendations on how best to prepare students for algebra), a woman named Sherry Fraser read a statement into the public record which began as follows:

"How many of you remember your high school algebra? Close your eyes and imagine your algebra class. Do you see students sitting in rows, listening to a teacher at the front of the room, writing on the chalkboard and demonstrating how to solve problems? Do you remember how boring and mindless it was? Research has shown this type of instruction to be largely ineffective." (Fraser, 2006).

Such statement falls in the category of "Traditional math doesn’t work" or "The old way of teaching math was a mass failure," heard early and often at school board meetings or other forums. I am always puzzled by these statements but Sherry’s was particularly vexing given that 1) I was not bored in my algebra classes, and 2) Sherry, like me, ended up majoring in math. So I contacted Sherry and asked what the research was that showed such methods to be "largely ineffective". Sherry is co-director of a high school math text/curricula called IMP, developed in the early 90’s through grants from the NSF, totaling $11.6 million, to San Francisco State University. She replied to me in an email that she is a "firm believer in people doing their own research" and added that I wouldn’t have any trouble finding sources to confirm her statements. I have assumed she is just trying to be helpful by having me discover the answer myself, rather than just tell me the answer to my question. I have been a good student; here’s what my research shows:

From the 1940’s to the

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