Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Digesting my Op-Ed responses

The emails reacting to my November 9th Op-Ed have stopped coming in, and so it's time to sum up the 40+ responses.

The biggest contingent were parents and educators of autistic spectrum children who agreed with me that Reform Math is shortchanging their children.

Nearly as numerous were those who agreed with my points, but felt that Reform Math shortchanges a much larger group of kids. (I agree. My focus on autistic spectrum children was partly a matter of news topicality, and partly because I think that these are among the most vulnerable of affected children.)

Less than five people wrote in defense of Reform Math. Those most angered by my piece were a couple of teachers who have autistic spectrum students in their classrooms and claim that Reform Math works just fine for them. ("Please check your facts before writing articles," wrote one.)

This got me thinking about how it is that some teachers can come to believe, based on actual classroom experience rather than ed school indoctrination, that Reform Math is better than traditional math for their most vulnerable students.

What I think is going on here is that people are confusing success with Reform Math with success in math. As should be apparent from my Problems of the Week posts, Reform Math, in comparison with non-Reform Math, offers a much smaller number of easy problems and leaves out all sorts of difficult concepts and procedures. Issues of speed, accuracy, and mathematical challenge do not arise very much.

Therefore, if you are a teacher working with students who struggle with actual math--as many lower-functioning children on the autistic spectrum do, for all the strengths that higher functioning autistic children have in math--and if you confuse Reform Math with actual math, you may come to believe that Reform Math serves your students much better than non-Reform Math does.

That's why we desperately need measures of actual math achievement, instead of all those state tests that, designed (as one follow-up letter to the editor points out) in lockstep with Reform Math, simply measure Reform Math achievement.


Mrs. C said...

Great post! My non-verbal child... I don't care HOW they teach the math; I just want to have him speaking and interacting. :]

Anonymous said...

I have heard the same thing from elementary teachers at my child's school. We have seen such improvement on our test scores since implimentin "Everyday Math," you high school math teachers just don't like it. But what I see is my 3rd grader starting division before multiplication because of the spiral. In fact last night I showed her how to do traditional multidigit multiplication. She got the idea, but I could tell that she needed to PRACTICE to truly "get it." They just don't seem to get that in the reform math programs.
When I mentioned the March 2008, study suggesting the problems with "spiral" curriculum, the teacher had no idea. I am in a large school district which just invested in the Everyday Math curriculum and I have no hope that it will change any time soon, so I supplement with Kumon workbooks, but I worry about all the students who aren't supplementing.

Marcy said...

I would really like to see some published studies showing the effect k-12 reform math is having on college math.

Katharine Beals said...

Marcy, wouldn't that be nice! It's so hard to get clear-cut data on this (I've looked!), and I fear that, by the time we have it, a tremendous amount of irreversible mathematical mis-education will have occurred.