Saturday, September 25, 2010

Barry Garelick on traditional vs. modern math instruction

Coalition for World Class Mathematics co-founder Barry Garelick attempted, twice, to post the following comment in response to this week's Problems of the Week comparison. Apparently, it's too long for Blogger Comments. However, it's such a great comment that I'm delighted to be posting it as today's post. Here is Barry Garelick:


This discussion of CPM reminds me of a similarly atrocious math program called IMP. IMP is an “integrated” math program that spans the four years of high school. It was funded by NSF in a grant totaling $11.6 million to San Francisco State University in the early 90’s.  Sherry Fraser, a co-directof of IMP made a public statement on November 6, 2006 before the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, a Presidential appointed panel charged with drafting recommendations on how best to prepare students. The opening lines of her statement were 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. Too many
mathematics classes have not prepared students to use mathematics, to be real
problem-solvers, both in the math classroom and beyond as critical analyzers of
their world.
I wrote to Ms. Fraser explaining that I was writing an article on math instruction that prevailed in the 40's through the 60's. I asked if she would provide me the cites of the research that she claimed shows this type of instruction to be ineffective. Her reply was as follows:
I'm a firm believer in people doing their own research. I'm sure you won't have any trouble finding a number of sources to confirm this. I certainly didn't. I'd be interested in reading your paper when you've completed it. I'm familiar with math instruction in the 1950's and 60's but am now wondering whether the world war during the 40's had any impact on math instruction in that decade.
Well, I took her advice and did my own research and the result is a three part article found here:

An Exploration of Traditional Math, Part III

The file has become corrupted in parts due to technical glitches but it is mostly readable. The comments from readers are readable as well and are also informative on their own. Interestingly, math scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills in the State of Iowa steadily increased from the 40’s through the mid-60’s in the lower grades, when it hit a decline and didn’t recover until the 80’s: a pattern seen not only in Iowa. That the decline was seen in lower grades takes away the usual explanation offered for the decline in SAT scores during the same time period that the population of people taking the SAT had grown to include minorities who had not been in the college pool before. And the changing demographics argument which is offered to explain the decline in test scores in lower grades doesn’t explain Iowa’s, since the shift in white population decreased from 99% in the 40’s to 97% in the 60’s. What did change in that time period was an increase in the edu-fads that are today very commonplace: student-centered classrooms, inquiry based instruction and a move away from drills and mastery of procedural knowledge.

2 comments:

Lsquared said...

Whaddaya know? Barry's least favorite HS math series is the same as my least favorite HS math series! CPM actually has a few redeeming qualities. IMP...well, lets say I would not be a happy camper if it were being used in my child's class. You'd find yourself hard pressed to compare it to a traditional textbook, however, in the way you do with CPM, because all of it's chapters are things like "the Baker problem" rather than things like "linear equations". You can only find the bits on, say, linear equations if you read the whole book and write your own index. Bleah.

Joanne Jacobs said...

I thought it was standard in academia to provide citations -- NOT to tell people to do their own research.