NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Groups Fighting Whole Math

August 9, 1999

Interest groups ranging from professional mathematicians to parents are organizing to oppose the introduction of so-called whole math in classrooms throughout the nation. They charge that whole math teaching techniques "dumb-down" or "water down" math education and are simply "junk."

  • Sometimes called "connected math," "fuzzy math," or "new, new math," the approach relies on group work, calculators and "discovery learning" -- which critics say translates into "teaching yourself."
  • Opponents say such "self discovery" programs cover much less ground per year than traditional teaching techniques -- which consists of a structured environment dominated by a teacher -- and are a major reason U.S. students perform poorly compared to their foreign peers on international math tests.
  • New math's primary base of support comes from the National Science Foundation -- which frequently directs grants to academic proponents of the theory.
  • Professionals who utilize math extensively in their work have founded a group called Mathematically Correct to fight the trend -- saying that whole math is leaving children unprepared to do the kind of work their parents do.

A group of parents in Plano, Texas, formed Math Choice -- a group dedicated to eliminating a connected math curriculum that has been introduced in four of the nine middle schools in the local school district.

Hoover Institution researcher Bill Evers charges that such programs "are cheating students" because they "have low expectations" for them, and they "do not thoroughly cover content." He reports that computational scores for students in Palo Alto, Calif., dropped from 86 percent to 58 percent after switching from traditional math to whole math -- adding that it "was disastrous, and parents were furious."

Source: Joyce Howard Price, "Parents Complain 'Whole Math' Doesn't Add Up on Tests," Washington Times, August 8, 1999.


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