NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scores Fall In Defense Department Schools

August 11, 1997

Irate parents protest that their children are being used like guinea pigs by math teachers pushing "fuzzy math" or "whole math" or "new-new math." The parents complain that in a field distinguished by reliance on proof, thousands of schools are taking an unproved approach.

Advocates of the new methods deplore a "long-standing preoccupation with computation and other traditional skills," in the words of a 1987 report by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Under the new approach, which is sometimes called "constructivism," students are encouraged to invent their own personal mathematical methods.

  • The median percentile scores in mathematics on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills one year after the Defense Department introduced whole math in its schools show that students gained little in conceptual understanding from being encouraged to construct their own knowledge.
  • Scores in concepts and applications were roughly the same as in the previous year.
  • Scores in computation, however, dropped 9 points for third graders; 12 points for fourth graders; 11 points for fifth graders; 10 points for sixth and seventh graders; and 4 points for eighth graders.

Parents are particularly upset by whole math advocates' failure to come up with any conclusive proof that their theories actually work.

Source: Lynne Cheney (American Enterprise Institute), "Once Again, Basic Skills Fall Prey to a Fad," New York Times, August 11, 1997.


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