- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

The Department of Education was criticized yesterday before a House education subcommittee for its endorsement of 10 controversial math programs that parents, mathematicians and others have called unproven.

Those math programs drew strong recommendations from a department-convened panel, which reviewed 61 different math curriculums and picked 10 as "exemplary" or "promising."

But one noted math scholar told members of the Education and Workforce subcommittee on early childhood youth and families that the programs kept children from learning important basic math skills and left them unprepared for higher course work.

"It is probably worth noting that at the present time there is no valid research which shows that any of the programs of this type are effective," said R. James Milgram, a math professor at Stanford University.

In October, Mr. Milgram led a group of 200 math scholars who took out full-page ads in national newspapers urging Education Secretary Richard W. Riley to rescind his recommendations of the math curriculums.

Mr. Riley declined.

"All but possibly one of the programs in the list recommended by the Department of Education represent a single point of view towards teaching mathematics, the constructivist philosophy that the teacher is simply a facilitator," Mr. Milgram said of the programs, labeled by some as "fuzzy math."

They included "core-plus math," "Mathland" and "connected math," which is being piloted locally in Montgomery County, Md., where it also has drawn criticism.

"Standard algorithms for operations like multiplication and division are not taught …," Mr. Milgram added. "Algebra is short-changed as well."

An increasing number of students must take remedial math courses as they enter college, and a growing number of technical jobs in the United States must be filled by workers from other countries. In 1998, U.S. high school seniors ranked fourth from last among students from 21 industrialized nations in math.

C. Kent McGuire, an assistant secretary of education, defended the Education Department's panel of experts, saying his department had an obligation to offer schools guidance on the best programs that are available. The department was following a 1994 law requiring the recommendations, but it is not allowed to tell school systems what they can teach.

Parents and students testified yesterday that the new math programs are leaving their children behind.

"If medical doctors experimented with our kids in the same fashion school districts do, they would be in jail," said parent Mark Schwartz of Livonia, Mich., who decried the "overreaching control" of the federal government in education.

University of Michigan freshman Rachel Tronstein said four years of taking a math program called "core plus" in her high school "created calculator dependency" and "created a group of students who are ashamed of their math ability."

In her first year of college she struggled, even with tutoring, to earn a B-minus in calculus. In other courses, she earns A's.

Parent Susan Sarhady of Plano, Texas, told the subcommittee how she and other parents sued their local school district after it refused to offer students a traditional math course in addition to the district's connected-math curriculum.

"I would ask that much stricter controls be put into place to prevent schools from using untested programs without informed consent from the parents and the students," she said.

"Some of us have the fortitude to take on our local school districts, but we cannot take on the federal government as well. At the very least, the federal government should first do no harm."

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