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Education Reporter

Fuzzy Math at the Local Level

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Rhonda Thurman, School Board Member of Hamilton County, Tennessee, posted this comment after the National Council of Teachers of Mathemetics issued its 2006 report:

Once again, Hamilton County School System students have been used as guinea pigs and the experiment has failed. For those parents who have questioned the math being taught to your students, you have been vindicated. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has finally gotten their head out of the fog and admitted that maybe students should not be using calculators in kindergarten and students should memorize their math facts. Eureka! The NCTM has also admitted that it was time students got the right answer and not just a "guesstimate." Imagine! . . .

In 1998, Everyday Math (one of the "fuzzy" math curriculums) was adopted in Hamilton County Elementary Schools and Connected Math (another one of the "fuzzy" math curriculums) was adopted in Hamilton County Middle Schools. Before the curriculum adoption, I urged parents through neighborhood meetings to oppose the "new new math" teaching because it relies heavily on the use of calculators beginning in kindergarten. The "new new math" also uses the "spiraling method" to teach instead of the building block method that had always been used.

The building block method teaches students to master one concept before moving on to the next more complicated step. For instance, first, students memorize and master addition and substraction facts, then they move on to multiplication and then division.

The spiraling method, however, teaches several concepts in one week. If the concepts are not mastered, students move on. Teachers, students and parents are told not to worry if a concept is not understood because students will have another chance to "get it" when the concept "spirals" back around later. . . .

The new approach puzzled many parents. For example, to solve a basic division problem, 120 divided by 40, students might cross off groups of circles to "discover" that the answer is three.

The Council's controversial 1989 standards called on teachers to promote estimation, rather than precise answers. For example, an elementary-school student tackling the problem 4,783 divided by 13 should instead divide 4,800 by 12 to arrive at "about 400," the 1989 report said. The council said this approach would enable children using calculators to "decide whether the correct keys were pressed and whether the calculator result is reasonable." . . .

The main reason Everyday and Connected Math curriculums were adopted in Hamilton County was because we received a $5 million National Science Foundation Grant from the federal government. So, HCDE (who has never seen a grant they didn't like) decided to gamble on an unproved math program and lost.

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