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    News > In the Headlines


    Editorial: Fuzzy teaching ideas never added up

    9/13/2006

    Chicago Sun-Times


    Back in the late 1990s, when the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics promoted the loosening of teaching methods -- grade schools, it said, could decide for themselves when to start emphasizing the fundamental 1-2-3s of problem solving -- many math teachers and parents regarded it as madness. Surely students' skills were going to decline if they could rely on calculators in lieu of knowing the multiplication table. And surely if schools emphasized notions about teaching the basic idea of math over teaching established principles -- one "fuzzy" approach was to teach addition by having kids add left-most digits first -- overall student performance would suffer.

    Lo these many years later, the council has admitted, more or less, that it goofed. In a report released Tuesday, the council, confronting "inconsistency in the grade placement of mathematics topics as well as in how they are defined and what students are expected to learn," laid down a new law restoring "old school" values: K-8 students are to be taught the basics, including the fundamentals of geometry and algebra. The multiplication table, currently required learning in only two dozen states, is to be drilled into kids' heads again.

    Recommendations are not reality, but considering the downward trajectory of young Americans in math and science, this basic recipe for turning that trend around couldn't be more welcome.



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