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TITLE: NBS#231: "Finding a clear path through America's math
CATEGORY: Content Standards

The Christian Science Monitor begins a three-part series on the perceived
math deficit among US students with an overview of what all the fuss is
about. While Americans have long joked about their math insecurities, the
hard reality isn't so funny. The 1996 Third International Mathematics and
Science Study ranked US eighth-graders in the bottom half of 41 countries.
Last year, two-thirds of Massachusetts's fourth-graders proved unable to
multiply 256 times 98 with a calculator. Students in a Penn State
University introductory economics course last year didn't know the
difference between a numerator and a denominator -- a first for Professor
Thomas Fox.

These indicators don't bode well for the country's economic future, experts
say. "We're coasting right now," says Harold Stevenson, an expert in math
education. "The next decades are going to be ones devoted to science and
technology, and if we don't have that, where are we going to be in 20

Of course, math education has undergone many previous overhauls. In the
'60s, it was "new math," followed by a return to "basics" in the '70s. Over
the last two decades, the focus has returned to problem solving. The swings
have infuriated many parents. Those who favor an emphasis on basic skills
recently scored a victory when the National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics modified its standards to reflect such a shift. The irony is
that some of the innovative approaches under attack are integral parts of
strong math programs in countries like Japan. What is needed to make those
approaches work are strong teachers with a thorough understanding of their

Other stories in the first part of this series focus on the "new-new math,"
and the lessons to be learned from the way math is taught in other

SOURCE: Christian Science Monitor, 16 May 2000

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