Reform Math Must Be Destroyed Root and Branch

The Education Establishment went way too far, and this has presented the country with a unique opportunity for real improvement of the public schools.

As never before, parents across the United States will tell you emphatically that they hate Common Core, and they especially hate Common Core Math.

The Education Establishment will try to maneuver around this revulsion.  Compromises will be offered.  The same dumb ideas will be repackaged as something new and wonderful.  The challenge is to refuse to compromise.  Sometimes a good thing, compromise is now the biggest threat to genuine reform. 

Our Education Establishment has been selling inferior goods for more than half a century.  They know how to bait and switch, and how to lie.  Ordinary citizens stand little chance against these cunning maneuvers.  So let’s keep it strategically simple.  Go for total victory.  Reform Math should be discarded, inane root and goofy branch.

By way of background, Reform Math comprises a dozen separate but similar math curricula created in the 1980s.  The most hated of these is Everyday Math  (Mathland used to be the most hated, but it has been buried, which is what we need in every case.)  Here are some of the other titles: College Preparatory Math, Connected Math, Core-Plus Mathematics, Discovering Math, Number Power,  Interactive Mathematics, Investigations Math, Trailblazers, Chicago Math.

But why did the experts create so many basically interchangeable programs?  The answer is that when a community learned to hate one of them, the experts could say, Okay, you win; let’s try this one.  And they bounced the people sideways from one bad program to the next.  If you like cynical, you have to love this.

During the 1960s, the Education Establishment watched New Math, in development for a long time, crash and burn in a few years.  Parents laughed it out of town; schools went back to real arithmetic.  Apparently, the Education Establishment did not want that same scenario repeated.  So they cloned a dozen math programs.  In that way, parents never really had a chance during the last 30 years.  If they didn’t like Tweedledum, they got Tweedledee.

Now the Education Establishment is cycling all of these crummy Reform programs forward under the banner of Common Core, thus the phrase Common Core Math.

The common denominator of all these inferior programs is an artificial complexity, and an emphasis on learning concepts and “meaning” without actually being able to do problems.  These programs teach algorithms that parents don't know.  A tremendous separation is created between the generations.  Parents are rendered irrelevant.  The children are frustrated to tears.  In a few years, in all of these Reform curricula, the kids end up dependent on calculators.

The short-term effect is that fewer kids become skilled at math.  The long-range effect is that millions of students are discouraged from studying algebra, calculus, physics, chemistry, etc.

So there is a sick joke here.  The Education Establishment promises to help children understand the meaning.  At the end, the children don’t know meaning, method, or anything else.  Even if there is such a thing as the meaning of math, you would surely want to teach children how to count, add, and subtract first.  Later, when the children feel comfortable with basic arithmetic, you could explain deeper aspects.  The essential perversity of all Reform Math programs is to introduce the complex ahead of the simple.  It’s a bulletproof way to confuse little children, and our Education Establishment keeps exploiting it.

Clearly, the all-pervasive problem is that we can’t trust our so-called experts.  They are ideologues first, educators second, and therein lies the tragedy.  These pretenders design curricula to achieve ideological goals.  What we need from now on are curricula that achieve educational goals.

Almost no homeschoolers or private schools use Reform Math curricula.  These programs are used when ideologues can gang up and bully the public.  (Full disclosure: I’ve spoken to an elite  private school that uses Investigations.  Keep in mind that these are highly motivated students, very involved parents, and very dedicated teachers.  They can make anything work.)

The favorite programs outside of Reform Math are Singapore Math and Saxon Math.  Both teach children how to do arithmetic in a systematic, logical way, with mastery throughout.  So that’s the answer.  Reject all varieties of Reform Math.  Instead, use Singapore Math, Saxon Math, or the equivalent. 

John Saxon was particularly proud that students using his textbooks moved on, in far greater percentages, to algebra, calculus, etc.

Looking back at the sweep of American secondary education, the big event was the introduction in 1931 of an unworkable reading method known as Whole Word.  The Education Establishment got away with it.  Whole Word was in control in most communities until the end of the 20th century, and schools were turning out functional illiterates by the million.  We have to suspect that our elite educators saw this as the paradigm: a school pretends to teach something but makes sure that the children don’t learn it.  Whole Word does that.  New Math and Reform Math do that. 

If you want to be really depressed about all this, keep in mind that the National Science Foundation pumped $100 million (your tax money) into subsidizing hundreds and hundreds of professors as they drew up equally disastrous Reform curricula that would fundamentally undercut the study of science!  Meanwhile, the National Council of Teachers of Math gushed approval of every little anti-math gimmick.  All these front groups, pretending to be independent and impartial, keep pushing bad ideas on the public.  The same pattern repeated itself with Common Core, which was supposedly given to us by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

So many credentialed experts; so many billions of dollars; so many secret intentions.  The Education Establishment has everything but curricula that let children become good students.  We may not be able to fire these faux-educators.  But we can systematically eliminate the kind of poisons they like to inject.  We can systematically take the attitude that the Education Establishment has proven itself incompetent, if not malicious, and from now on, whatever they’re selling, we don’t want it.  In particular, Reform Math.

CODA: parents must fight back.  Laurie Rogers has just posted  “The Myth of the Helpless Parent,” a wonderful short guide to fighting a corrupt system.

Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site