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Reform Math is Deformed Math

Here’s a question for the Education Establishment. If smart, educated parents hate what you’re doing, why won’t you listen?

reformed math is difficultA Facebook page called Parents Against Everyday Math gives a poignant look at the misery spread across the country by dysfunctional math programs. Parents left these comments:

“I HATE this!!!”

“Yes, I do believe where I can see that this really makes sense NOT!”

“You are bringing back nightmares with this post. Utterly inefficient.”

“The problem I have with Everyday Math is it discourages the kids, and destroys their self-esteem. Any educator that doesn't recognize that shouldn't be in education.”

“This was on my 3rd grader's EM test yesterday. The teacher and I are in disagreement about the answer and the kids' ability to solve this: ‘James built a rectangular prism out of base-10 blocks. He used 30 cm cubes to make the base. He put 4 more layers of cubes on top of that. What is the volume of the prism he built?’ (sic)

Then you have 25 grown-ups screaming they have no idea what the answer is supposed to be. 

At this point, with only this evidence, we should suspect that the people behind Everyday Math do not seriously want kids to learn arithmetic. 

Reform Math consists of 12 more or less identical curricula that suffer from the same design flaws: spiraling mindlessly from topic to topic, children never allowed to master anything except perhaps a calculator, constructivism (aka Discovery) often required, cooperative or team learning usually required.

The people behind this quackery have built in lots of sinkholes--something with five minute’s worth of content but it can keep children baffled for hours. 

Here are four examples of bad pedagogy found in virtually all Reform Math curricula: confusing statistical terms; inefficient methods; verbose word problems; and a waste of time called “order of operations.”

STATISTICAL TERMS: Statistics was once considered a college-level course. New Math (circa 1965) started the practice of teaching advanced math to children: matrices, boolean algebra, symbolic logic, et al. New and Reform Math like to throw around complex terms, probably to bamboozle parents. Furthermore, statistical terms aren’t a foundation for something that everybody should know. Mastering them would be appropriate in an MBA program. So why do Reform Math programs waste time on this specialized niche? Even worse, these programs seem to have gone out of their way to pick nomenclature that will be difficult for students to remember and keep straight: Mean, Median, Mode, and Range. 

Years ago, the word “average” was used to mean what “mean” now means. Meanwhile, “mean” had a  different meaning, a very useful one, but that meaning has been appropriated by “median.” It’s all very confusing, and a good way to make sure children avoid math.

Here is what one education site says: “The mode is probably the least common way of finding the average, and in most cases is the least useful. To find the mode, just look for the number that occurs the most. There can be more than one mode, or none at all.”

Pick a set of explanations at random; you will likely be struck by the unhelpful jargon. 

Recall the Batman characters--the Joker and the Riddler--and how they delighted in perverse puzzles. 

WEIRD METHODS: Reform Math curricula disdain or entirely prohibit the familiar algorithms. Children are forced to learn more awkward methods to multiply and divide. This has two immediate results: the learning curve is slow; and parents cannot help. 

“An Inconvenient Truth,” a famous video on YouTube, explains (if you can stand it) two of these painfully cumbersome methods: lattice method and partial products. There are others, all of them unwieldy. The geniuses behind Reform Math dug up the graveyard of forgotten failures, and now force them on today’s children.

WORDS INSTEAD OF NUMBERS: a common feature in math courses these days is the word problem. Instead of learning to solve arithmetic problems, as was traditional for centuries, children are made to deal with the same questions expressed in lots of words.

So instead of 1 + 2 equals ?, we have: “One weekend in November, Josephine, a famous athlete, baked one cherry pie while Mary Ellen, a business executive, baked two lemon meringue pies. How many pies do Josephine and Mary Ellen have?”

 What is the benefit of all this verbiage? But there’s something even sicker going on here. It’s well known that many children don’t learn to read fluently. Some of those children may be good at math. If you give them a number problem, these kids might be able to shine, and feel good about school. So we see a double whammy: teach kids to read in a way that doesn’t work very well, and then assault their brains with arithmetic expressed in unnecessarily long sentences.

The whole point of math is to be spare and elegant. You can’t beat the beauty of 1 + 2 = 3.  

ORDER OF OPERATIONS: probably most college graduates, unless they are programmers, never hear this phrase. For K-12 students it’s another new and unnecessary field of math, a sinkhole. 

We do not usually encounter mathematical expression unless they are correct. Otherwise it’s like a newspaper reporting: “Move the now cat unusual a victory.”

Where would you see this: 8 - 4 x 6 + 3 x 5 - 2? No book intended for adults, or real students of math, would go to press with such nonsense included. 

Children are given dozens of illegitimate equations, also known as “number sentences.” The children must use PEMDAS, which stands for Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add, Subtract, to rationalize the equations. A lot of time is spent mastering math that never seems to be part of anyone’s reality. 

Wikipedia sketches the confusion: “The original order of operations in most countries was BODMAS which stood for Brackets, Over, Division, Multiplication, Addition, Subtraction. This mnemonic was used until exponentials were added into the mnemonic. These mnemonics may be misleading when written this way, especially if the user is not aware that multiplication and division are of equal precedence, as are addition and subtraction. Using any of the above rules in the order "addition first, subtraction afterward" would also give the wrong answer to the problem.”

So you madden children with this stuff, and at the end they have learned nothing important or permanent. If order of operations is a legitimate subject, that would be for advanced students who want to become editors of math texts.

All of Reform Math (like New Math before it) is an Ikea project where the instructions have 50 steps, but two steps have been left out and several others have been flipped. Then they put you in a room and wait for you to go insane.

There is something so counterintuitive about Reform Math that finally you are sure this instruction was never intended to work. Rather, it was concocted by Pavlovian technicians using the latest Russian research on what will most quickly put a person into shock.

Math is pure, serene, elegant, transparent. Reform Math is like a crippled cruise ship adrift at sea for a month.

All across the country, people are fighting against the adoption of Common Core curriculum. One good way you know the Common Core is undesirable is that it blandly perpetuates Reform Math.

What to do? Almost everyone agrees that Saxon Math and Singapore Math are outstanding. 

Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org

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