"Reform Math" Leaves Some Perplexed

Remember when there was only one right answer to a math problem?

Not anymore.

"What does estimating mean?" a teacher asks a student.

"It's something like, reasonably close," says a student.

"Good I like the word reasonable, 'It's reasonably close,' he said," says the teacher.

And that is good enough here in Abington, Penn., where they're teaching "reform math."

Instead of endless memorization and multiplication tables, in this kind of math, "reasonably close" is good enough.

"There's a time when you want to do mental arithmetic, where something works much more quickly in your head. There's a time for paper and pencil computation, and there's also a time to use a calculator," says Amy Dillard, author of "Everyday Mathematics," a reform math textbook.

About a quarter of the nation's schools are now teaching reform math. But some parents say it's just "fuzzy" math, and it's bringing down scores on tests mandated by the No Child Left Behind act.

Carol Rounds is trying to get her son's school to switch to a more traditional math program.

"There are no numbers in this homework. It's just amazing — for math homework," says Rounds.

She says her son Emerson, a second grader in New Jersey, is just not getting the basics.

She shows her son a flash card that has the problem 10 minus 7.

"How much is this one?" she asks.

"I don't know," Emerson says.

So she has taken matters into her own hands, and is teaching him the old fashioned way.

"It's ok, how do you get there? You can use your fingers," Rounds says.

"Do kids get bored by drilling? Yes. Do they get empowered by getting the knowledge they ultimately gain from memorization? Yes, they get empowered," she says.

Reform math isn't exactly new. It's been around for about 15 years. It was inspired by a group of educators to combat slumping math scores and sleeping students. But today even some of those educators say some school districts have taken it too far.

Still, reform math supporters say their studies show that their programs help kids score higher.

"We're preparing kids now for jobs that we don't even know are going to exist, and we can't be teaching them the same mathematics that we did years and years ago, we really have to prepare them for the workforce that they'll be headed to," says Dillard.

Both sides are trying to give kids the tools they need for the future, the two sides just can't agree on the best way to solve the problem.
  • Amy Clark

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