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New Mathematics Textbook is Drawing Ire

March 6, 2008

A mathematics textbook series has angered parents and elementary school teachers who say its methods fail to help children master basic math skills. But educators say it helps younger students learn mathematics in preparation for learning algebra.

"There's very little substance. I read through all the kindergarten curriculum. It's wishy-washy," said Steve Santee, an engineer whose daughter Olivia is a first-grader at Cedar Point Elementary School, in Prince William County, VA. "My wife and I are very fortunate. She's a former math teacher, and we can teach her all the way up to calculus."

The program, which de-emphasizes memorization and drills, pushes students to discover creative ways to find answers, through techniques such as drawing pictures, playing games, and using objects. Prince William officials say Investigations in Number, Data, and Space , which cost the county more than $1 million, teaches students why an answer is correct and prepares them for algebraic concepts used on the SAT. More important, perhaps, they contend it increases passing rates on state exams.

"Memorization will only carry you so far," said Carol Knight, Prince William's mathematics supervisor. "With Investigations, kids understand the real values of the numbers and are not doing shortcuts. When they multiply 23 times 5, they'll do five 20’s to get 100, and then add five 3’s to get 15, and they put that all together and get 115. What they've done is made actual use of the numbers," she noted.

Knight said Prince William revamped its elementary mathematics program to raise "embarrassing" SAT scores that were below national and state averages last year.

Prince William classes use Investigations from kindergarten through third grade, and there are plans to introduce it in fourth grade in the next school year and into fifth grade after that. But parents are lobbying the School Board to kill the program. To do that, they have submitted a petition of 1,000 names, created a Web site (, and offered a video called "Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth" to bolster their case.

The text is purportedly used in thousands of elementary classrooms across the country. Introduced in the 1990s, it was updated in a second edition issued last fall. The nonprofit organization TERC, based in Cambridge, MA, developed it with support from the NSF.

Source: The Washington Post

Start Date: 
Thursday, March 6, 2008