As Kentucky educators work to revise the state’s mathematics standards in compliance with Senate Bill 1 from the 2009 Regular Legislative Session, I can’t help but be concerned that some of the same mistakes our educators made with math instruction in the first decade of KERA might still come back to haunt us.
In line with trying to avoid making the same mistakes twice, I suggest that those educators working on our new math standards should review comments made by Senator Robert Byrd in the June 9, 1997 Congressional Record. Find a copy of those remarks here.
Senator Byrd lamented the lack of progress in math instruction in the United States during the 1990s and offered up some reasons why that might have occurred.
Our educators need to read his very pertinent comments about a “whacko algebra” text, “Secondary Math: An Integrated Approach: Focus on Algebra,” and why it “really was not an algebra textbook at all.”
This textbook came to national attention after professor of economics Marianne Jennings characterized it as a “rain forest math” textbook. I heard Jennings describe the book in a conference many years ago, and she outlined the major problems with amazing insight and wisdom.
Sadly, since Byrd and Jennings offered their warnings, we have now sacrificed another generation of kids to poorly conceived math instruction because the education world refused to listen. Kentucky’s abysmal white eighth grade math proficiency rate of only 29 percent and black proficiency rate of a truly disastrous eight percent (no, this is not a typo) in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress bear grim testimony to that.
Unfortunately, many of today’s math educators grew up in or were influenced by the “rain forest math” world that concerned Senator Byrd. Thus, we’ll need to pay attention as the new math program required by Senate Bill 1 rolls out. Hopefully, more than 13 years after Senator Byrd made his comments, someone in the education community is finally listening.