Rational numbers

Way back in 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) launched the "math wars" by pushing constructivist, "fuzzy" math onto the nation's schools. But a new report from NCTM amounts to unilateral surrender, admitting that youngsters need to learn basic skills such as arithmetic and long division so they'll be prepared for higher math functions down the road. The new policy statement also tackles America's "mile wide, inch-thick" math curriculum, urging the United States instead to emulate our Asian competitors, who follow the "less is more" maxim. Report author Sybilla Beckmann explains that it "tried to identify the really key things, the things a student has to focus on for progress." Gadfly and his fellow math bugs have long argued for teaching basic math skills; we salute NCTM's newfound wisdom in this matter. Now, we pray, states (and textbook publishers, test builders, etc.) that slavishly follow NCTM's lead will revise their own standards and instructional materials, thus gradually reintroducing common sense--and math competence--into American schools.

"Report Urges Changes in the Teaching of Math in U.S. Schools," by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, September 13, 2006

"New Report Urges Return to Basics in Teaching Math," by John Hechinger, Wall Street Journal, September 12, 2006 (subscription required)