Make like a laser and focus

The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel will be released next week, and indications are it will contain several solid proposals while also avoiding many of the contentious "math wars" issues. According to the Wall Street Journal, the panel's big recommendation for fixing the country's "‘broken' system of mathematics education" is a "laserlike focus on the essentials." Essentialists ourselves, we think that's a fine idea. And the benchmarks the panel puts forth "mirror closely a September 2006 report by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics," which is cause for optimism because the 2006 document (unlike sundry earlier NCTM products) was well done (see here). Math panel chairman Larry Faulkner believes "it's time to cool the passions" that divide those who prefer traditional arithmetic instruction from advocates of "fuzzy math." Therefore, next week's report does not specify which instructional method is superior, nor does it take a position on whether students should use calculators in early grades. But a "laserlike focus" is fundamentally at war with fuzziness, so the panel's findings are certainly a positive development, maybe as important to math education as the National Reading Panel's were to reading.

"Education Panel Lays Out Truce In Math Wars," by John Hechinger, Wall Street Journal, March 5, 2008