Department of Mathematics
California State University, Northridge
Los Angeles, California 91330-8313
February 12, 2004
Dear Representative Boehlert and Members of the House Science Committee;
I am writing in strong support of President Bush's recommendation to redirect Math and Science Partnership (MSP) funds from the Education and Human Resources (EHR) division of the National Science Foundation to the U.S. Department of Education. This recommendation was included with President Bush's proposed science budget for 2005.
No single institution in the United States has caused more damage to the mathematical education of children than the National Science Foundation through its EHR division. In saying this I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing the NSF's admirable and important role in supporting fundamental scientific research. I am criticizing only the Education and Human Resources division of the NSF. This is the division within the NSF that funds K-12 education projects. It is responsible for systematically promoting the worst math education fads of the past decade, and it continues to cause damage in schools. I have witnessed the crippling of education caused by the NSF's promotion of poor math textbooks in schools across the country. In many cases, NSF funds were used to develop these defective programs.
I am not the only professional mathematician involved with K-12 mathematics education to reach these negative conclusions. In October 1999, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 10 so-called "exemplary" and "promising" math programs that it recommended for the nation's schools. More than half of these "exemplary" and "promising" math programs were created with NSF money, and others were and are aggressively promoted with NSF funding. These so-called "exemplary" and "promising" programs are among the worst math programs in the country. They radically de-emphasize basic skills in arithmetic and algebra. Uncontrolled calculator use is rampant and calculators are often introduced starting in kindergarten. These "fuzzy math" books claim to teach conceptual understanding, but they don't. Instead they squander valuable class time on aimless projects with little or no intellectual content. One can draw a parallel between the philosophy that underlies the failed "whole language learning" approach to reading, and these NSF funded math programs.
Many of America's leading mathematicians were alarmed by the federal government's official endorsement of fuzzy math books. In November, 1999, I faxed an open letter to then Education Secretary Richard Riley that was co-signed by more than 200 other mathematicians and scholars. Our open letter urged the Department of Education to withdraw the entire list of "exemplary" and "promising" mathematics curricula and to announce that withdrawal to the public.
Among the endorsers of our open letter are many of the nation's most accomplished scientists and mathematicians. Department heads at many universities, including Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, as well as two former presidents of the Mathematical Association of America added their names in support. Seven Nobel laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest international award in mathematics, also endorsed. The open letter was published as a full page ad in the Washington Post thanks to the generosity of the Packard Humanities Institute. This Open Letter is posted on the "Mathematically Correct" web site at: http://mathematicallycorrect.com/nation.htm
The NSF funded "fuzzy math" programs cause problems for all school children, but they are particularly harmful to children with limited resources. Upper middle class parents can afford tutoring to compensate for what the National Science Foundation has done to their schools and their children. In contrast lower income children typically do not have that option, and they must directly bear the brunt of these defective, anti-arithmetic and watered-down algebra programs.
The EHR directorate continues to support and aggressively promote harmful education fads, and there is no end in sight. America's school children deserve better than this. I strongly urge you and your committee to support the transfer of funds out the EHR, and to do even more.
The best option would be to close down the EHR division entirely and place funds earmarked for that program under the control of state education agencies. In that way, states could develop programs that support their education goals, rather than be compelled by the NSF to work against sound education. A step in the right direction would be to provide block grants to the states through the U.S. Department of Education.
I include below web site addresses that provide information about the damage to mathematics education caused by the Education and Human Resources division of the National Science Foundation. Thank you for your kind attention to this important matter.
Professor of Mathematics
cc: U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; Representative Tom Delay; Representative J. Dennis Hastert
What's at Stake in the K-12 Standards Wars: A Primer for Education Policy Makers, Sandra Stotsky (editor), Peter Lang Press, c 2000 Chapter 13: National Science Foundation
Systemic Initiatives: How a small amount of federal money promotes ill-designed mathematics and science programs in K-12 and undermines local control of education, by Mike McKeown, David Klein, and Chris Patterson
R. James Milgram's Congressional testimony
Susan Sarhady's Congressional Testimony
A Brief History of American K-12 Mathematics Education in the 20th Century, by David Klein
NYC-HOLD (New York City Honest and Open Logical Debate)
Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.