Letter to the Editor, New York Daily News

By Alan Siegel

December 24, 2002

(not published)

Editor,

As someone who was quoted in your article "Schoolbooks are flubbing facts" (December 21, 2002), I would like to correct a few minor misstatements and omissions. I was described as researching "fuzzy math" programs for the Brookings Institution. This attribution is too generous. Brookings is simply publishing some policy commentary I wrote about poor mathematics programs and poor assessment practices. You quoted me as estimating that only 25 pages of the IMP grade 9 math text contain equations. This is also generous. I counted 25 pages containing equal signs. Only one page presents discussion about solving equations, and it doesn't even say how to solve them.

Coauthor Dan Fendel defends the book on several grounds (Letters to the editor, December 23). He suggests that the book is free of mathematical errors. He is in error. The book has very little content; nevertheless, it took me just 30 seconds to find some errors. However, the disorganization, weak content, and virtual omission of definitions are more serious problems. The closest thing I could find for the definition of a graph reads, "Graphs are pictures that convey information to people." Similarly, I could not find any words about how to read information from a graph. There are pictures of graphs, but no instruction about how to understand the information they contain. The index is of no help, and for good reason: there isn't one. Of course, when technical terms are scattered throughout a book with no particular meaning attached to them, an index would not be particularly useful.

Fendel mentions that students learn about normal distributions. This is nonsense. The books does have random facts about normal distributions, but no more. It tells students that for a normal curve, 68% of the area is within a standard deviation of the mean, but the authors forgot to say what the significance of the area is, and they forgot to tell how much area is under the curve. Of course, they never define the curve either. Similarly, their explanation about the importance of this curve is off target. The IMP presentation of "curve fitting" is much the same.

Covering a little advanced material badly is no substitute for the avoidance of fundamental content. Moreover, the book's heavy use of games and projects, and its discussions about our mistreatment of Native Americans may be appealing to some reviewers, but cannot change the fact that this series covers very little mathematics, and does a poor job with what it actually does cover. Math is hard to teach well, and many books fail to do a good job, but Fendel's cavalier dismissal of all traditional programs as failures runs counter to the facts. He should know that his ninth grade text is much weaker than, for example, the sixth grade text used in Singapore.

Please understand that I am not alone in criticizing this textbook. When the Bronx superintendency announced plans to use IMP in all of its major high schools, the math teachers launched such a protest that the plan was revoked. Of course, the teachers were concerned about the weaknesses in the program. The book caused comparable protests in California. That state has a textbook adoption program for grades K-8. At those grades, the IMP-style textbooks, such as TERC, CMP and Mathland have been decertified from the purchasing program. Likewise, there is a reason that more than 200 distinguished scientists and mathematicians took the time to endorse a letter of protest about IMP and the like, which was published in the Washington Post.

Lastly, parents need to know that they can find a treasure-trove of factual information about K-12 mathematics programs at www.nychold.org.

Alan Siegel

New York University

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