## Re: The Best Ways to Make Schoolchildren Learn? We Just Don't
Know

by Carla Albers

Letters

The Wall Street Journal

January 7, 2005

Thank you for Sharon Begley's column titled "The Best Ways to Make
Schoolchildren Learn? We Just Don't Know." I have been intimately
involved with "discovery" learning versus direct instruction for a
couple of years now as my children's elementary school utilized a
discovery based, or constructivist, math program. The program's
introductory family letter stated that "children will play games
rather than doing tedious drills", children will "develop their own
procedures and algorithms", etc. Discovery based math programs do not
emphasize mastery and fluency in basic arithmetic operations,
something the experts will tell you is the single best predictor for
success in higher level mathematics. The U.S. Department of Education
has perpetuated this problem by identifying, in 1999, 10
recommended/exemplary math programs which follow the discovery
learning model. These texts are premised on NCTM (National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics) standards which encourage early calculator
use, decry rote memorization, decry teacher directed instruction and
which instead call for cooperative learning (kids teaching kids).
Within a month of the DOE publishing this list of programs, over 200
leading mathematicians/scientists/physicists signed an open letter
published in the Washington Post, asking then-Secretary of Education
Richard Riley to withdraw DOE recommendation of these programs. The
DOE did nothing, and as was reported in this paper on December 12,
2004 ("Economic Time Bomb: U.S. Teens Are Among Worst at Math"), math
scores continue to worsen. Although some argue that poor math
performance is tied to poor teacher training, many experts have
written about the need for math curricula which teaches, and expects,
fluency in basic arithmetic operations. If we hope to see improvement
in math achievement, curricular content and philosophy needs to be
part of the conversation.

Respectfully,

Carla Albers

Colorado Springs, CO 80919

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