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Math Educators Said Unprepared for Reform Agenda

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San Antonio--Mathematics educators "got caught with their curriculum down" when states increased high-school-graduation requirements as part of the current education-reform movement, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics observed at the association's annual conference here recently.

Schools were not ready to make the necessary adjustments when 48 states raised the number of mathematics credits needed to obtain a high-school diploma, F. Joseph Crosswhite, president of the nctm, told conference participants. The group's 63rd annual meeting, titled "Exploring Curriculum Alternatives," drew more than 6,000 participants.

Educators, Mr. Crosswhite said, must monitor the implementation of recent reforms, some of which he called short-term tactics fashioned to solve long-term problems.

For example, a student taking a course in which computers are used, he said, should not automatically get credit for mathematics. "Any4course that seems to be computer-based is being accepted for mathematics, including computer literacy and word processing. We have welcomed computers into mathematics, but we do not need to accept them in place of mathematics instruction."

But Mr. Crosswhite also suggested that educators work to modify the mathematics curriculum to take advantage of computers and other instructional aids, such as calculators. The appropriate use of these devices, he suggested, should expand the instructional time that can be devoted to advanced problem-solving exercises.

"It is amazing to me that many adults who have long since adopted a hand-held calculator for their own computational needs still see relevance in the long-division algorithm for their children," the former high-school math teacher said.

The nctm president attacked the use of standardized tests that focus only on the most basic types of problem-solving. In an attempt to "teach to the test," he said, teachers concentrate on these lower-level problems. "We're not likely to get obsolete material out of the curricu-lum until we get it out of the test," he said.

Keys to Learning

In a later session, Superintendent Billy R. Reagan of the Houston Independent School District pointed to time on task and motivation as the two keys to helping students learn.

"We've got to restructure our school system," said Mr. Reagan, who has engineered innovative school-improvement and hiring programs. "In Texas, the structure is basically the same as in 1936 when I entered 1st grade." Educational methods, he said, must change to meet the changing needs of society.

Mr. Reagan also urged educators to borrow ideas from business. And he pointed to year-round schools or extended school days as ways to increase the time a student spends learning. At one school in Houston, students' test scores rose "dramatically" after two or three years of longer school days, he said.

'Too Important'

In a publication released during the conference here, the nctm noted that "mathematics is too impor-tant today to the average citizen who must deal with numerical information and for the person who must use mathematical techniques on the job for us to allow them to lack sufficient mathematical know-how."

Echoing the theme of the conference, the publication, The Secondary School Mathematics Curriclum, attempts to chart new directions for high-school mathematics in terms of content, organization, and priorities, and also provides descriptions of programs that have been carried out in school districts across the country.

"The material in this yearbook suggests an exciting and important period of curricular innovation ahead," according to a prepared statement released at the conference. That period, the statement continues, is "quite in contrast to the bleak outlook of the 1983 report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, which concluded that 'the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity."'

To obtain a copy of the publication, which sells for $14.50, write to nctm, 1906 Association Dr., Reston, Va. 22091, or call (703) 620-9840.

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