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Ford Creates $10-Million Program for Middle-School Math

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The Ford Foundation last week announced the creation of a $10-million project to improve middle-school mathematics for disadvantaged students.

The five-year project, to be directed by the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, is aimed at implementing for such students the reform ideas being advocated by national math educators.

In the past year, for example, such groups as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Research Council have recommended that math instruction shift from an emphasis on arithmetic computation to an approach that helps students solve real-world problems.

"We've had reports that laid out what a lot of the hopes, visions, and goals are," said Edward A. Silver, the project's director. "It's time for some action to be taken. We need convincing demonstrations that it can happen."

The project, added Mr. Silver, who is a senior scientist at the Pittsburgh center, is "a convincing demonstration in the sorts of schools no one would have gone to first."

Franklin A. Thomas, president of the Ford Foundation, added: "The health of our society and the productivity of our economy will require greater proficiency in technical fields than many students now possess."

The project, Mr. Thomas said, "will test ways of providing quality instruction in high-level mathematical thinking and reasoning to traditionally underserved students."

Curriculum and Assessment

To launch the project, known as Quantitative Understanding: Amplifying Student Achievement and Reasoning, or QUASAR, the Pittsburgh center will choose by next spring five middle schools or school districts that serve economically disadvantaged students.

During the 1990-91 school year, the researchers will work with the test sites to develop curricula and to train teachers in the new methods.

Although the schools must be committed to transforming their math programs to focus on higher-level problem-solving skills, Mr. Silver said, they may develop different approaches to achieving such goals.

For example, he noted, although researchers have stressed the importance of calculators and computers in helping students perform the calculations necessary to solve problems, the project is not "deeply committed to" such tools.

"We will not force them to buy calculators and computers," he said, "nor will we prevent them from doing so."

In addition to changing instruction, the participating schools will also create new assessments to measure performance in mathematical reasoning. The assessments, Mr. Silver said, will include common instruments to measure "the relative payoffs of different approaches to the same goals," as well as tests that are "specially tailored" to particular school circumstances.

Following the demonstration project, the researchers will select at least 10 schools to adapt the methods to their circumstances. The additional schools, to be selected during the 1991-92 school year, will represent "more typical education situations," Mr. Silver said.

To help guide the Pittsburgh center on policy and to oversee the publication of reports, the researchers have named a "visiting committee'' composed of business executives, labor leaders, educators, and community activists.

Chaired by John C. Marous, chairman and chief executive officer of the Westinghouse Electric Corporation, the panel also includes: C. Diane Bishop, superintendent of public instruction in Arizona; Julius LaVonne Chambers, director of the naacp Legal Defense Fund; John Porter, superintendent of schools in Detroit; Isaura Santiago-Santiago, president of Hostos Community College in New York City; and Raul Yzaguirre, president of the National Council of La Raza.

The center also has named an advisory group to provide technical assistance. Iris Carl, elementary mathematics-instructional superintendent of the Houston Independent School District and president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, will serve as chairman of the 40-member panel.

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