Both sides of the “math wars” say that few middle school textbooks are excellent, and that many are mediocre or poor. But they disagree on which books belong in which category.
In recent separate reviews of commonly used mathematics books, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a professional group that endorses model national innovations in math instruction, and Mathematically Correct, a parent group opposed to those changes, reached opposite conclusions about the quality of individual texts.
The AAAS gave Connected Mathematics, a Dale Seymour Publications text written with the support of the National Science Foundation, its highest grade; Mathematically Correct called the book “impossible to recommend.”
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“Middle Grades Mathematics Textbooks: A Benchmarks-
“It has all the trappings of an exploratory math program and very little content,” Paul L. Clopton, a co-founder of the San Diego-based group, said in an interview.
But the AAAS’s Project 2061, the Washington group’s education initiative, praised the book because it challenges students to learn the rationale behind mathematical principles while promoting basic skills. A review team of 24 teachers and mathematicians gave it consistently high marks on all of the group’s criteria.
“Learning mathematics is more than learning the mechanical skills,” said George D. Nelson, Project 2061’s director. “It’s also understanding what’s behind the operations and how to apply them in everyday life.”
Connected Mathematics is not the only text on which the two groups disagree.
The parents’ group gave Middle Grades Math Thematics, a McDougal Littell book, a D-plus; the AAAS said it was one of only four satisfactory books it found.
By contrast, the books Mathematically Correct rated the highest weren’t even reviewed by the AAAS. The books concentrated on preparing students for algebra, a goal set for 8th graders by many school districts, Mr. Clopton said.
The best texts, according to Mathematically Correct, are: Pre-Algebra, an Integrated Transition to Algebra and Geometry by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill; Passport to Algebra and Geometry by McDougal Littell; and Algebra 1/2 by Saxon Publications.
The contrasts highlight the debate over the best way to teach mathematics.
Project 2061 embraces the 10-year-old standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, which advocate teaching students the underlying principles of math as well as the skills needed to use them. The NCTM’s proposed revised standards incorporate more basic skills. (“Math Council Again Mulling Its Standards,” Nov. 4, 1998)
Mr. Clopton, a professional statistician, and his co-founders started Mathematically Correct to protest the use of a curriculum based on the NCTM standards in San Diego schools. The group urges school officials to emphasize basic skills.
The aaas released the preliminary findings on its textbook comparisons last week at its annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., and plans to post them on its Project 2061 World Wide Web site by the end of the month. It plans to publish the results this spring as part of a series of textbook ratings for math and science texts for middle and high schools.
Mathematically Correct recently posted the results of its review of 7th grade texts on its Web site. It does not plan to publish its findings, which include reviews of 2nd and 5th grade texts.
While the sides differ in basic philosophy, their analyses of textbooks do agree on one issue, Mr. Nelson said: Students need to dedicate time to practice problem-solving on their own.
Where they again differ is over learning strategies. The AAAS says working in groups helps students learn to solve problems; Mathematically Correct does not.
The mayor also calls for school governance changes.
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 1999 edition of Education Week as Reviews of Math Text Parallel Pedagogy Rifts