Phonics and Math Wars

- April 24, 2000

The phonics & math wars have been raging for some time. On October 17, 1999, the Washington Post wrote an article stating:

The U.S. Department of Education last week declared Connected Math one of five 'exemplary' math programs. The American Association for the Advancement of Science rated it number one. The president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics helped write it, and the National Science Foundation backs it financially.

But it also was rejected by California for failing to meet the state's rigorous new back-to-basics standards. Mathematically Correct, a parents group with a commanding presence on the Internet, gave it an F. And 600 parents in Texas are suing their school district for giving students no other choice.

...and a January, 2000, article in the Wall Street Journal:'s New Math has powerful allies. Education secretary Richard Riley and   other Clintonites smile on it. Eight of the 10 curriculums recently recommended for nationwide use by an influential Education Department panel teach the New New Math.

Consider MathLand, which won a 'promising' rating from the panel. Its literature says it focuses on 'attention to conceptual understanding, communication, reasoning and problem solving.' This sounds harmless, but consider: MathLand does not teach standard arithmetic operations. No carrying and borrowing at the blackboard here. Instead, children are supposed to meet in small groups and invent their own ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide. This detour is necessary, the handbook informs, to spare youngsters the awful subjugation of 'teacher-imposed rules.'

Next comes Connected Math, another panel favorite. It too skips or glosses over crucial skills. Example: The division of fractions, an immutable prerequisite for algebra, is absent from its middle-school curriculum. In shutting the door to algebra, David Klein of Cal State Northridge points out, 'Connected Math also closes doors to careers in engineering and science for its graduates.'

Finally there is Everyday Math. No textbooks here, either. Everyday Math ensures juvenile dependency to calculators by endorsing their use from kindergarten. Rather than teach long division, the program devotes substantial time to that important area of math study, self-esteem."

Apparently the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the U.S. Department of Education were basing their recommendations on no hard data at all. (Not surprising to most good math teachers!)

Taken from: ED-NEWS
Education Weekly On-Line
From:April 21, 2000

"Information is the currency of democracy." -- Thomas Jefferson


On April 13, 2000, the Congressionally mandated National Reading Panel released its findings which support the teaching of phonics, word sounds, and giving feedback on oral reading as the most effective way to teach reading. This concludes the largest, most comprehensive evidenced-based review ever conducted of research on how children learn reading.

The Panel, selected by the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, was composed of 14 individuals including  leading scientists in reading research, representatives of colleges of  education, reading teachers, educational administrators, and parents.  According to the NICHD news release, "The panel also concluded that the research literature provides solid evidence that phonics instruction produces significant benefits for children from kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulties learning to read.

The greatest improvements in reading were seen from systematic phonics instruction. This type of phonics instruction consists of teaching a planned sequence of phonics elements, rather than highlighting elements as they happen to appear in a text. Here again, the evidence was so strong that the panel concluded that systematic phonics instruction is appropriate for routine classroom instruction."

For more information go to

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics released revised math standards which place greater emphasis on basic skills and content knowledge. The "Principles and Standards for School Mathematics," were unveiled in Chicago at the organization's annual meeting. They are intended to provide voluntary new national benchmarks for instruction in grades K-12 based on the latest research on the teaching of the subject.

The changes respond to criticism that the original standards released 11 years ago lack an emphasis on fundamental arithmetic skills.

Earlier this year, the Committee on Education and the Workforce held a hearing to hear testimony about "fuzzy math" and the need to return to back-to-basics arithmetic.