'Fuzzy' math Curriculum war should be lesson to educators

The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

Article Last Updated:11/19/2006 11:20:53 AM MST

The math war in Utah may be over, and none too soon.
   A move by State School Superintendent Patti Harrington and the State Board of Education to revise public-school math standards and remove a controversial math textbook from the state's primary curricula may have put an end to years of complaints from unhappy parents and math experts.
   Everyone involved should be relieved about that.
   Parents deserve to win this dust-up that has raged for years, especially in the Alpine School District. They were determined to have their say about a teaching method that earned the nickname "fuzzy math" for its use of what parents call "silly" assignments and too little emphasis on memorizing multiplication tables and learning long division.
   The "Investigations" curriculum can still be used, but districts must also use more traditional textbooks.
   Harrington outlined the changes in a resolution presented to the legislative Education Interim Committee, which approved it. Four members voted against it, rightly worrying that the Legislature might be overstepping its bounds. Some in the Legislature do, indeed, tend to micromanage education and should, as these lawmakers cautioned, stay out of curriculum choices.
   But in this case, with the resolution coming from the school board, the committee did the right thing.
   The math war has become more than a local dispute in Alpine and other districts. It is a symptom of a larger feeling of discontent among parents and has been one catalyst for the growing popularity of charter schools, vouchers for private-school enrollment and legislation that allows formation of smaller school districts and may ultimately lead to the fracturing of huge districts like Granite, Alpine and Jordan.
   Parents often rightly feel overlooked when decisions are made in large school districts about such volatile subjects as school closures, boundaries, curriculum and budgeting. A recent lawsuit brought by parents against the Davis School District over high school boundary changes is another symptom of the same frustration.
   The success of public schools, where the vast majority of American children are educated, is vital. That success, in part, depends on their ability to listen to parents and respond. There is nothing fuzzy about that.