Mariam Stricklen, an Okemos parent, wrote an opinion column that appeared in Lansing State Journal on  June 18, 1999.  The column praised the Connnected Mathematics Projects, in large measure because it was rated very well  in a recent report by the American  Acadamy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Below is a response by Prof. Thomas Parker in the form of a letter to Ms Stricklen.

         I would like to make a few comments--- helpful ones I hope--- on your LSJ article.
          I am a MSU Math professor. While I am a research mathematician, I have been teaching courses in Math Education, and have been closely following current developments in Math education. Evaluating Math programs is a tricky business in the current environment. There are major battles going on, and reports from even trusted sources are usually tinged with the politics of these battles.
         The AAAS report is a case in point. It was not written by scientists. Rather, the AAAS has lent its imprimatur, under the name `Project 2061' , to a group of EDUCATORS who are not trained in mathematics or science. These educators have a specific political agenda. They would like to see all education done in group settings with the `discovery method' and with no instruction from the teacher. They would like to see mathematics classes with  long writing assignments, no right and wrong answers, no practice problems, complete reliance on calculators, and a minimization of algebra.
         Accordingly, they designed a set of criteria focusing not on WHAT and HOW mathematics is covered by the program, but rather on the extent to which it conforms to the above agenda. Take a close look at the Project 2061 website: ""          Your chart is Attachment A. Note that it is titled `quality of instruction'. It is a ranking of the INSTRUCTIONAL PRACTICES used by the math program, not a rankingof the overall quality of the program. Attachment B spells out the criteria. The `Benchmarks' (made up by the 2061 people) describe a dumbed-down middle school program. In other programs and in other countries most of these topics are covered in grades 4-5. Some ("shapes can match exactly or have the same shape in different sizes'') are kindergarten level, and not even correct english! For each of these `benchmarks' the 2061 group applied the `criteria of quality of instructional guidance' listed at the bottom of Attachment B. Here you see the political agenda I described above. Many of these phrases are educational jargon that require experience to decode. For example, the three listed under Category VI all mean ``no tests, quizzes or worksheets'' and the two in Category III mean ``group work with manipulatives''. The last one, `supporting all students' means `dumbed down'.
         None of these criteria assess what specific mathematics is covered. Thus the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) can be the highest rated, even though the topics it covers in grade 8 are covered in grade 7 in competing programs, and covered in grade 6 in Japan, Korean, China, Singapore and Russia.
         All that one should conclude from the Project 2061 report is that their top-rated programs are politically correct. I have looked over the CMP program carefully. It definitely is politically correct.
         What criteria should be used? A good math program has several stages. Grades K-4 should throughly cover the basics: addition, subtraction, multiplication,  division, fractions, and a little geometry. Grades 5--7 should be preparation for the real math that starts with a solid grade 8 algebra course focusing on quadratic equations and polynomials, and a grade 9 course in Euclidean geometry, with proofs. (That is the plan followed by most countries, and the one recommended by the U.S. Department of Education). Virtually all students find these two courses very hard; many find them TOO hard and drop out of math at that point. But these courses are not intrinsically difficult. In other countries ALL students take them as a matter of routine and, as the TIMSS study shows, master the material. The problem lies in the US grade 5--7 programs. There our children spend their time going over more arithmetic, instead of taking the first steps toward real algebra and geometry with proofs.
         This last sentence exactly describes the problem with CMP and similar programs. The Project 2061 report does not reveal this fundamental deficiency because its criteria do not include real algebra and geometry
with proofs.
         For different ratings, ones based on the actual mathematics covered and taught, see the website ""          Click on the 5th line called ``Mathematics Program Reviews for Grades 2, 5, and 7 ''. ('Mathematically Correct' is an organization of parents and scientists who are working to restore serious mathematics to schools. A study of their website is essential for understanding the battle lines in the current debate over mathematics education).
         I have young children in the Okemos schools. I am VERY concerned about the mathematics programs. You should be very concerned also. If your daughter is taking 8th grade CMP (rather than Honors Algebra I) then she is not on track to take calculus in high school. Calculus is the basic entry point to majoring in science, engineering and medicine. In Korea all students, including the children of rice farmers, take calculus as juniors in high school. You should be asking Okemos officials why it is that your daughter, who is apparently a top student in a top school system, is two years behind the children of Korean rice farmers.
                                                                                          Tom Parker

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