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Educators address America's crisis in math performance

Panel confronts weak US math scores as Administration readies Math Now, another attempt to control schools by requiring adherence to one-size-fits-all federal regulations.
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American school children lag far behind many other countries when it comes to math skills - a very worrisome trend to educators. That was the main topic of discussion recently at a forum of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

A panel of academics and researchers gathered at Stanford University to discuss the International Math and Science test, which is used to assess students' skills in math and other subjects, and the use of technology and calculators in math classes.

"We are on the front end of what we have to do,'' said panel chair Larry Faulkner, president of the Houston Endowment and president emeritus of the University of Texas-Austin. "I'm optimistic that the panel can be a useful focusing device for the attention of the nation. In the end, most of the policies and practices are made by local school districts.''
This panel is anticipating President Bush's national math program called Math Now, which would function much like Reading First, an federal initiative to improve student reading skills through a back-to-basics program. To receive the grants, schools must comply with federal regulations.

Public comments were encouraged. Some suggested mandating timed tests drilling elementary school students in the basics; teaching students to be problem solvers both in class and in their critical analysis of the world; and asking the panel to step aside so top math students aren't turned off by simplified instruction designed for those struggling with the subject.

Vern Williams, a math teacher at Longfellow Middle School in Fairfax, Va., said Americans need to dramatically transform their attitude toward math in order to improve learning. "In our country in general there is a war against intellectual excellence. We've dumbed it down. We've taken algebra out of algebra. We need to understand that math involves hard work.''

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