Scary: Only 57% of college freshman could solve the simple division problem above (231 / 7 = 33) without a calculator (using old-fashioned long division) based on a math assessment test given by Professor Cliff Mass in his Atmospheric Sciences 101 class at the University of Washington.
Here’s a hint why – according to a math teacher quoted in the NY Times, “We don’t teach long division…. it stifles students’ creativity.” Here’s more from the 2006 NY Times article “As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics:”
For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools.
The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with its de-emphasizing of basic drills and memorization in favor of allowing children to find their own ways to solve problems.
Across the nation, the reconsideration of what should be taught and how has been accelerated by a report in September by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the nation’s leading group of math teachers.
It was a report from this same group in 1989 that influenced a generation of teachers to let children explore their own solutions to problems, write and draw pictures about math, and use tools like the calculator at the same time they learn algorithms.
But this fall, the group changed course, recommending a tighter focus on basic math skills and an end to “mile wide, inch deep” state standards that force schools to teach dozens of math topics in each grade. In fourth grade, for example, the report recommends that the curriculum should center on the “quick recall” of multiplication and division, the area of two-dimensional shapes and an understanding of decimals.
Grass-roots groups in many cities are agitating for a return to basics. Many point to California’s standards as a good model: the state adopted reform math in the early 1990s but largely rejected it near the end of the decade, a turnaround that led to rising math achievement.
The frenzy has been prompted in part by the growing awareness that, at a time of increasing globalization, the math skills of children in the United States simply do not measure up: American eighth-graders lag far behind those from Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan and elsewhere on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, an international test.
See a video demonstration here of some “rainforest math,” and you’ll get a good idea why it’s being abandoned, in favor of a return to math basics.