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Education Reporter

TX Rejects 'Fuzzy Math'; Requests Correction of 109,263 Errors
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The Texas Board of Education voted to reject Everyday Mathematics, a widely used elementary math curriculum, because it covers multiplication inadequately and relies too early and too much on calculators.

Almost one in five public elementary classrooms nationwide uses Everyday Mathematics. The curriculum falls on the "reform math" end of the textbook spectrum: proponents say it helps students to understand the concepts behind mathematics, but critics call it "fuzzy math" and say its presentation of math skills and concepts is disorganized and incoherent. Members of the Texas board who voted against the book said it failed to teach math skills, especially the times tables. Board member Terri Leo called the 3rd-grade textbook "the very worst book that we had submitted," out of 163 books. The other best-known reform math curriculum, TERC Investigations in Numbers, Data, and Space, was not submitted to the board.

While the board rejected only the 3rd-grade curriculum, leaving state funds available for the books for the other grades in the same series, most schools use the same curriculum across all elementary levels. This means that Texas school districts are now much less likely to use Everyday Mathematics in any grade. The decision may also affect the use of Everyday Mathematics beyond Texas. "What happens in Texas has ramifications for the whole country," says textbook activist Donna Garner. As the second-largest textbook market, Texas sets trends for both publishers and the schools that buy from them.

Terri Leo says the board responded in part to complaints from Texas universities that their incoming students lacked skills in basic arithmetic and algebra. Another board member, David Bradley, told the story of a TV news item in Beaumont, where he lives. The item showed students reaching for their calculators to answer the problem "4 x 6," which one student had written on the blackboard. Since Texas students cannot use calculators on the state math assessment until 8th grade, the majority of the board concluded that the calculator emphasis in Everyday Mathematics made it inappropriate for Texas schools.

The board approved all the other math textbooks submitted for review — contingent upon the publishers' correcting a mind-boggling number of errors. The textbooks contained a total of 109,263 mistakes, including miscalculations, mistranslations in the Spanish editions, and the accidental inclusion of answers that were not supposed to appear in the student editions.

There were five times as many errors as in last year's submissions, largely because Houghton Mifflin's books contained 86,026 mistakes, or 79% of the total.

The publishers have until spring to correct the errors in the final versions of the books. If they fail to correct them all, the board can fine them up to $5,000 for each mistake that slips through.

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