Honest Open Logical Debate (HOLD)
on math reform
510 Center Drive, Palo Alto, CA 94301
329-9276

Parents' Group Forms to Combat "Fuzzy Math"

Palo Alto, Calif. -- "Stop Fuzzy Math," was the phrase on the lips of approximately 25 Palo Alto Unified School District parents who met Feb. 13 in the Stanford home of Joseph and Laurel Lipsick. He is a professor of pathology at the Stanford Medical School. She is a computer teacher at a private school in Saratoga.

The parents -- many of whom have advanced technical degrees -- met to organize a new district-wide group to restore the teaching of "math basics" and computational skills and to stop the school board's imposition on Palo Alto schoolchildren of a "fuzzy math" curriculum based on the "Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools." The new Palo Alto group is called Honest Open Logical Debate (HOLD).

The new "Mathematics Framework" would, among other things:

The bad news, hidden behind all these professional-educator "buzz words," say HOLD members, is the fact that as the "Mathematics Framework" has been implemented in the Palo Alto district in recent years, the computational skills of students have declined. On the Stanford Achievement Test's computational dimension, Palo Alto students have dropped from the 86% percentile in 1992 to the 58% percentile in 1994.

"I cannot believe that the parents of children in the high-tech Silicon Valley will put up with this no-correct-answer math," said Bill Evers, a member of HOLD's steering committee, a research fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and the parent of a third-grader at Escondido Elementary School.

Zeev Wurman, another Palo Alto parent and director of software at a high-tech company, voiced concern about misleading practices by school officials: "One year the middle school staff tells the parent it's only a course name change; the next year they say that it's only a minor change in content for 'alignment' purposes. One more year, the old course is gone and it's too late to do anything. Gone now are the traditional Pre-Algebra and Algebra that produced Palo Alto students with top national math scores."

Barbara Chu, a systems engineer with an advanced degree in applied mathematics and a founding member of HOLD, struck the same theme: "In May 1994, over 600 parents signed a petition asking that the district retain the traditional Pre-Algebra class at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. In response, district superintendent James Brown promised that no changes in 7th-grade math would occur until 1995-96. Why then, since fall 1994, has the school had a radically-changed, 'Framework'-style Pre-Algebra class? The district is not telling parents the truth."

Palo Alto elementary schools are scheduled to select new mathematics textbooks and non-textbook teaching materials in fall 1995. In addition, although HOLD has taken no position on the June 1995 local school-bond election, Evers pointed out, "The school-bond election heightens interest in the public schools and what is going on in them. It is the perfect time to discuss the need to stop the 'fuzzy math' fad."

The Feb. 13 meeting selected a steering committee, launched a newsletter, established dues, and resolved to make HOLD's presence and beliefs known at up-coming school district meetings. HOLD plans to run or endorse candidates for the November 1995 school board elections.

The "Mathematics Framework" was adopted by the California State Board of Education in November 1991. This framework is not mandatory for public schools, nor is state-funding dependent on its adoption. The Palo Alto school board has chosen on its own to adhere to the "Mathematics Framework." The Palo Alto Unified School District covers the entire city of Palo Alto, the campus of Stanford University, and a portion of Los Altos Hills.

APPENDIX

Stanford Achievement Test - National Percentiles, as reported to PAUSD Board of Education on 12-6-94.

     8th Grade Math Scores:

                           1992    1993   1994
     Concept of a Number    91      88     87
     Computation            86      79     58
     Applications           89      89     91
     -----------------------------------------
     Mean                   91      88     81