American Enterprise Institute
March 4, 2002
David Klein's Presentation
No single institution in the United States has caused more damage to
the mathematical education of children than the National Science
In saying this I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing the
NSF's admirable and important role in supporting fundamental scientific
research. I am talking about the Education and Human Resources division
of the NSF. This is the division within the NSF that funds K-12
education projects. It is responsible for systematically promoting the
worst math education fads of the past decade.
"Fuzzy math" originated with the NCTM and the nation's colleges of
education. These negative programs have been aggressively funded and
promoted, not only by the National Science Foundation, but also by
numerous private foundations such as the Noyce Foundation, Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, Flora Hewlett Foundation to name just a
few. Perhaps later I will have time to provide some specific
Parents are up in arms and are rebelling against the NSF and NCTM fuzzy
math programs. Hundreds of mathematicians are too. Let me give
you an example.
In October 1999, the U.S. Department of Education released a list of 10
so-called "exemplary" and "promising" math programs that it recommended
for the nation's schools. More than half of these "exemplary" and
"promising" math programs were created with NSF money, and others were
and are aggressively promoted with NSF funding. Parents and
mathematicians have opposed them for years. Why would they do this?
These so-called "exemplary" and "promising" programs are among the
worst math books and programs in the country. They radically
de-emphasize basic skills in arithmetic and algebra. Uncontrolled
calculator use is rampant and calculators are often introduced starting
in kindergarten. Fuzzy math books claim to teach conceptual
understanding, but they don't. Instead they squander valuable class
time on aimless projects with little or no intellectual content. One
can draw a parallel between the philosophy that underlies the failed
"whole language learning" approach to reading, and these NSF/NCTM math
programs. Some of these math programs don't even have textbooks because
books might interfere with children's creativity and the so-called
Many of America's leading mathematicians were alarmed by the federal
government's official endorsement of fuzzy math books. In
November, 1999, I faxed an open letter to then Education Secretary
Richard Riley that was co-signed by more than 200 other mathematicians
and scholars. Our open letter urged the Department of Education to
withdraw the entire list of "exemplary" and "promising" mathematics
curricula and to announce that withdrawal to the public.
Among the endorsers of our open letter are many of the nation's most
accomplished scientists and mathematicians. Department heads at many
universities, including Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, and Yale, as well
as two former presidents of the Mathematical Association of America
added their names in support. Seven Nobel laureates and winners
of the Fields Medal, the highest international award in mathematics,
also endorsed. The open letter was published as a full page ad in
the Washington Post thanks to the generosity of the Packard Humanities
Following its publication and press coverage, the NCTM denounced our
open letter and expressed its complete support of the fuzzy math
programs. Specifically, in a letter dated November 30, 1999, the
NCTM board of directors sent a letter to the Secretary of Education
"…the Board of Directors of the
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics wishes to inform you of
their unconditional support for the work of the Expert Panel, the
criteria used by the Panel, the process employed by the Panel, and the
quality and appropriateness of their final recommendations."
That is, for the 10 so-called "exemplary" and "promising" math programs.
The so-called "exemplary" and "promising" math programs, and others
like them, continue to be aggressively promoted by the NSF. Parents in
New York City are now working with mathematicians from Courant
Institute at NYU and other New York Universities to find ways to resist
the NSF/NCTM imposed fuzzy math programs, but so far the NSF is
winning. Some of the parent leaders and mathematicians in New York City
are in attendance at this event. There are similar alliances between
parents and mathematicians in other communities.
The NSF and NCTM fuzzy math programs cause problems for all school
children, but they are particularly harmful to children with limited
resources. Upper middle class parents can afford tutoring to
compensate for what the National Science Foundation has done to their
schools. The tutoring industry has skyrocketed as NSF/NCTM fuzzy math
programs proliferated across the country. Sylvan Learning Centers,
Kaplan, Score Learning program , and Kumon, are among the examples.
But the greatest damage is to lower income children who directly bear
the brunt of these defective, anti-arithmetic and watered-down algebra
The NCTM has adopted the point of view that most girls and minority
children have learning styles that are different from white males and
Asians of both genders. Professor McKeown has commented on that already.
While he was president of the NCTM, Jack Price said that minority
groups and women do not learn math the same way as white males. He
"... women have a tendency to
learn better in a collaborative effort when
they are doing inductive
This was in contrast to the way white males learn math. According to
"males ... learn better deductively in
a competitive environment."
This attitude toward women and minorities is consistent with the NSF
funded math books. They rely heavily on superficial repetitive
patterns, a form of inductive reasoning, rather than logical deduction,
which is the core of mathematics.
The NCTM has attempted to redefine mathematics itself in order to
support a notion of learning styles in math associated with skin color
This is misguided in the extreme.
There can be no doubt that children of all races and backgrounds can
excel in classical, content rich educational environments. Jaime
Escalante, portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, sent his low
income Hispanic, calculus students to top universities in record
numbers. Nancy Ichinaga, Marjorie Thompson, and many other
principals and teachers in Inglewood, California described by Professor
McKeown have also proved, beyond a shadow of doubt, that African
American and Hispanic students not only learn, but excel in traditional
content rich programs.
What do these educational leaders say about the NSF/NCTM math reform
agenda? Nancy Ichinaga told me, "Reform is for the birds."
According to Escalante, "whoever wrote [the NCTM math standards] must
be a physical education teacher." While I don't think Escalante's
comment is quite fair to P.E. teachers, his point is clear, and the
National Science Foundation would do well to listen to criticisms and
If President Bush is listening now, I strongly urge him to find new
leadership for the Education and Human Resources Division of the NSF.
The National Science Foundation needs leaders who can stop the damage
that organization is causing to the mathematical education of America's