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State leaders support math overhaul for schools

SHARE State leaders support math overhaul for schools

Lawmakers adopted a resolution Wednesday that supports the State Board of Education in giving Utah's math core an overhaul.

Alpine School District's math program, which has been a source of controversy for nearly four years, would be included the change.

Tuesday the Public Education Interim Committee endorsed the plan for a full review of math standards by the State Board of Education to "result in world-class math standards."

Specifically, the resolution passed at the Education Interim Committee called for "quick recall" and for "key standards for the fluency and understanding of standard algorithms of whole number arithmetic in elementary grades."

Translation: Members of the committee would like to see more Utah students memorizing basic math approaches.

Alpine uses "Investigations Math," which is a constructivist educational philosophy. In that program students "discover" math with visuals and group work instead of memorizing algorithms.

The result, they believe, is deeper understanding of math.

But Utah State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington said the state will take investigation off the list as a primary source.

"It will end the debate about whether or not they should teach it; it will require districts to teach basic operations in the younger grades," Harrington said.

The committee wants students to "try (solving) algorithms in ways that get an answer in a finite number of steps," said David Wright, a mathematics professor at Brigham Young University and a critic of investigations. "And people can do it lots of different ways if they want, but everybody needs to understand and be fluent in algorithms."

"The Investigations math program wants children to create their own way of doing it," Wright added.

Barry Graff, administrator of Alpine District's K-12 educational services, said he could not comment about his district's approach to math during the interim committee meeting because he wasn't there.

But he said the district will comply with anything mandated by the Legislature.

"It always has been the state's responsibility to make the standards, set the standards and the curriculum. I don't have an issue with it; whatever the state decides, we'll teach it," Graff said. "That's what we do."

E-mail: terickson@desnews.com; lhancock@desnews.com