Math wars

Plano parents lay siege to enthusiasts of the "New New Math" in a fight over how to fix the sorry state of math instruction in the public schools

Last fall, Jenkins teamed up with other Plano parents to protest the new math program. They set up a hot line and several community meetings to raise awareness in the suburb. Organizer Ken Johnson hired a lawyer to mount a legal campaign to stop Plano from adopting the curriculum district-wide.

Johnson's and Jenkins' concerns echo those expressed by other parents. "Is there any meat there?" Jenkins asks. "Are the kids really getting the stuff?"

Adds Johnson: "We have no statistical evidence to support this stuff. Why go there?"

Plano administrators have responded to the assault with their own campaign. This fall, Wohlgehagen led a series of parent meetings explaining the pilot program and the district's plans for putting it into place. The subject is on the agenda for the Plano school board's December 8 meeting. Formal adoption of the program wouldn't take place until March, and even Wohlgehagen concedes the program is by no means a done deal. "It's one alternative we are considering," he says. Why are they spending so much time defending it? "It just happens to be the one they're attacking."

In Barbara Zipkoff's morning class, Quentin Dooley and his friend are oblivious to the math debate raging around them. Dooley says his mother, who works as an analyst for EDS, has been perfectly happy with his math work. The boy had trouble last year in an accelerated math class. Pushed down to his own grade level, he's begun to get passing grades again.

Two other boys in his class are in similar circumstances. Jonny Carroll, a slight child in baggy jeans and an oversized T-shirt, finished his feline grid about halfway through the morning period. The teacher asked him to help out the other kids. "I'm doing the same things as I did last year," says Carroll, who believes he was accidentally moved down from the honors class, but decided to leave well enough alone. "But this year, I like the teacher. She helps us understand it."

His mother, who was happy her son moved out of the accelerated class because of the pressures, wasn't aware that her son's current math class used the New New Math curriculum. "Once my kids are in the middle school, they are on their own," Dawn Carroll says. "I helped them in elementary school, but I figure by that time they need to be able to do it by themselves.

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