Sixty professors at the University of Washington have signed an open letter to the Legislature complaining that college freshmen struggle to solve middle-school-level mathematics problems and are “confounded by simple algebra,” the Associated Press reports.
The faculty members hope that the letter, which was distributed to legislators late last week, will influence efforts to revise statewide math standards for public schools.
Some petitioners worry that the state’s new guidelines for math curricula will be shaped primarily by education experts who tend to favor “inquiry-based” methods of instruction that focus on underlying mathematical concepts rather than rote learning of formulas.
Such methods don’t work, contends Clifford F. Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at Washington, and have led to an increase in the number of students taking remedial math classes in college.
Not everyone sees the situation as so dire. No professors in the university’s College of Education signed the letter, and, according to an official in the office of the state superintendent of public instruction, the latest data indicate that only 2 percent of Washington public high-school students end up in remedial classes in college.
“Washington math isn’t a disaster,” Ginger Warfield, a lecturer in the university’s math department told the AP. “By many measures, we’re fine, and relative to the rest of the country, we’re much better.” —Paula Wasley