September 22, 2006

Letter from Skippy

NCTM President, Skip Fennell, sent this comical email to the troops after the media reported that the NCTM's new Curriculum Focal Points was a "return to basics." Apparently, the NCTM's talking out of both sides of their mouth has finally caught up with the NCTM.

Dear NCTM Members:

I am pleased to announce that Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence was released on September 12. The Curriculum Focal Points are the next step in the implementation of the Standards. The focal points fully support the Council's Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. The appendix in Curriculum Focal Points directly links the focal points to virtually all the expectations in Principles and Standards.

Curriculum Focal Points presents the most important mathematical topics for each grade level. A focal point specifies the mathematical content that a student needs to understand thoroughly for future mathematics learning. The focal points are compatible with the original Standards and represent the next step in realizing the vision set forth in Principles and Standards for School Mathematics in 2000.
Except that the PSSM wasn't even campatible with the original standards. And, try as I might I couldn't find "quick recall" of math facts in anything before the focal points.

The focal points are intended for use by mathematics leaders as they examine their state and local mathematics expectations and seriously consider what is important at each grade level. This discussion, dialogue, or perhaps debate is designed to influence the next generation of curriculum frameworks, textbooks, and assessments.
Here's where it starts getting good.
Unfortunately, some of the media coverage has raised questions and caused concern among our members.
Despite several conversations with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal explaining what the Curriculum Focal Points are and are not, a September 12 Wall Street Journal article did not represent the substance or intent of the focal points. The focal points are not about the basics; they are about important foundational topics.
Gee, Skipper, do you think that "foundational topics not basics" doublespeak had anything to do with their confusion.

foundation: "a basis (as a tenet, principle, or axiom) upon which something stands or is supported"

Sounds like the basics to me. Otherwise the basics wouldn't be basic.
The Council has always supported learning the basics.
Except that they thought that the basics meant "conceptual understanding." It turns out that it doesn't.
Students should learn and be able to recall basic facts and become computationally fluent, but such knowledge and skills should be acquired with understanding.
What happened to "quick," as in "quick recall" of basic facts. I'm sure many hours were spent arguing over that term. Odd, that you would forget to include it in your email to the troops. Idiot.
Unfortunately, some of the other news media have followed the Wall Street Journal's lead and have similarly misrepresented the Curriculum Focal Points.

The Council's goal is to support teachers in guiding students to learn mathematics with understanding. Organizing a curriculum around a set of focal points can provide students with a connected, coherent, ever expanding body of mathematical knowledge. The focal points describe what should be the focus of what students should know and understand thoroughly.

I encourage you to explore the complete Curriculum Focal Points and related resources. You can view a video overview and introduction to Curriculum Focal Points, and you can see answers to some questions or submit your own questions about the focal points. The news release on the focal points and a video of the news conference at the National Press Club announcing the release, as well as an article on the focal points from Education Week, are also on the Curriculum Focal Points section of the NCTM Web site.


Francis (Skip) Fennell
He speaks with such authority. Yet, the NCTM has never designed, implemented, or identified a math curriculum that has successfully taught kids the "conceptual understanding" that enables kids to solve math problems. In fact, any curriculum the NCTM has ever identified have been failures.

They NCTM has no idea what they are talking about. I still don't understand why anyone listens to them.


Instructivist said...

"The focal points are not about the basics; they are about important foundational topics."

The way I read this, Skippy is terrified by the possibility that teachig the basics would be teaching too much. Seen this way, his "important foundational topics" are a more meager selection.

allen said...

Sounds like a reflexive avoidance of specifics. "Important foundational topics" means whatever "Skippy" wants it to mean but "basics" is a little tougher to obfuscate.

If kid can't count on his fingers he probably hasn't acquired the basics. If a kid is effectively illiterate, he hasn't acquired the basics. But important foundational topics? The kids got those nailed according to Skippy and who can argue with him?

Anonymous said...

Re: the phrase "quick recall"--as someone involved in reviewing the CFPs, I should let you in on the fact the the phrase was a compromise to those traditionalists who couldn't deal with the phrase "automaticity of facts" or "automatic recall" or even "fast recall"--etc. "Quick recall" is the phrase used by those who support what appear to be the ideas expressed in your blog.... You cannot believe how many versions of this phrase were discussed and debated before NCTM made this compromise with those who are part of the Mathematically Correct camp....

I guess I would be critical too if I opposed the efforts of Skip Fennell and NCTM. I would be kicking myself for not coming up with and publishing the Focal Points myself.

For those who criticize the CFPs, and only comment on statements printed in various biased articles (some of which are taken out of context), I encourage you to read the 41 page document. It's a free download. Most of the reporters, radio-show hosts, and journalists that I've spoken to in my state have not actually read the entire document, but focused more on the reform-traditional controversies that have been part of the Math Wars over "how to teach mathematics"--and not "what to teach."

I encourage you to spend some real time with the document (, then develop a real opinion....