Less Is More
It’s not often you hear that students are getting too much math in school. But in a way, that’s the message from a set of guidelines recently published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Titled “Curriculum Focal Points,” the report makes the case the math curricula in the United States generally try to cover too much ground, leaving students with an imperfect grasp of essential skills. As opposed to the 40 to 70 yearly “learning expectations” found in some states’ math standards, the NCTM recommends that schools zero in on a few broad topics in each grade—an approach modeled after instruction in Japan, Singapore, and other math-strong countries. At least 10 states are said to be considering the NCTM’s guidelines for possible adoption. One reason is the hope that they might make teaching math less of a scramble. “You’ve got to provide clarity to teachers,” said Sue White, director of mathematics for District of Columbia schools, “so they can go deep.” You can’t help but wonder if the same general idea might apply to other subjects as well.