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Numbers Crunching 

by Kevin Taylor & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e live in times replete with mathematical references ("Hey! Do the math if you don't believe me!"); in a society where we are praised when we "Do it by the numbers," and where it is considered a good personality trait to be "cool and calculating."

And of course this is all fluff. We all hate math. Really, really, really. Or at least five-thirds of us do, which is virtually a majority.

In times like these, university math professors weep.

"We live in a culture where people think it's OK to be stupid in math," says Lyle Cochran, a professor of mathematics at Whitworth College. "I had a colleague who was just traveling in India. He'd ask all the kids he met what was their favorite subject, and most of them said math.

"For every mathematician we graduate, India graduates four and China 10," Cochran says.

What makes us so willing to be laggards in math?

Friday evening, Cochran will be among several speakers at a meeting sponsored by Parents for Math Matters, a Spokane group that feels math taught in area schools is a big part of the problem. They call the math "fuzzy" and say it places too much emphasis on problem solving and too little on drill and memory.They can also be harsh by contending it's all about passing WASL.

In turn, these parents get characterized as ogres who want to make little children cry. "Do your eight-times tables, Missy. Again!"

Cochran stakes out a middle ground. He says it's clear math taught in many high schools does not prepare students for the rigors of college math -- especially because there's too little algebra. He says reform was needed because kids were failing old math, too.

Kris Lindeblad, math coordinator for Spokane Public Schools, says many students did poorly under the old drill-and-memorize methods, and that reforms are an attempt to help kids "get" math by offering problem solving.

Deanna Mosman, one of the forum organizers, says several local school districts (Central Valley, Lakeside, Spokane Public Schools) have signed on to the so-called integrated math, which stresses concepts and problem solving.

Parents only want a choice of having a traditional math track also, Mosman says. Friday's meeting has drawn the attention of at least nine state legislators, Mosman said. Rep. John Ahern, R-Spokane, says he plans to attend with colleague Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Issaquah. Ahern is a critic of the WASL; Anderson is not.

Sen. Brad Benson is attending, as is Rep. Lynn Schindler. Sen. Lisa Brown is sending an aide and former Spokane school board member Timm Ormsby also plans to attend.

Cochran, Mosman and others say there needs to be a balance of problem solving with drill and practice methods.

Algebra "is the language of science and math," he says, and too many students enter college mute in this international language and must take extra classes to catch up.

Even though the integrated math programs purport to teach pre-algebra, algebra and geometry -- and Lindeblad insists the Spokane Public Schools program does just this in high school -- it is too little, too late, Cochran says.

So do we care only about the WASL, or do we care about math its own self, too? The forum appears to be a place to begin the discussion of whether it's six of one or two dozen halves of another.

The Math/WASL Forum will be held at West Central Community Center, 1603 N. Belt St., on Friday, June 2, at 6:30 pm. Call 326-9540.
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