Study of Math Teaching Methods Yields No Answers

The research team assembled to evaluate first- and second-grade math teaching methods will submit a report soon, but without addressing several key questions. The Education Ministry officials who commissioned the project to compare two methods and determine which generated better results said that the Weizmann Institute researchers used too small a sample of classrooms, and thus could not reach reliable conclusions.

The ministry officials called the error in the NIS 930,000 project a "big blunder." One official noted that "the sample size did not allow any determination of which program is better."

As a result of public debate at the beginning of the decade regarding teaching math at the elementary level - particularly using the Cuisinaire Rod and Singapore Math methods - the ministry decided in 2002 to evaluate the six teaching programs in use. A team headed by Prof. Abraham Arcavi was supposed to examine the "rationale and structure of each program, its implementation, student achievement, dropout rates and perseverance."

An Education Ministry source pointed out that "the number of classrooms reviewed was insignificant, so unfortunately it is impossible to answer the central research question. It is not viable to take short cuts and review only a few dozen classrooms. It's a pity we invested nearly a million shekels and still have no answer as to which teaching method is best."

Officials noted that the Weizmann researchers had submitted a request for more funds to increase the classroom sample, but the request had been rejected. "It is stupidity to build the research tool and then not conduct the research itself," one official added.

Although the central question remains unanswered, the ministry officials say the Weizmann researchers did obtain valuable knowledge regarding mathematics achievements in lower grades. "In a by-the-way manner, a few positive things did come out of the research that will be useful in the future."

A source familiar with the elementary math curriculum said "the research itself raises a few questions. There is a big argument as to whether math achievement can even be measured in first and second grade or if it's better to wait another year or two until abilities are stabilized. Conducting the research looks like a whim, as the ministry tried to discover the best teaching method as early as possible."

The Education Ministry stated in response that "having received the steering committee's comments, researchers are currently working diligently on the final version of the report. When it is submitted to the minister and the director general, the conclusions will be published."

Prof. Arcavi also declined to comment on the matter until the report is complete.