The Detroit News
June 17, 1998
Math debate heats up Professorwon't give up controversial data on Core-Plus
program in Bloomfield Hills By Rusty Hoover / The Detroit News
BLOOMFIELD HILLS -- A mathprogram at Andover High School that students say has
cheated them out of a solid math education is now causing a secondround of
This time, a universitymath professor, trying to find out if students in Core-Plus
math are learning anything, is battling the Bloomfield Hills SchoolDistrict to keep
his data confidential. Wayne State University math professor GregoryBachelis vows
not to turn over his surveys about the math program without acourt order. At issue
is whether teaching Core-Plus math at Andover is seriously handicapping
college-bound students, as indicated by some survey comments collectedby Bachelis.
But the school district,which includes Andover and another high school that doesn't
use the math program, has filed a Freedom of Information Act requestto obtain
Some Andover parents areangry that their children were forced into the Core-Plus
pilot program, which relies on the use of graphing calculators,which allow students
to enter an equation and get a visual representation of it. Parentshave demanded a
choice of math courses.
That is too late for MelissaLynn, 18, who graduated summa cum laude with a 3.97
grade point average from Andover last year. She failed the mathplacement test at the
University of Michigan, scoring in the first percentile, the lowestpossible.
Worse, she didn't recognizewhat was being asked on the test. She called 14 other
U-M students who had taken Andover's Core-Plus math and foundthey placed
anywhere from the first to the sixth percentile, she said. "EverythingI didn't know
was algebra," Lynn said.
But proponents of Core-Plussay the program does a better job of preparing students
to handle math and higher order thinking in a complex world. Butcritics say the
program doesn't focus heavily enough on basic algebra. Core-Pluswas implemented
as a pilot program at Andover five years ago, with the first classof Core-Plus
students graduating in 1997.
The battle has widened.John Toma, Andover principal, has written to Wayne State
University President Irvin Reid, calling Bachelis' character intoquestion and saying
that Andover will caution students about attending Wayne State.
"Our community andour educators have been maligned and I think we have the right
to see the complete information," said Gary Doyle, superintendentof the Bloomfield
Hills School District. Bachelis said a parents' group is fundingthe survey, which he
is doing on his own time. Bachelis sent surveys to all the 1997graduates of the
Bloomfield Hills School District -- students who took traditionalmath and those who
took four years of Core-Plus, a controversial new math program.Bachelis wants to
see how Core-Plus students did their first year in college, comparedto students who
took traditional math -- algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus.Wayne State
officials said Bachelis' survey is not a Wayne State project andthey don't have the
documents to give to Bloomfield Hills.
Bachelis said he wantsto make sure that students' names won't be revealed because
he promised them confidentiality. Doyle said he doesn't care aboutthe names, he just
wants the data. It would be of interest to Andover graduate LorenThal, 19. He is
taking a beginning math course this summer to make up for whathe didn't learn in
four years of Core-Plus, earning A's and B's. He took a math placementtest at
Michigan State, and wound up in Math 103, the lowest level mathcourse a student
can take for credit. He had to drop the class. "I was havingtremendous difficulty with
it. It stems back to Core-Plus.
The basic and fundamentalideas weren't covered in class," he said. "I got (stuck)in
this program. I did not have a choice," he said. Althoughhe had tested in the superior
range in math capability, he said he is not successful in mathright now. "I have to
relearn all my math." Bachelis said that the problem withCore-Plus is that students
do not drill in algebra -- practice solving a number of similarproblems. If a
student can't do algebra, the student can't move on to calculus,Bachelis said.
But Christian Hirsch, aWestern Michigan University math and math education
professor who developed Core-Plus, said that algebra is integratedinto the program.
Since the first four-year Core-Plus class graduated from Andoverin 1997, the
course has been revised with more emphasis on things like algebraicfactoring.
He said that many studentsfrom traditional math programs go to college and fail the
placement tests. "People then tend to say the student didn'thave a good day and the
failure isn't ascribed to the math program." Andover willadd a traditional algebra
class to the curriculum this fall, along with a survey class ofalgebra and geometry.
Students can also opt to take a traditional math curriculum bygoing to nearby
Lahser High School, Toma said.
Behind the debate
Core-Plus math Studentswork in groups to investigate, experiment with and apply
math concepts. Students use graphing calculators to solve problems,but don't spend
as much time on drills -- doing repetitive problems to learn aconcept.
Critics say Program islight on algebra. Proponents say Algebra is woven into many
lessons. Origin Developed at Western Michigan University and financedby the
National Science Foundation. Goal To apply new standards developedby the National
Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Where offered BloomfieldHills, West Bloomfield, Southfield-Lathrup, Ypsilanti and
Southwestern High School in Detroit.
Sources Western MichiganUniversity, Bloomfield Hills Schools and Detroit
Copyright 1998, The DetroitNews