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Better - and better-paid - math teachers

I read with interest the first installment of your math series "The math meltdown" (May 16) and editorial, "Math teaching that adds up" on the same day, on the problems with learning math in the US. But there's an oversight that can be encapsulated with the well-worn phrase: "It is the money, stupid!"

In this capitalism-driven society, teachers are seriously underappreciated, and thus, underpaid. "What good is math for?" is often the attitude. Why develop a mental discipline of thinking analytically and precisely if we can do without - and be a fast sportsman, salesman, or Web surfer?

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As long as we ridicule smart ("nerdy") kids in school, rather than encourage and admire them, and have underpaid and underqualified math teachers, rather than attract the top scholars and dedicated educators, we will see no change in the abysmal state of math learning.

I would like to add that tough national standards are needed, with demands on math curricula that will exceed the level of comprehension of parents and school boards - they are stuck at a level of math education too low for modern needs.

Hendrik Monkhorst Gainesville, Fla. University of Florida

If only methods of teaching math changed as quickly as your May 16 editorial suggests, then there may be some validity in criticizing "new methods" as being responsible for the poor standards of US mathematical thinking. However, as your graphs on page 14 of the same day reveal, 89 percent of US math teaching has low math content, and 96 percent is focused on practicing skill and procedures. This problem has existed for decades, and is not the result of a surge of new teaching methods or "new math" rolling through schools.

Let's not think that the basics have been lost, and need to reemphasized. Visit most elementary classrooms, the basics are alive and well; they may be disguised as group work, but underneath, the focus is on memorizing procedures and practicing skills.

Ann Taylor Edwardsville, Ill. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

Thank you for your articles in "The math meltdown" series on Connected Mathematics and Core Plus Mathematics (May 16). Our oldest son (12) had a terrible time with Core Plus Mathematics. Once we took him out of it, he blossomed, earning A's in regular math. The difference is that the teachers did not know how to teach the class. Core Plus Mathematics is supposed to be taught in a group setting, with input from the kids in the group. The teacher is supposed to monitor their work.

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Unfortunately, as we all should know, kids tend to pick their friends to work with. This can lead to a lot of fooling around and an unproductive output.

The teachers do not analyze the kids as to how well they have achieved in math in the past to ensure that there is a balance among high achievers and low achievers. If you have a high-achieving child who understands the Core Plus Mathematics concepts, it's OK. But what if you have an average child? It then becomes much harder.

Paul Kane Ypsilanti, Mich.

MADD isn't a prohibitionist group

Regarding your May 11 sidebar "Women's activism though US history": It correctly states that Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was formed in 1980. But it states incorrectly that in 1980 MADD "forms a powerful lobby against alcohol consumption." MADD is not a prohibitionist organization. Its mission has always been to stop drunk driving and to help the surviving victims of this violent crime.

Lee Landes Farmington Hills, Mich. Co-founder Michigan MADD chapter

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