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Deborah Loewenberg Ball discusses the emerging “science of math” movement with The Hechinger Report

May 08, 2023

Ball cautions against using the movement to overhaul mathematics teaching.


In the May 8, 2023, Proof Points column in The Hechinger Report, Deborah Ball reflects on the nascent “science of math” movement. According to the column, the science of math movement, led by special education researchers, “revives an old fight between advocates of teacher-led instruction of step-by-step procedures against those who favor student discovery and a conceptual understanding of math. It also raises new questions about what makes for good evidence in math education and pits well-designed quantitative studies of achievement gains against qualitative studies of people’s attitudes about math and why more women and people of color don’t enter STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.”

Ball, seeing the parallels between this new movement and the math wars she observed in her field for decades, cautioned against using the science of math approach to overhaul mathematics teaching: “She said that in order to come up with the most effective approach for teaching math, we need to agree on the goals of math instruction. Do we want kids to be able to compute accurately? Yes, but not everyone agrees that this should be the main goal of mathematics education. ‘The public needs to understand that the goals of math education are contested,’ she said. Merely invoking the word ‘science’ doesn’t resolve that debate, Ball said.”

Read the column here.

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William H. Payne Collegiate Professor of Education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Marsal Family School of Education; Research Professor, Survey Research Center, Institute for Social Research