District Drops Successful Singapore Math Program

Published December 1, 2003

Students in four Maryland schools who were taught using the Singapore Math program significantly outperformed their peers who were not in the program, according to a school system study released in February. The improvement was significant on every one of a variety of assessments and at every grade level at the four schools—some of which were Title I schools, some had high minority populations, and some had low minority populations.

“The results support what we curriculum freaks have insisted all along: Math is math, and if you learn it well, you’ll perform well on math tests,” Laurie Sekiguchi told Maryland Gazette reporter Eric Kelderman. Sekiguchi is a critic of the county’s regular mathematics curriculum.

Despite the proven success of the Singapore Math program, the Montgomery County Public Schools system, under Superintendent Jerry Weast, has adopted another curriculum more aligned to state tests. One school already has dropped the Singapore Math curriculum and two more will drop it at the end of this year, leaving only one of the four schools—the most successful—to continue with the program.

The new curriculum is “pure fuzzy math,” according to John Hoven, another critic of the district’s regular math program. Hoven is co-president of the Gifted and Talented Association of Montgomery County, Maryland and has been working since 1991 to convince schools to make curriculum changes and raise academic standards.

When U.S. students performed poorly in mathematics in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) in 1995 and 1999, the typical U.S. math curriculum was criticized for being too broad and too shallow. Since students from Singapore had taken top billing in the TIMSS math section, interest developed in the math curriculum used in Singapore, which emphasizes mastery of basic math facts before moving on to theory.