MATH FOLLOWUP….Normally I’d just post this as an update, but it seems like it deserves a separate post of its own. Yesterday I excerpted a Diane Ravitch op-ed about mathematics textbooks from the Wall Street Journal. One of the paragraphs in the op-ed was this one:

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 “contemporary mathematics” textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index for the letter “F” included factors, factoring, fallacies, finite decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions and functions. In the 1998 book, the index listed families (in poverty data), fast food nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours, ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds, food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises and fund-raising carnival.

That sounded pretty amusing indeed, but last night I got the following via email:

The 1998 “contemporary mathematics” textbook referenced [by Ravitch] actually has two distinct indexes ? one is called Index of Contexts, the other is called Index of Mathematical Topics. Now, let’s see, in which index might a discerning reviewer look for a list of mathematical topics that start with the letter “F”?

This seems to be a hard question for Ravitch, Evers, and Clopton. They chose to look in the Index of Contexts. Let’s use a bit more insight and look in the Index of Mathematical Topics. Under the letter “F” we find the following topics listed for this integrated mathematics textbook: Faces, Face-views (3-D drawing), Finding equations (using points, using regression, using situation, using slope and intercept), Five-number summary, Formula (area, perimeter, surface area), Four-color problem, Fractal, Fractional exponents, Frequency table, Front view (3-D drawing), and Function.

I don’t know if Ravitch is an innocent victim of deliberate deception by Evers and Clopton, or if she knew what they were up to and passed it along anyway. In either case, it seems as if she and the Wall Street Journal owe their readers a retraction.