Saturday, January 10, 2009

Their silence is broken....

Okay. We finally hear from our school district. I don't know how many of you got to read their response to the "research" done to justify this "new math" but, for those of you who did not get to read it before they removed it from their site...I saved it for posterity. I thought it was certainly noteworthy enough to share with all of you. For some reason their information was removed in the last week. The following information was pulled from under "quick links" section on the left. Look under new math and then you will see the "research" portion. The following is pulled directly from that section earlier this month. Let us look at a few excerpts together and break it down. There is a lot of information, but I encourage you to read it more than once and try to process what it really says as to the "why" our district chose this math for our children.

Without question, these programs do represent a completely new method of learning mathematics, which is foreign to parents and teachers alike and this creates discomfort. Our district, wanting to proceed cautiously with the implementation of a dramatically new approach to teaching math, was not an early adopter of one of these new programs.

Okay. So I ask you it supposed to make us feel any better that our school district says that they were "cautious" because they were not "an early adopter"? If they were so "cautious" why did they not learn from the overwhelming failures that have followed this curriculum all over our state and nation? If they were so "cautious" then why did we not let experience be our teacher? Most would not call that "cautious". Most would call that negligent. I believe it to be condescending to insinuate that our discomfort originates with the ignorance that we are threatened by something "new". Any educated person understands and appreciates new ideas and ingenuity in any endeavour. We are not threatened by the concept of "something new". We are, however, sharply adverse to the idea of our children being experimented on without our consent. THAT is what gives us discomfort, for the record.

We were aware of the controversy existing in several districts having adopted standards based programs, but when considering the research we felt and still believe wholeheartedly that this is a worthwhile endeavor to pilot this program.

Okay...hang with me when looking at the "research" that our district officials apparently used to justify this choice. I am continually asking the question to myself..."is that the best research you can come up with? Because when you really understand their research, I must say that it is incredibly weak in light of so much newer data that our district had to pull from if only they would have looked at both sides of the coin?"

To explore the possibility of standards based math in the Camdenton R-III School District, several teachers were selected by the department of curriculum and instruction to receive training and attend professional conferences related to standards based math as well as reviewing research related to standards based programs.

Okay. So I ask this question...Was the "PLC" considered in this decision? Was there a consensus? What did the MAJORITY of teachers REALLY feel about this decision? Based on the FACT that our district says that it is a "PLC" (Professional Learning Community) and claims that "consensus" is critical...then should our teachers have not had a voice? I am under the absolute understanding from the MAJORITY of the teachers that this did not occur.

Research, like many words in our language, can mean different things to different people. we go. Just as the word "supplements", "basics", "traditional math" apparently can all have different meanings too. Many of us have learned that the hard way through this process. This is why it is SOOOO important to KNOW exactly what administrators mean when they say something anymore. I do not feel that we have been lied to deliberately. I just believe that the "truth" as we understand it must be interpreted now so we KNOW what is being said.

Investigating topics and considering the opinions of individuals in the field is certainly one method of researching; however, the trend in education through expectations being placed on public education by the federal government is to hold educational research to the level of rigor equivalent to fields such as science and medicine. This is very difficult, because little educational research has been conducted to this level of scrutiny, and clinically controlled trials are often hard to find, therefore the Institute of Education Sciences has created the What Works Clearing House to analyze research and determine if studies are, in fact, valid (Dynarski, 2008).

Okay. Let's look at this statement together. Is our school district really saying that our federal government (OUR DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION) should be considered as an authority? I certainly read it that way...but, if that is what they are saying then I am compelled to ask if they even KNEW about the National Mathematics Advisory Panels findings BEFORE they made their decision to take this route for our children. The report came out in March 2008. (The WWC was created in 2002.) Why did our decision makers defer to the WWC and not the Foundations For Success? It was a much newer report drafted at the request of our President. It was compiled and distributed by our Department of Education. It was out BEFORE the decision was made to jump into this math feet first. Our district needs to be very careful when referring to the federal government and the Department of Education when attempting to justify their argument. Most of you remember the DOE's findings in the "Foundations For Success" (Do you remember that?...The new report out in 2008...the one that says "less is more" and "mastery and closure is critical"..stuff like that. Remember that report that the National Mathematics Advisory Panel put together after appointing top experts at the request of the President of the United States to study what is wrong with how math is taught in our nation. Remember the Panel that worked for 2 WHOLE YEARS compiling research and studying what is wrong with how our kids are learning math? Was that report entirely disregarded when choosing this program for our children?

(In the next paragraph our district used several leading authorities and mathematicians that are strongly opposed to the use of standards based math as part of their argument that the evidence to support or deny any particular math programs success. Cited are the last names of some of the leading experts in the field.)

Prior to the creation of the What Works Clearing House, Budd, Carson, Garelick, Klein, Milgram, Raimi, Schwartz, Stotsky, Williams, Wilson in association with advocacy organizations of parents, mathematicians, and K-12 educators (2005), all of whom incidentally support the removal of standards based math and a return of the back to basics instruction, recognized that, “There is no conclusive evidence of the efficacy of any math instructional program."

Okay. But, is that what the experts really believe? Well, many of you might be interested to know that Stephen Wilson of John Hopkins University Math Department and James Milgram of Stanford University Math Department (both cited above) contacted our school by way of email and requested that their names be removed from the above mentioned statement as they both felt it to misrepresent their beliefs. Note their emails below:

On Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 7:25 AM, W. Stephen Wilson wrote:
For what it's worth, I sent them an email asking them to take my name off because they've misrepresented me entirely.
That comment you can even post and share with anyone.
They attribute beliefs to me that I do not hold.
I am misrepresented and misunderstood.

On Tue, Dec 23, 2008 at 9:17 AM, Jim Milgram wrote:

I sent a request that they remove my name from their report. The people who did the original EM report were not renewed as contractors for the WWC web-site, and I believe a number of the studies are supposed to be redone. I think a key problem was the Everyday Math report, where they leaned heavily on the P. Noyce paper on EM in Massachusetts. But nobody reliable really believes it represents solid research, especially since Penny Noyce has refused to name the schools, and the results appear to be an isolated case.

Okay. To understand EXACTLY what Jim Milgram of Stanford University is saying above is so important, but we will touch on this again in just a minute. Read on about what our district has to say.

Given the scant valid research supporting either side of the argument prior to the creation of the clearing house, it is clear that In the case of elementary mathematics programs, the only program receiving a rating of possibly effective is Everyday Mathematics, which is a standards based program similar to the program we are using. Programs such as Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Elementary Mathematics and Saxon Elementary School Mathematics, which are considered traditional programs, were both rated to have no discernable effects on student achievements.

Okay. Wow...Did they really say "Given the scant valid research supporting either side"? You see, there are a multitude of believers who would disagree fully with this statement. OUR DISTRICT OFFICIALS may believe that there is very little research to show what or what does not work...HOWEVER, there are many, many of us who believe that our college professors and mathematicians who have protested as to how hideously this way of teaching our children in preparation for high school algebra and thus, higher level mathematics should be given a voice.

SOME OF US believe that there is abundant research if you are willing to look for it. They are right about one thing...if they are looking for successes with this program in abundance...there is SCANT VALID RESEARCH. However, if you are really looking for the truth, then it is as simple as just looking at the scores from DESE for our neighbors down the road in Columbia WHO JUST GOT RID OF IT BECAUSE THEY FOUND IT TO BE A FAILURE FOR THEIR CHILDREN. There is TONS of "VALID RESEARCH" that shows over and over again the FAILURE of Investigations if one would be willing to look even just a tiny bit. ALL of the research that I have found that looks to be credible speaks loud and clear to what a failure this math has been all across our nation. It is not research that is hard to find. And I would think that falling test scores in school district after school district should count as viable research. In fact...take a look at what the WWC REALLY says about TERC/Investigations. The WWC does NOT endorse investigations. It shows it as "Under Review" as of November 2008. A link is provided below.

Remember what our district says above...
The What Works Clearinghouse is a positive contribution of the era of accountability and we should consult the evidence listed on the What Works Clearing House website ( to inform instructional decision making.

Should we? Apparently the WWC's positive contribution to the "era of accountability" is what our district used to inform themselves in their pursuit for "instructional decision making". Soooo...if this is the "research" used to justify the "why" we are using this program, can you understand why many of us believe it to be very weak? The funny thing is that below is how the "Investigations" is noted on the "what works clearinghouse". Check it out.

Investigations in Number, Data, and Space® Under Review November 2008

As well, the school site noted:
"the only program receiving a rating of possibly effective is Everyday Mathematics, which is a standards based program similar to the program we are using."(Noted above).

Okay. My response to all of the above is that is simply this.... "POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE" and "PROGRAM SIMILAR" ...
I don't know about you, but "POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE" and "SIMILAR" mean two things to me. First, this program (INVESTIGATIONS) is not even close to PROVEN (after over 20 years of use all over our nation should there not be a few legitimate successes recognized by our department of education?). Second, keep in mind that our district is saying that it is "SIMILAR" to another program we are using (EM). IT IS NOT EVEN THE PROGRAM THAT IS "POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE". Wow...drink that one in for a second. Nope, it doesn't make any of us feel very good about the research that our school used to SUPPORT their decision.

Remember...the Investigations is still "Under Review" according to the WWC. It hasn't even earned its "Possibly Effective" status yet (as if the "Possibly Effective" gives us warm fuzzies). It is just as likely that at the end of the "UNDER REVIEW" period that the WWC might find it to be a miserable failure. We don't know since the jury is apparently still out. It is a roll of the dice at this point. If we are lucky it MAY be upgraded to "POSSIBLY EFFECTIVE", but if we are not lucky our kids will be part of the research that deems it a "HIDEOUS FAILURE". (I am not sure if that category really exists or not...sounds good to me ;).

Okay. I know that most of you have probably had enough already, but since our school district opened the can of worms called the What Works Clearinghouse, I must make one more point. It appears that our school is trying to really do the hard sell on us when it comes to the "What Works Clearinghouse" and their ringing endorsements of TERC/Investigations and Everyday Math (if that is what you want to call it). That is why it is essential to understand that if this is the strongest data they have for leading us down this path, well it simply should not be enough for any educated individual to ever blindly follow without questions when one truly understands what this data REALLY says.

Understand one more time what the WWC says about Investigations...that it is still "UNDER REVIEW". So, it is fair to say that our decision makers have rested their hats on the "Possibly Effective" status of Everyday Math (that we use in K-2) to engage our 3rd-5th graders in Investigations because it is "similar". What? Is that considered good research? Is that really enough? (Did you really just get what I said? If that makes no sense to you, understand that I did not confuse my words. It is crazy. You read it right...just read it again and then scratch your head...a lot of us have been doing a lot of that lately.) So if all of the above information is not already enough to convince you...recognize what PROFESSOR JAMES MILGRAM OF STANFORD UNIVERISTY KINDLY REMINDS US IN A DECEMBER 23, 2008 EMAIL ABOVE WITH REFERERNCE TO THE RESEARCH OUR SCHOOL HAS DONE:

In Professor Milgram's words...
"I sent a request that they remove my name from their report. The people who did the original EM report were not renewed as contractors for the WWC web-site, and I believe a number of the studies are supposed to be redone. I think a key problem was the Everyday Math report, where they leaned heavily on the P. Noyce paper on EM in Massachusetts. But
nobody reliable really believes it represents solid research, especially since Penny Noyce has refused to name the schools, and the results appear to be an isolated case."

Make sure you get that point. That even the "Possibly Effective" is tainted in the eyes of any reliable researcher. The people who did the original report were not renewed as contractors with a number of studies to be redone. The lead researcher REFUSED to name the schools and the results appear to be an isolated case.

If this is the "research" our school is using to argue the credibility of TERC and EM, I hope this information enlightens many of you to exactly why so many of us are so upset. We deserve answers for our children. So, my question to you all is simple. How much longer are we going to tolerate the experimenting on our children? If this "research" does not rest well with you, don't be afraid to ask questions. As I said earlier...if this is all that they have got, then it is incredibly weak in light of the evidence to the contrary. Make your voices heard for our children. They deserve so much better.

Also, remember how many times that I have asked and asked for our district to give us a list of names of other schools in Missouri who are currently using Investigations without supplementation (as they have imposed on our children)with great success. I felt this "research" to be the most potentially credible. I sadly report that after contacting in excess of 30 school districts all across our state that I was led to believe used Investigations, NOT ONE that I have yet to identify is using Investigations as its core without the use of supplementation. This SHOULD NOT BE SUCH A HARD QUESTION!!! I would hope that since we proceeded so "cautiously" we would have a few schools that would be considered our "models". There should be many, wouldn't you think? This should only have been a part of our district's decision making process BEFORE engaging our children in this curriculum! Is it not reasonable that we are given more "research" than the very weak findings of the WWC? I sure think so. I would hope that at a minimum they will put their "research" back on their website so all patrons of the district can view their findings sooner than later because we all deserve to understand "why".

By The Way...if any of you are really curious about what Stephen Wilson and James Milgram really believe, check out the article listed below. It truly represents the postition of these two very distinguished scholars. Ten Myths About Mathematics Education and Why You Shouldn’t Believe Them. ""

(As of January 12, 2009 it was brought to my attention that the Camdenton website now has their "research" link up and running again as of today. The information naming the professors mentioned above has been removed. Check out the revised information at .)