Weekly Math Updates

December 1, 2005

Hello petition signers,

    What a great week for publicity...front page coverage in the Provo Daily Herald and over 50 new petition signers.  Thank you all for your efforts to sign up friends and neighbors.  We have at this moment 834 families in the Alpine School District on the petition which represents 4.4% of the children in the district.  This is awesome.  We're about 100 families away from 5% of the district on the petition!

    If you didn't see the article or read the great comments after it, here's a link.  For those of you that saw the post by a teacher in the district claiming that Japan uses Investigations math proving it is effective, I refuted that with a link to a NYU study in a later comment that Japan does not use Investigations but instead uses direct instruction.  There is a misconception about a TIMMS video that makes assumptions about Japan's methods and I don't think I need to tell you what happens when you make assumptions... :)


    I want you to know that I've been contacted by teachers and they are appreciative of our efforts.  Many know there's a problem and even with the district statement we achieved in November telling teachers they can teach traditional math, they're still nervous about losing their jobs if they just switch over to teaching by the methods we want.  We need to bring more pressure on the district.  Teachers that once felt the joy of teaching are losing their enthusiasm and considering their options.  Please encourage your children's teachers to use traditional methods to teach.  Support them!


    I would like to ask everyone the question what are you willing to do to help promote this cause? (if you are able to do something to help)  Bear in mind that if everyone got 3 people to sign the petition in December, we would have nearly 18% of the district on the petition!  That's by no means impossible.  I believe that close to 70% of the district families don't like this program but just don't even know there's a petition.  About half of those people won't sign the petition themselves if they have to actively do something like come to the website and sign the form, so if you have their permission take down their information and sign them up.  We can win this fight if we all do our part!


(Poll taken down)

    For a fantastic article this week, I've included the text of a Wall Street Journal column that appeared a few years ago.  Enjoy the read and note especially the last block from the editor about what happened in Plano, Texas.

Till next week,

Oak Norton


By Tom Lehrer, Wall Street Journal, 2/25/00

Reinventing math is an old tradition in this country, at least since the 1960s. Even Beatniks understood that a method that highlights concepts at the expense of plain old calculation would add up to trouble. And, as it happened, the New Math's introduction in schools across the country coincided with the onset of a multi-year decline in math scores.

Today the original New Math is old hat, but many folks in the education world are hawking another reform. It is known by names like "Connected Math," or "Everyday Math." Not surprisingly, the New New Math has a lot in common with the Old New Math. Like its forerunner, it focuses on concepts and theory, scorning textbooks and pencil-and-paper computation as "rote drill."

And like its forerunner, today's New Math has powerful allies. Education Secretary Richard Riley and other Clintonites smile on it. Eight of the 10 curriculums recently recommended for nationwide use by an influential Education Department panel teach the New New Math. Not that all members of the Academy are joining the movement. Within weeks of the Education Department findings, 200 mathematicians and scientists, including four Nobel Prize recipients and two winners of a prestigious math prize, the Fields Medal, published a letter in the Washington Post deploring the reforms. More are now rallying on an opposition website: mathematicallycorrect.com.

And well they might. For programs of the sort picked by the federal panel turn out to be horrifyingly short on basics.

Consider MathLand, which won a "promising" rating from the panel. Its literature says it focuses on "attention to conceptual understanding, communication, reasoning, and problem solving." This sounds harmless, but consider: MathLand does not teach standard arithmetic operations. No carrying and borrowing at the blackboard here. Instead children are supposed to meet in small groups and invent ways to add, subtract, multiply and divide. This detour is necessary, the handbook informs us, to spare youngsters the awful subjugation of "teacher-imposed rules." MathLand also does away with textbooks-too hierarchical, we suppose. No chance therefore for anything as sane as systematic review.

Next comes Connected Math, a panel favorite. It too skips or glosses over crucial skills. Example: The division of fractions, an immutable prerequisite for algebra, is absent from its middle school curriculum. In shutting the door to algebra, David Klein of Cal State Northridge points out, "Connected Math also closes the doors to careers in engineering and science for its graduates."

Finally, there is Everyday Math. No textbooks here, either. Everyday Math ensures juvenile dependency to calculators by endorsing their use from kindergarten. Rather than teach long division, the program devotes substantial time to that important area of math study, self-esteem. A Grade 5 worksheet asks students to fill in the blanks on the questions below:
A. If math were a color, it would be _____, because _____.
B. If it were a food, it would be _____, because ______.
C. If it were weather, it would be _____, because ______.

We'll allow a pause here for primal screams.

And then move onto the main question: Why? The reason for the New New Math, as for many other curriculum reforms, is that teachers, school administrators and their unions are tired of being blamed for statistical declines and poor student performances. So, with math, as in their campaign to dumb down the SAT, such educators work to destroy or reject the standards that brought them trouble in the first place. Children are different nowadays, goes the line, and cannot be measured by the old benchmarks.

New Mathie and federal panel member Steven Leinwand explains: "It's time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive." Or as Professor Klein translates: "Underlying their programs is an assumption that minorities and women are too dumb to learn real mathematics."

Fortunately, America is not France, where a central government controls every aspect of schooling down to the color of the paper clips. Localities and states write their own curriculums, and can and do fight back against the New Math. California, for example, reversed a calculator-friendly policy in grammar schools after scores dropped precipitously. Resource-rich families, too, one suspects, will find ways to compensate for what trendy schools omit.

Still, New Math will take its casualties, especially among the poor, adding to the already mounting costs of the decline in national educational standards.

Editor's Note: In Plano, Texas, over 500 parents, whose middle-school children were subjected to the controversial Connected Math curriculum, are suing the Plano Independent School District for denying their children an alternative traditional math class. Tom Stack, the Texas Justice Foundation lawyer representing the parents, says, "It boils down to who is responsible for the education of children-parents or the government (public) schools?" The case is scheduled for November 6 in U.S. District Judge Paul Brown's Sherman courtroom. In the meantime, make sure your children or grandchildren are learning math basics (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division). Be wary of any math program that has no textbook, emphasizes group learning (i.e., "Discovery Learning"), and uses calculators extensively.

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