Weekly Math Updates

March 29, 2006

  • Major Thanks
  • Visit to State Curriculum Director's Office
  • Math Site
  • Questions for Delegates
  • Comment from National Board Certified ASD Teacher
  • Letter from Dr. Dennis Lisonby, UVSC
  • Keep Spreading the Word
  • Comic

Hi all,

    I always hate to overload you with a lengthy email and sometime think "I'll just send that next week," but things don't slow down much and new stuff keeps happening.  A couple weeks ago I wrote the school board and invited them to write anything they like and I would send it out to you and post it to my website.  So far they haven't felt the need to send me anything although at one point about a month ago, an inpidual with the district did send me some graphs and asked me to post them showing their side of the story that Alpine was really closer in scores to charter schools scores than I represent when scores are broken down into demographics.  So I examined the data and pointed out a major math error on the charter school side wherein the non-low income, non-minority students would have had to score at the 125th percentile for the percentages to work out to what they represented.  I haven't heard back yet but I'm waiting...just like I am on a study that shows these programs are effective.  (I just figured ASD grads had worked on the numbers)

Major Thanks

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone that has helped so much in this effort.  There are those of you that have gone out and spoken to your neighbors carrying forms around to sign them up for the petition.  I know many of you have gone the extra mile.  I want to thank one of those that has gone the extra mile and is almost solely responsible for making this whole fight possible, my wife.  She has put up with a LOT to say the least.  Late nights and early mornings and having projects around the home get neglected because of the desire to push this fight to completion.  She's been a real trooper and I love and appreciate her for all that she's done in passing out flyers and speaking to teachers and supporting me.  Last and actually foremost would have to be my thanks to the Lord above who has strengthened me and given me the health and energy and even the desire to do this as I have truly felt this was his battle to get a better education for his children.  I hope nothing I write ever indicates that I'm responsible for any of the success we've achieved because I know I can't do this alone.

Visit to State Curriculum Director's Office

About a week ago I went to visit Brett Moulding, the state director of curriculum.  I met Brett after my testimony to the appropriations committee when he contradicted my testimony concerning dropping scores in Utah and rising math scores in California.  David Wright at BYU heard the audio of the discussion and backed me up with hard data he emailed to the committee and Brett made a retraction to the committee by email just two days later.  As I left the meeting that day, Brett and I had a good conversation while we walked out to our vehicles.  He invited me to come to his office to discuss how to get more parental involvement in our schools.  I said, "just put in Investigations and you'll get all the involvement you can handle." :)  I did share some ideas with him but there are two other things I need to share with you that are really important.

One of the big misconceptions (ie. lies) that gets passed around the education community is that Singapore's success on the TIMSS test is because only the top students were tested.  Thanks to someone on the list contacting Dr. Milgram at Stanford, we have an official answer to this question:

Question 1: We are being told that Singapore's TIMSS scores didn't reflect the whole of the community but just tested kids in "math schools." Is this correct?

Response 1 from Dr. Milgram: The TIMSS scores are over a CROSS SECTION of the community. They reflect as accurately as is possible the entire population. The same with our kids. So, when one looks at our top 5% they "perform similarly to the top 10 - 20% of the age cohort in most of the other countries." [S. Takahira, P. Gonzales, M. Frase, L.H. Salganik, "Persuing Excellence: A Study of U.S. Twelfth-Grade Mathematic and Science Achievement in International Context." U.S. Dept. of Ed. 1998, P. 44.

Another question posed to Dr. Milgram concerns Utah adopting the CA standards.

Question 2: Do California's math standards allow for programs like Investigations to be there? Is it up to the districts to decide?

Response 2 from Dr. Milgram: Investigations originally intended to apply, but withdrew. It is extremely unlikely that the Content Review Panel would have accepted the program if they had submitted it, since it does not match up to the standards. All this means is that no district can use state money to buy Investigations. However, if a district wanted to use it it could, but it would have to find the money somewhere else. A number of districts did, in fact, try to continue using it, but almost without exception, as the CA tests ramped up, they began to see severe erosion in scores, and, as was the case in the district where I live - which used MathLand and Connected Math - parents withdrew their kids in droves. So there are, I believe, currently extremely few districts that use these programs now.

Math site
Here's a nice site with some good resources.  It also contains a page with reviews of various homeschooling programs for math.

Questions for Delegates

Some of you succeeded in getting elected as state and/or county delegates (way to go!) and have asked me what some good questions would be to ask the people running for office.  Where appropriate, here are a few questions to ask of people.

1) Will you sign Oak Norton's petition to improve math standards in Utah? (this could create some great discussions and further our cause quite a bit)
2) Will you support replacing Utah's "D" ranked state math standards with adoption of the "A" ranked CA math standards?
3) Will you support cities or towns that want to use HB77 to form their own school district in an effort to improve education for children in their boundaries?
4) Are you in favor of or against the use of vouchers as a way to let parents move children from public to private schools (recognizing that where tax dollars go, legislation tends to follow)?
5) Do you support a repeal of the 17th amendment to restore proper checks and balances to our country? (non-math vital freedom question) 

Comment from National Board Certified ASD Teacher

“Three-and-a-half hours of goading, helping, begging and threatening later, my son is almost through figuring out that there's a way to do his math.  It occurs to me that my son's math teacher is following a twisted version of the old adage, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."  The only problem is that the connected math approach requires that the students first imagine that there are fish, and then invent a way to catch them.  I'd be content if they'd just show my son how to build a fishing pole that would work to catch fish. 

I'm a 21 year veteran science teacher.  I'm National Board Certified.  Everything I see in relation to the connected math my kids are experiencing is so full of pedagogical holes it makes me ill.  I'm still trying to perfect my own skills which means I try new things to see if they work.  In my opinion, connected math goes way beyond being a reasonable attempt at something "new" to help students. 

Thank you a million times over for your efforts to bring us back on track.”

[name removed]

Letter from Dr. Dennis Lisonby, UVSC

After last week's email that contained the news that Alpine had essentially blackmailed UVSC into teaching constructivist math to all their students desiring to become teachers, I got this email from Dr. Lisonby at UVSC.  He has given permission to use his name.

I'm an Associate Professor in the Multimedia Communication Department.  In the 90's I produced several remedial math telecourses for UVSC.  A major problem we have at UVSC is the lack of math preparation with the incoming freshmen.  It is costing higher education (taxpayers) a bundle to  fix the math mess created by the school systems in Utah.  Yes, you heard right.  Utah Valley State College is actually teaching high school classes because the high schools are not doing their jobs.  Yes, you thought right.  This is a major waste of money.  (If it were my call we would cut that program and send students back to the high schools to take those classes.)

Poor performance in Math does not have to be the legacy of Utah.  In 1988 I spent a week at  Garfield High School in Los Angeles video taping Jamie Escalante and the other math teachers.  It was amazing to me that these students, some straight from Mexico, were doing advanced calculus.  These were big classes of students all doing well.  In a poor school district in the middle of East LA they were all doing the work and succeeding, yet here in Happy Valley with a culture that preaches education from the pulpit the students are failing when it comes to math skills. Why?

In 2004 our son entered Orem Elementary school.  We soon discovered there were several problems at the school that were not being addressed.  One dealt with safety of the children and the other was a math program that was not teaching foundational math.  Suddenly our time was being spent trying to solve the safety issue and teaching our child basic math skills.  I investigated this math program and became very concerned.  Big dollars were changing hands and it became obvious that Alpine had trapped themselves by their own ignorance. A decision was made to solve the problem but after being insulted by the leadership of the Alpine School District we put our son in a private school.  Now we pay double taxes for his education, but he is getting a superior education; the type of eduction that Alpine could only offer in their wildest dreams.

I have a close friend with the Rancho Cucamonga School District in California.  I asked him about this "investigative math" program and he told me their school will not consider this program and that there have been problems with districts leaders getting kickbacks from programs like this. (Hmm. Could kickbacks happen here?)  Another friend is the executive secretary at Rancho Sante Fe School District in the San Diego area.  Same with her district, they rejected this program and other programs like it.  (These two schools districts are very affluent. They have the money for any program they desire, but they won't spend it on this program.)

My concern is with those children who are in this new math system.  When this group of students reach UVSC will our remedial math classes collapse under a flood of students?  Will more money need to be perted from higher education classes to high school classes. It must be changed before that happens.

I propose the following.

1. Orem pull out of Alpine School District as soon as it is possible.

2. The new Orem School District dump investigative math and immediately raise the standards in math and english.

3. Orem School District will follow the model of Garfield High School and coordinate with local church leaders and parents so that they support the new standards with a commitment that they will take an active role in helping the students understand the importance of putting the time into studies necessary to learn the skills.  They will be aware that this new approach will require more homework in math and english and that will mean turning off television and video games at home till the inpidual student is doing well in class.  Church leaders and parents will know how each student is doing academically and parents will be immediately notified by teachers when a student is not doing homework and mastering the subject matter.

4. Teachers will be positive in their approach, and instill confidence that anyone can do it and that doing it is what is going to propel them to success in life.

It is time our students realize that they cannot be competitive in our world today without these skills. They need to know that they CAN learn these skills.

We know that students will rise to the level expected of them.  The only way that is going to happen is if Alpine is broken up, education is given back to the community and higher education starts holding school districts accountable.

Dennis Lisonbee
Associate Professor
Utah Valley State College


Keep Spreading the Word

It never ceases to amaze me how many people haven't heard of our petition.  Everyone I meet in public seems to hate this program and don't even know this petition exists.  If we would open our mouths and just ask people what they think of Alpine's math program we would easily hit 20% on the petition this year.  One way I just thought might be fun for you is to print out some of the comics and post them at work on your door or somewhere that passers-by can see them.  If you would like a larger print version of the Utah comic, just click this link to download it, then print it and tape it up. 


Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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