Weekly Math Updates

April 05, 2006

  • Vouchers and School Choice
  • Candidates
  • Mountainville Academy Debacle
  • Math Coach book review
  • Funny - Al-gebra Terrorists
  • Weekly Comic - Mathland (an actual fuzzy program)

Vouchers and School Choice

Hi all,

I want to go out on a limb and discuss something very much related to our fight, but perhaps an issue we don't know much about the "other" side of the story. I don't want to ignite a firestorm of controvery, but it's an important enough issue that I feel it must be discussed since several within our ranks have gotten themselves elected as county or state delegates. The topic is vouchers and school choice.

School choice wouldn't be a factor if we had better public schools that were responsive to parents.  Those in Alpine district know firsthand what it's like to have non-responsive officials. Better schools happen because we use the best programs and of course, good teachers, concerned parents, etc...  But programs that work are going to produce better results than programs that don't work when all the other factors are held constant.  In other words, if you get a parent to spend 15 minutes a day teaching their child math under Investigations, and that's all the time a parent can devote to that child's math skills, and the teacher is doing the very best job he/she can, then the next biggest influence on the child is the actual program. If the district wants to run "F" rated programs rated based on reviews by renowned mathematicians, that's their choice. As parents, we then want to have a choice to overcome that shortcoming. Charter schools represent that choice very well and I'll discuss the latest with Mountainville below, but many people suggest that we should switch to a voucher system as a way of giving parents the option to use their tax money to spend by placing their children into private schools.

I want to admit in saying this, that I have been a mild supporter of vouchers because in an area like Alpine where there is oppression and limited choice, it would be nice for folks to be able to pick up and put their children where they want to. However, my tune has changed over the last few months on this issue and I'd like to explain why. This may or may not be the right answer, but I think it's a pretty accurate description of most of the issues.

If a voucher system was allowed what would happen?

1) Potential harm to public schools losing students
2) Potential harm to private schools receiving tax dollars
3) Benefits to public schools through vouchers
4) Benefits to private schools receiving voucher money
5) Alternate ways to break school monopolies
6) Harm to public school students
7) Harm to private school students

Discussion points:
1) Public school enrollments drop as top students and families most involved in education leave the school taking their tax dollars with them. Less students means less need for money so there's less need to spend. The school's rankings drop. Solution for public schools: make your schools better and people won't feel the need to flee.

2) Private schools get regulated and forced to accept students that wouldn't have made the cut previously because public money is flowing to them. This brings the classroom level down and causes the higher level excelling students to work at a slower pace.

3) The benefit to public schools in a voucher system will be viewed by administrators as a detriment because it will force them to examine their responsiveness in a business-like way. They have to adapt to the needs of their customers and provide solutions the market demands or risk losing business.

4) New schools and higher enrollments at private schools bring better education. They know they have to outperform public schools to justify the experience.

5) Split districts, expose faulty curriculum, public embarrassment, lawsuits, legislation or the threat thereof.

6) Dropping enrollments may mean less $/student as facility overhead will not change to cover fewer students. Faculty overhead would change though, forcing the public schools to decide who is or is not needed in administration and more closely match the more fiscally responsible admin costs at private schools.

7) Private students gain a sense of unjustified pride that they are attending a "special" school and thus get turned back into society as snobs. :)

I've attached an excellent paper Representative David Cox wrote concerning this issue arguing against vouchers. I think it helps to illustrate the point that where tax dollars flow, regulation always follows. If we let vouchers run their course over a few years, private schools will start getting tapped to follow special regulations, perhaps created just for them to be "fair" and accept anyone that produces a voucher. This action could result in major problems for private schools that previously required entrance exams and perhaps other issues like ways of handling violations of their internal discipline code. I don't know all the answers on this issue, but I must say as I've studied it more and discussed it with people that have spent a lot of time studying it, I am against a voucher system.

This leaves the question, "then how do we get better school choice or better education for our children?" There are a few factors that go into education which I briefly mentioned above. The only ones the schools really have control over is teacher quality and program quality. With teachers, the issue is training and attitude. If a teacher can't be trained and they're not doing a good job, they should be fired. Tenure should be eliminated to pave the way for better classrooms. Teachers make a huge difference and teachers that prove to be stumbling-blocks need removed. However, programs used make a huge difference in the content taught and the way parents are able to support the program at home. The only way to force better programs into our schools is to have better standards.  Therefore we should adopt the very best world-class standards so we're all crystal clear on what we should be teaching and learning.  Instead of state officials monkeying around generating their own standards, we should be adopting California's standards and test banks.  The independent Fordham Foundation ranks CA's standards with a strong "A" as one of the very best in the nation. Once those are in place, we ought to start examining Singapore's methods and standards as they are the undisputed top country in the world for math.


As some of you are delegates, I would appreciate information on candidates that you gather. If you could send me very brief notes on the candidates and the questions you ask them, next week I will try to publish a condensed list of candidates at least in the Alpine area, that are supporters of our movement and better education for the state in general. I would like the following questions answered and I will then make a simple table of the candidates and Yea/Nay responses to each of these five questions. If you are a candidate on this list, please feel free to email me your answers.

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) 

One thing I have learned about the school board race (and plenty more will follow), Tina Howard in Alpine is running and was a key district employee that helped bring Investigations into Alpine district. My phone call to her home lasted 15 seconds after asking what she thought of the math program in the district...she replied, "I love it."

You can see all the candidates on this page:


Mountainville Academy Debacle

Tuesday night a meeting was held in Alpine to determine the fate of a charter school. A lot of things have happened lately in Alpine including Westfield Elementary's violation of district policy by distributing flyers to children to take home without district approval or sanction. Eyewitnesses have come forward stating they were in classrooms where people came in and said the flyers were to be distributed but the principal denies firsthand knowledge of the actions.

The principal and many others including the board member from Alpine appear to be very negative toward the charter school going into Alpine because for every 25 students a school loses, they have to eliminate a job at the school. For Westfield elementary this means a loss of 11 jobs. One would think the district would get the picture and wake up to the reality of competition in education, but for some reason they can't bring themselves to recognize that their monopoly of power is like water in their hands. If Alpine school district is such a "quality" education, why do we have 10 charter schools with nearly 10% of the district children being moved to them at a cost of time and money to parents? Why would they do this if there was no problem with the current education establishment in the district?

The Provo Daily Herald reported on the public hearing if you care to read it. I was in attendance as my children are enrolled at Mountainville for next fall, and it was a very interesting meeting with the planning commission members already decided to reject the plan before the public hearing because they had their powerpoint slides all prepared to quote laws to reject the plan. This first article below is mistaken about the Charter school board not following the law. They did comply and the city attorney told them they did, and the planning commission chairperson corrected one of the members that said Mountainville didn't follow the law.

The second article appeared this morning and reports on the activities of the flyers being passed out at Westfield.

Next week is the city council meeting. My limited understanding is that the forces against the charter school are trying to get Mr. Whitchurch to abstain his vote next week in the city council meeting because his wife Rebecca is the founder of the charter school, yet the laws appear to state you only have to abstain if you will financially profit from a vote. On the other hand, two of the members of the Alpine city counsel are tied to the school district and will benefit if the charter school never opens its doors. If Mr. Whitchurch is forced to abstain his vote, these others should step forward and do the right thing and remove themselves from the process.



Math Coach book review

"Math Coach" a Parent's Guide to Helping Children Succeed in Math. by Wayne A Wickelgren Ph.D.

    Petition signer Linda Lunt recently sent me this email about a book called "Math Coach."  I thought I'd share her review of the book with you since it sounds like the authors have a good grasp on the math issue.

    "I picked up the book at the library to help our 16 year old son who struggles with math.  He has a 15 year old brother in the same grade (9th). They have both been through the investigations math.  The 15 year old did ok with it because he is "math minded" and could make the transfer to junior high math easier. Our 16 year old had taken pre-algebra in 7th and 8th grade and struggled in algebra his second term this year. We had him tested at Sylvan and were told that it is because he had not completely grasped the  "basics".  We decided to pull him from the math class at the school and are going back through  the "basics" and getting a tutor to help him with algebra when he is ready and prepare him for geometry next year. We may keep him out and just do math at his own pace on Electronic High School with a tutor. It is my opinion that Investigations math is really a detriment to those who struggle with math and need a firm understanding of the basics.  This book has a number of pages discussing Standards math and how it was not benefitting children and was not preparing them for junior high math. He states that California first endorsed the "Standards"  program in 1992 and by 1997 the California Board of Education had rejected almost all of its principles. "Why does Utah keep hanging on to this kind of program if it has failed elsewhere??"      
     The author makes many statements concerning the importance of learning the basics. And goes through basic math concepts in a way that is very beneficial to parents "supplimenting" their child's math knowledge or helping those who need to catch up.
     We also have a daughter who will be entering kindergarten this fall and I will be watching to see what happens in her math lessons and are prepared to pull her out if "Investigations" continues to be the math curriculum. We have three older children who did fine in math through school before this math program was installed."

Funny - Al-gebra Terrorists (sent in by one of our alert petition signers)

At New York's Kennedy airport today, an individual later discovered to be a public school teacher was arrested trying to board a flight while in possession of a ruler, a protractor, a set square, a slide rule, and a calculator?  At a press conference early this morning, the attorney general said he believes the man is a member of the notorious Al-gebra movement. He is being charged by the FBI with carrying weapons of math instruction.

Al-gebra is a fearsome cult," a Justice Department spokesman said. "They desire average solutions by means and extremes, and sometimes go off on tangents in a search of absolute value.  They use secret code names like 'x' and 'y' and refer to themselves as 'unknowns', but we have determined they belong to a common denominator of the axis of medieval with coordinates in every country. As the Greek philanderer Isosceles used to say, 'there are 3 sides to every triangle'."

Weekly Comic

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

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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