Weekly Math Updates

October 18, 2006


  • The Alpine School District Bond
  • The Legislative Meeting
  • Interesting Articles
  • Media Articles
  • How to Dive in Soccer (obviously non-math)
  • Weekly Comic

The Alpine School District Bond

I've had a number of emails and correspondance from people on the subject of the school bond. I have particularly avoided weighing in on this as I know there are some major concerns people have on both sides of the issue and I have tried to remain very focused on the math topic. However, today while I was at the legislature I learned that if the bond vote does not pass, Alpine will be able to ask for another vote as soon as next summer. This single piece of information was what pushed me over the edge. I was concerned about the damage that could result from not passing the bond and the logistical and economic problems that could occur over time. However, nine months is nothing. Ask my wife who is expecting our 5th and you'd have a much different story, but perhaps a VOTE NO on both initiatives will throw Alpine into a sudden labor and maybe they will deliver some results to us parents by next summer. Then we'd just need them to take a paternity test to learn who the father of their immoral math behavior is. :)

The Legislative Meeting

OK, so the big news of the week is the Education Committee meeting. Last February when I had the opportunity to go to the legislature and testify concerning the poor state standards we have and how Utah should adopt California's standards and move on, the sub-appropriations committee meeting I spoke at, referred the issue to the education interim committee for further review. That meeting was Wednesday of this week.

In preparation for the meeting, the state board of education had earlier this year brought a group of people together from all the major colleges in the state to review the state math standards. These participants were mostly very pro-constructivist math educators, along with some mathematicians who I will just say were trying to be cooperative and helpful and not create waves. The information concerning the meetings was blocked out to the public for a long period of time so no one knew what was happening behind the scenes. A couple weeks ago, the report was released and I obtained a copy of it along with Dr. Jim Milgram from Stanford and Dr. David Wright from BYU's math department.

I wish I could replay portions of the meeting because they would have set you on fire. The order of events was first a statement by a couple of professors from BYU supporting this study's conclusion that compared Utah's standards to California, Texas, and South Carolina, and then assessed where we stood with regard to NAEP and NCTM standards. When one of the professors was asked by a representative if Utah's standards would produce a "world class education" for our students, he paused for a moment and replied, "it's difficult for standards to accomplish that." There was a noticable gasp from the state school board member sitting next to me as well as others in the audience. He's actually correct, standards alone do nothing unless you have proper curricula and teacher training (one of the things Dr. Milgram spoke about at BYU on Tuesday), but to say world class standards aren't really all that important was in my estimation, unfortunate.

After they presented a summary of the findings, the outside group that was hired to make the extremely detailed comparisons spoke concerning their 500 page report (whoa) and how they examined down to the word level any variance between the standards and concluded that Utah and California have very similar standards and there's no need to adopt California's, but Utah's could use some tweaking.

Then Skip Fennell, the current president of the NCTM spoke via a telephone connection regarding the focal points that have just been released. I would comment more here but the audio was poor and I got called out for a bit and missed portions of it. It is sufficient to say that Mr. Fennell and Dr. Milgram are good friends and see eye to eye on the need for strong standards and a focus on the most important aspects of a world class curriculum. In going to dinner and a small reception with Dr. Milgram on Tuesday, I learned that California's standards were based on Singapore and Japan's standards.

Then Dr. Milgram spoke and he didn't hold anything back. Concerning Utah's standards he described in painful detail just how bad they are. One example he gave was the Utah standards only mention the word algorithm five times and give an incorrect definition. Utah says:

Algorithm: a step-by-step method for computing

What does that mean? That means nothing. Anything qualifies. In contrast, here's California's definition:

Algorithm: a systematic procedure that produces - in a finite number of steps - the answer to a question or the solution to a problem.

Dr. Milgram also mentioned Utah has "an absurd number of standards" and if we don't adopt something like California's standards, we should "extensively revise" them. He said California has an inordinate influence on textbooks and we could gain a lot by aligning with a state like California that publishers pay attention to and create textbooks that match the core standards.

After Dr. Milgram's excellent hatchet job on the state, Dr. Wright from BYU got up and did a most excellent job showing the extraordinary flaws in the report produced by the West Ed folks. They had to feel very embarrassed for botching the state scores and so many other areas of their report. Dr. Wright also made the case to adopt California's standards and it generated quite a discussion in the committee. There was so much discussion that by the end of the meeting time the committee hadn't been able to reach a conclusion as to what to do and will have to pick up this matter in next month's interim meeting.

One of the most annoying things for me in watching all of this is the vanity that people have in the process of investing in their own state standards. A couple times the idea arose that each state should customize standards that meet their own needs. I can see that for say, history standards, but math standards I can't really see a reason to have some unique set of standards in each state. Can you tell me South Dakota has different math needs than North Dakota so they should develop their own standards? No way. States should collaborate to make world class standards and then move forward using them.

(Update-nothing changed above: 1/31/14: Funny how times change. Back in 2007 I wanted the states to collaborate on math standards, but the state office was adamant that each state should have their own standards tailored to their needs. Now the state office wants common standards among all the states, and I'm appalled that we've adopted Common Core math standards with other states. However, Common Core was not state-led, and they're not even that great of standards. If states had said, "we think CA or MA has fantastic standards and rather than write our own, we'll just piggyback on their work," I'd have no issue with that. But the federal takeover of standards and assessments through Race to the Top bribery leaves me very concerned.)

So what's the bottom line? The meeting really brought home the need for changes to be made to the Utah core but nothing was decided on at this meeting. Next month hopefully they will decide something positive for our state and not overly debate it.

Interesting Article

Last week I mentioned in this space a thought-provoking article by Orson Scott Card making the case to do away with homework. If you missed it, here's a link. http://www.ldsmag.com/ideas/061012homework.html

This week, part two has now been posted and here's a link to it and a summary of Card's recommendations. You really should read these articles if you're an educator.

    1. No homework before middle school.  Ever.  Period.  Childhood is too precious to waste.
    2. No homework over vacations, holidays, or weekends.  Children need more time to rest and recuperate than adults, not less.
    3. No tests on Monday or the day after a holiday or vacation.  See above.
    4. No empty homework.  All assignments have to have a specific, immediate educational purpose within the subject matter of the class.
    5. No assignments for parents.  All assignments should be fully within the capability of all the children in the class, without parental involvement of any kind except to cooperate in scheduling time.
    6. No excess repetition.  Five examples should be sufficient to identify any problems a child might be having.  Three are usually enough.
    7. No makeup homework for sick days.  The kid is still recuperating.  Don't double his load.

    My suggestion is: Read The Case Against Homework and The Homework Myth so you know what you're talking about.

Media Articles

Here's a couple of articles from the press regarding Dr. Milgram's BYU speech and the meeting in the education committee (particularly disappointing as the reporter didn't even mention Dr. Milgram and the caustic remarks he had for Utah's standards).

Math learning is shallow in U.S., professor says

Math in Utah — 'fuzzy' or A-OK?

Confident students do worse in math; bad news for U.S. (CNN)
Obviously kids that expect to major in math and science need a certain level of confidence, but this is a really interesting article. Looks like feel-good fuzzy math isn't really all that great for skills. SURPRISE! Here's a small clip.

"Loveless says pleasing kids has come at the expense of mastering skills.

His findings come from the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, a test of fourth-graders and eighth-graders across the globe. Along with answering math questions, students were asked whether they enjoyed math and whether they usually did well in it.

The eighth-grade results reflected a common pattern: The 10 nations whose students enjoyed math the most all scored below average. The bottom 10 nations on the enjoyment scale all excelled.

...Math textbooks in the United States, for example, tend to have colorful photos, charts and stories to please kids, he noted. In other nations, the texts strictly have math."

Bad marks for Utah's schools

[Educators] are at a loss to explain precisely why 152 Utah schools failed to meet minimum federal proficiency standards last year compared with 118 schools the previous year.

Scientists say video games can reshape education

"Common sense tells us that a medium so basic to the lives of these 'millennials' has potential beyond the living room," Lowenstein said. "We would be crazy not to seek ways to exploit interactive games to teach our children."

How to Dive in Soccer (non-math)

Being a soccer nut, I had to share this as a little extra levity this week. For those of you that love soccer, these are hilarious. For those of you that hate soccer, here's a reason why.


Here's some short video clips illustrating the practice in action...and at least a couple are obviously staged.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKkwr0IxLMI (Simulation is a term for diving)

Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.weaponsofmathdestruction.com

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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