Monday, February 4, 2008

UW Education School issues ..... ......................Math Propaganda

Where’s The Math? Exposes
University of Washington Education Dept. Brochure -
Misleads Public and Legislature

Subject: “Research That Matters 5: Taking Measure” – Brochure on Math Education distributed by the University of Washington College of Education.

A brochure on math education has just been published by the U of W College of Education, and is being distributed around Washington State to PTA leaders, education administrators, and state legislators. The contents should be of concern to anyone who cares about education, or the long term economic welfare of our state.

The roles of universities and colleges are critical, training our next generation of educators, and providing ongoing professional development to thousands of practicing teachers. This is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and the public misinformation contained in this brochure is a clear indicator that the UW College of Education is horribly out of touch with the foundations that create successful students and citizens. For example:

1... The presentation of the “Math Wars”:
“The gloves have come off in the Math Wars” – The first statement on the first page sets a divisive and polarizing tone. The basis of the math wars is that students in math, across the socioeconomic spectrum and of all achievement levels, are not meeting their mathematical potential. Parents and business leaders expect sound education for their students, not excuses. The brochure mischaracterizes the nature of the two sides of this debate. It is not between “traditionalists” and discovery-math advocates, but rather between those supporting world-class math curricula used in high-performing nations and states, and those, like UW Education professors, who believe that math must be discovered and invented individually and that mastery of key algorithms is not essential.

2... Poorly defined problems labeled as “higher order thinking”:
A typical reform math problem provided in the UW brochure is illustrative. “A toy is hidden in one of two cakes. One cake is a circle, cut into fourths. The other is a rectangle, cut into sixths. Students must choose the cake that gives them the best chance of finding the toy.”
Unfortunately, there is no solution to this problem. Are the two cakes of the same size? Not given. How many pieces can the student select? Not given. How large is the toy? Unknown. A casual review of a number of reform math textbooks reveals far too many of such ill-posed problems. It is hard to believe that such poorly considered examples represent “real world” problems that enhance a student’s math education as suggested by UW Education faculty.

3... The misrepresentation of mathematics outside the education system:
In the section of the brochure titled “Where’s the Math”, UW Education professors claim to have evaluated the use of math by professionals such as architects and roadway engineers, as well as average people in their daily lives. “In consequential financial situations”, the brochure notes, “they saw little school-like math in action.” The brochure concludes that real math, with equations, factoring, and algorithms is unused, and that the math taught in schools “is not the math we actually need.” More specifically, “If you spend a month with architects, you’ll never once see them write an equation.” It would seem reasonable for national engineering or architecture associations to suggest changes in the math training, or perhaps university department prerequisites might dictate suitable math content as adequate preparation. For a College of Education to arrogantly make these statements about other professions is preposterous.

4... “Equity” as a justification for not teaching all students math:
The brochure states “it seems a fairly elitist thing to push algorithmic math as mathematics instruction for all students.” In actuality, it is a huge disservice to all students to deny them the understanding of the core relationships and algorithms which make up the foundation of mathematics.

5... Calculators everywhere
While the learning and understanding of algorithms is downplayed as elitist, over half of the glossy images of students at work include a calculator or computer. Again, this is a clear example of misplaced priorities within an organization trusted to deliver balanced guidance to Washington’s current and future educators.

An examination of this brochure reveals much about the mindset guiding the UW College of Education, and how that world view leads to the poor math education currently experienced by Washington State students. The UW College of Education seems oblivious to the downward spiral of state math education and to their own role in supporting a failing approach for the last decade. Ultimately, the UW College of Education’s lack of objectivity, deficit of empirical support, and insistence on perpetuating failing educational fads has harmed the future of Washington State and its students. It’s time for a change.

Richard Burke
(206) 953-1153


Anonymous said...

That particular problem from the brochure I believe was published in the journal of mathematical behavior, 2002. A huge problem with teaching mathematics is that the problems are being written by psychologists who don't quite grasp that math is not a jumble of facts.

Exploring test performance in mathematics: the questions children’s answers raise

by Elham Kazemi
University of Washington

This was an investigation into children's performance on tests answering multiple-choice questions. 90 fourth-graders were interviewed.

The study concludes by using multiple-choice questions and juxtaposing them with similar open-ended problems, the findings underscore the costs of not attending to children’s thinking in designing and interpreting problems.

As a solution, the author concludes that when answering multiple-choice questions, students’ attention is drawn to the choices themselves. They do not necessarily think through the problem first and thus make their choices based on (often incorrect) generalizations they have made about problem-solving. None of this is unreasonable, so why publish it.

The strange part is why would you give 9 yo students an open-ended problem as a multiple choice item, unless there was more than one correct answer. Nothing is in discurssion about who the students were or what their background was. Finally, how did it end up on an informational brochure reminding everyone why we use standards.

Its tough enough having weak standards, but worse when they're confusing and pointless. Did anyone not think about the reasonableness of such using ambiguous problems? Their thinking continues to defy logic.

Anonymous said...

This isn't the only place I have seen multiple choice questions used with open-ended problems. It now seems like common practice in both science and math departments and I can easily see the public confusing the difference between ambiguous and poorly written. They might have some value if students knew what they were trying to solve and how to solve it, but I agree with UW researchers, if I didn't know, I'd just read the answers and make a guess - and figure I had better than a 50-50 chance of getting it right - 3 out 4 answers were correct on an item.

Anonymous said...

Deborah McGhee another psychologist at the UW wrote this report: The Relationship between WASL Scores and Performance in the First Year University (2003)

After filtering data, the study showed about a third of 7500students enrolling in universities in Washington was below standard.

This study was commissioned in response to OSPI's need to have the WASL validated. Does it not surprise you that UW researchers would come to their rescue.

The question they were attempting to answer was whether the WASL had predictive value? This was necessary to be in compliance with NCLB.

The correlation for WASL math was .53. And for the SAT was .88. A large correlation is considered .5, but not with 1SD.

One interesting point in the study was that 37% of the students were from UW. Apparently to show compliance you only need to validate for first year university attendees? Its really discouraging when you start reading this stuff, because it isn't very good in the first place.

There is an interesting piece written by Alan Schoefeld (2005) describing the difficulties he had getting a report published over a middle school curriculum research protocol.

Schoenfeld raised objections over an original protocol guiding a middle school math review that was not released. He was not unique in this, as other senior advisors for
other WWC reviews also had written background essays intended
to be included in their protocols
Therefore should we conclude all WWC reports cannot be interpreted meaningfully. Doesn't one first need access to the relevant content analyses?

Schoenfeld - "Absent such information, there is the possibility of false positives
at the individual student level, the possibility of false negatives at the curriculum level, and an inability to aggregate results meaningfully using meta-analysis."

To produce its middle school mathematics reports, WWC
performed a comprehensive review of 20 years of published and
unpublished studies. Of all those studies, only *10* met the WWC
standards for evidence and were then described in WWC reports.
Schoenfeld's article discussed the ways in which some of those 10 reports are seriously flawed. It would have taken WWC very little effort to analyze the measures used in those 10 studies, thereby establishing their reports on a firm scientific basis.

Yet WWC refused to do so? Moreover, its representatives avoided addressing this issue in their response to my article, focusing their attention on a claim that I did not make. One has to wonder why."

So yes Virginia, this seems to be one big math hoax and Brousseaux can go tell it to the shortest mountain.

So here are the little rascals scampering about trying to cover up their fraudulent past mistakes. Wouldn't it be a shame to give back up all those millions, for not following WWC protocols. Good thing they're in on it too.

Anonymous said...

The "math? reformers" are getting squeezed by their own undoing even after they faked the protocols. They can't raise WASL test scores and flatten math standards. Schools really aren't like queues after all, Mr. TQM - garbage in, garbage out.

Just goes to show you can't please your boss all the time.