Monday, June 2, 2008

Curricula Selection Off Track

A few readers had wondered Where's the Math? these days.
Here is your answer.

Washington State Math Curricula Selection Veers off Track under Dr Terry Bergeson

The quality of the K-8 math curricula provided to Washington State students will play a critical role in deciding whether our children will be ready to compete for the jobs of the 21st century. Unfortunately, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) under Dr. Terry Bergeson is now taking actions that will result in the selection of weak and inadequate K-8 math curricula for our state.


Faced with poor Math WASL scores, the increasing need for math remediation in State colleges, and complaints from parents and businesses, the Washington State legislature passed a series of bills calling for revised K-12 math standards and curricula. OSPI hired the Texas-based Dana Center to create the new standards. Costing nearly 1.5 million dollars, the OSPI/Dana draft standards were so poor that the State Legislature took responsibility away from OSPI and gave it to consulting firm Strategic Teaching, under the direction of the State Board of Education (SBE). OSPI had other problems, including the establishment of Standards Review Teams that were drawn nearly entirely from supporters of “discovery” or “reform” math programs, and high school standards that were so poor that a draft is still unavailable. In late April, the SBE released the proposed K-8 math standards, which represented a modest improvement over the vague and inadequate attempt by the Dana Center, but still possessed significant problems, including the continued vague and fuzzy language in many standards and saying nothing about the use calculators in the early grades.

OSPI’s Wrong Turn on Math Curricula Selection

According to Senate Bill 6534, the next step is curricula selection, with OSPI given the responsibility for choosing math curricula that best align with the new state standards by October 28, 2008. OSPI is again attempting to frustrate the legislature’s intent in number of ways:

(1) Curricula Guidelines Created in Secret by Non-Math Specialists

Instead of an open process, with wide representation of parents, teachers, mathematicians, and math-impacted industry, OSPI has turned to a secretive process that has excluded individuals with real math backgrounds. Without any outside input, OSPI created a twenty-two-person committee (Mathematics Instructional Materials Review Advisory Group) to create guidelines for making the curriculum decisions. No public notice was provided for this meeting, nor was any attempt made to ensure a representative group. Not one member of this group is a current math teacher, with nearly all of them being curriculum specialists or employees of OSPI. Few of them have real degrees in math or technical subjects such as engineering. Indeed, why was a separate handpicked advisory group needed, when one group could have been effective in determining the guidelines and evaluating the texts?

(2) Curriculum Guideline Designed to Maintain the Status Quo

The draft Curriculum Guidelines provide seven criteria for deciding on math curricula. Only ONE criterion deals with the content of the curricula and their alignment with either the new WA math standards or the suggestions of the recently released National Math Panel report. Equal weight is given to vague issues such as “equity and access” and “student experience” as the actual content of the books. Alignment to more rigorous math standards should be the key requirement for the new books, not one of seven-odd considerations. The guidelines call for evaluating the curricula processes of three states (OR, CT, NC), but strangely none of them are known for strong math standards or curricula and none are among the exemplar states recommended as models for the new, revised standards.

(3) Curricula Review Group Biased in Favor of Current Math Curricula

Nearly four hundred individuals applied to join the group established by OSPI to recommend curricula (the Instructional Materials Review, IMR) committee. Of the hundred that were selected only TWO identified members of WherestheMath were selected, even though a dozen WTM members applied. Why was OSPI so fearful of including a significant representation of WTM members, many of whom have strong math backgrounds?

(4) A Flawed Curriculum Review Process Established

The IMR group will only be meeting for five days in June, an inadequate length of time for reading and evaluating hundreds of books and thousands of pages. OSPI then has carte blanche for several months afterwards to come up with the final recommendations. Why was the IMR group given so little time, insuring a cursory examination of the many texts available? It appears that the IMR review is only window dressing for a process dominated by OSPI staff.

(5) Thirty Million Dollars Will Be Wasted This Summer on Poorly Conceived “Professional Development”

Dr. Bergeson is planning on spending thirty million dollars of State funds on “professional development” regarding the new math guidelines, even before the standards and associated commentary are finalized and the curricula are selected. The potential to waste a large amount of public funds is clear. If the new standards are clearly written, why is “professional development” needed to explain them? A review of the proposed materials for this summer course indicates an empty experience that is little more than a propaganda session for OSPI.

Wheresthemath suggests that a new approach is needed. A panel of true math experts, such as mathematics teachers and technical faculty from state universities, must review the submitted instructional materials to ensure they are mathematically accurate, and are aligned with the Washington Mathematics Content Standards and those used by leading nations and states. Parents, PTA representatives, and math-intensive industry representatives should also have important and sustained inputs. Increased time must be provided for the consideration and development of the new curricula lists, not the five days of the current plan. And wasting money on ill-planned professional development that is little more than cheerleading events must stop.

The OSPI-directed curriculum selection process has all the hallmarks of the biased and non-professional approach used by OSPI in the past math standards review. Without a change in approach, it is highly probable that the resulting curricula will be poor choices for Washington’s children and that intervention by the State Legislature will again be required. We cannot allow OSPI to squander another chance for improved mathematics education in our state.


MathChique said...

Very interesting, sickening, and typical. It sounds to me like a lot of money was offered by the text book industry lobbyists?
I taught out of a high school geometry text book where there was a half-page color photo of an all black, wheel-chair bound, basketball team. That the photo has nothing to do with geometry is irrelevant. And... the text book had been poorly edited and was full of errors. Our children and students are getting scoliosis carrying these books around school.

On another note... The Congress recently spent time reviewing the Math Panel report. In his opening statement, Rep. Miller mentioned that George Bush has suspended the U.S. participation in TIMSS. See my blog

flotsam said...

I have a question--unfortunately it is off topic--I teach in a K-3 building, Title 1 math and reading and our district has adopted Investigations 2 (OSPI recommendation), however due to budget issues the board may hold off. From reading your blog, I know that that program is not high on your list. We current use Saxon. I was a big advocate for getting rid of it and adopting Investigations, but I am starting to revisit my original position. I am starting to ask some questions--what will happen with a new math program? Will teachers become better and more skilled at math? Will teachers become mathematicians? I recently sent an email to my superintendent asking him some questions. I'd like to list my questions and see what you think:
1. What if we invested in teachers instead of a curriculum?
2.Could we spend 40gs on a specialist to teach teachers math?
3. What if teachers saw themselves as mathematicians—would it matter what program we used?
4. Is it possible to use Saxon and properly educate our kids?
5. Is it possible to use Investigations and properly educate our kids?
6. What happens if we adopt Investigations and teachers’ philosophies don’t change? The way they personally understand and view math?
7. Will a new curriculum be more of the same without addressing the “black hole of knowledge?”
8. Could we create a more viable school model by putting money into teachers becoming experts in math instead of curriculum delivers?

I am really curious about your experiences. Would investing in teachers' content knowledge help more than a new curriculum? I think both camps you talk about in your blog have valid points--I just want to make some sense out of it all and help my kids be successful.

Anonymous said...

You have to have the students and parents backing you up in the classroom. It matters what you teach and its more than the content. Everyone has to comprehend what you are teaching and it has to agree with the most skeptical observer, the parents.

1. When you buy the best curriculum, you are investing in your teachers. With that curriculum should be the training that goes with it. Very few publishers provide enough training, so that was the purpose behind the NSF grants, but as you can see from this blog, when your district uses a grant there are stipulations about what you can teach. Saxon is not on that list of exemplary curriculum.

2. Where is the $40k coming from to pay for a math specialist? Probably Title I, which means you are a low performing school, in which case TERC is probably not the best choice. And this is the problem, because there is no solid curriculum for beginning readers.

I've seen Saxon supplemented with mixed results, because once again it depends on the student's reading level, and also the types and variety of activity structures in the classroom that do not depend on committing answers to paper and pencil.

This apparently takes away from time on task and if you think about it most facts at this age have to be recalled from memory. An advantage to learning out loud is math phobias usually start early as math anxiety caused by making errors on paper. It is easier to correct wrong answers orally, than visually because the lengths of time required for students to concentrate differ. Its harder to focus visually.

3. Most teachers use the Saxon books as primers or problem books and they don't vary their activities enough. Saxon's recipe-like explanations get skipped because they are difficult for most students to understand. The examples are good and so are the problems. Parents are happy with Saxon, although I think everyone questions why we don't have something better.

4. The goal is to become a teacher, not a mathematician. In terms of content and book work, US teachers are overqualified. If you have Title I funds and can't decide on a US textook, it would be wise to invest in a set of marcy cook activity books (I have, who has, etc...). These can be used at all elementary levels and I have used them in high school classes with kids that were deprived of an education for too long.

The best types of intervention strategies use counters (digits 0-9), don't require pencils or paper, and are self-correcting, so kids can check their answers, and the teacher can vary the classroom structure. This is a failing with CT and other CAI software.

I've used two rows facing each other with students (ICP v. Crips) seated in pairs or threes. After the laughter when they realized what I'd done, you could hear a pin drop for an entire hour while they were on task. That's the beauty of teaching when it works, its heaven.

You can use the same materials over and over - it doesn't matter how often they see it. Lets face it, Kids are kids. I usually let them choose their own activities.

5. I favor Singapore because its k - 12 and it teaches algebra in the eighth grade. It eliminates permanent tracking. Its written at an appropriate reading level. The problems are popular with students.

Dan thinks teachers will struggle trying to teach it, but if your teachers share a common prep period they can solve a whole lot of problems together. Its in a format that keeps students and their work organized.

Singapore builds on objectives. Unlike most curriculums you've probably encountered, Singapore knows where students are going when they finish their program.

I've already said you don't need an honors or ap program. So you build your support program and it can be as simple as a pullout.

Challenging Mathematics is another k-12 curriculum that grew with popularity.

So I think the NCTM gods and godesses have it completely wrong - mathematics isn't hard when you put some thought into the writing of textbooks. If a book doesn't speak to a child, then it should be tossed out.

6. The idea that a teacher's philosophy must change to use Investigations is an excuse for why Investigations doesn't work in the first place. The only way Investigations might work is if you supplemented it with other material. Most teachers usually turn to Key Curriculum, Saxon, or the old textbook they used before.

7. That goes without saying - kids have to be taught the same algorithms we were taught in school because one, those algorithms are needed in advanced classes; and two, how would we know how to correct them if they made a mistake - you need to know one algorithm so learn the best one (not five???? inferior ones, and then forget to learn the one that everyone expects you to use????). Fractions allow students to solve problems more simply. While it may not be appropriate at this time to have algebra in the eighth grade it will be the goal for future generations. You can't be a world power otherwise.

8. Teachers are math experts, they're professional teachers, not professional mathematicians. They stand and they deliver. If they happen to use a textbook like Core Plus, then they get rotten tomatoes, gum, chairs, and/or textbooks) thrown at them.

Bergeson and McCune would make better shark bait. I can't wait to see the new didactic calculas book, Virginia.

Anonymous said...

geez, trying reading an answer from an integrated curriculum. Its a page of loose ends just to solve one problem. Look up a Core Plus answer and the whole department will stand around puzzled. Like how do we teach that? Do kids really need to know this? What is it they want the kids to do? What buttons do I need to press? etc. I'm writing a sitcom - HardCore High.

flotsam said...

Thank you for the reply--I am thinking...

dan dempsey said...

Hey Mathchique,

Nice to have you around.
I linked to your blog on the right side of the main page.


dan dempsey said...

Hey Flotsam,

I am in Lacey drop me a line at

I'll send you my data and studies..
I think that TERC/Investigations2 is an extremely poor choice and there are substantial reasons for this.

Have you read Hook-Bishop-Hook on traditional math vs reform math?

This is the study of the last decade.... huge statistical study of California districts that switched from reform math compared against those that stayed the course.

LAUSD & San Diego staying with...
and huge number of others including Sacramento switching...

What happened in Sacramento is worth investigation as there was enormous improvement in Sacramento while LAUSD and San Diego with very similar demographics to Sacramento floundered..

Also look at the following PFT graphs .... and remember that Investigations2 is a cognitive model curriculum.


Anonymous said...

LAUSD and San Diego have similiar histories of administrator abuses that reflect what Seattle and Portland are currently experiencing.

Great Schools started reform in San Diego, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York City, Houston, San Francisco and Boston (those are the original six cities).

The culture of Southern California (Orange County) is completely different from the Central Valley. Sacramento is extremely progressive and green-minded.

San Diego at one time was a top ranking urban district - leave it to Payzant, Alvarado, and Birsin to destroy it.

Sacramento managed to avoid some of that heat in the 90's and don't forget that's UC Davis country, we're talking about the writers of CPM and the Golden State Exam, which is a terrific test.

Jaime Escallante left LAUSD in complete frustration and chose to retire from Sacramento.

There are only two high school math programs in California that actually offer college credit for calculas - Sacramento and La Jolla. Escallante ran the third program and it didn't last.

Marny Sorgen (Marin county) and Gary Tsuruda (E. Palo Alto) are terrific math educators - Marny's always maintained that algebra could be taught in the eighth grade, but once again San Francisco was caught up in the reform movement.

Anonymous said...

This is another source of confusion and again I blame this on this Roberta Dees in Chicago.

The metamorphosis (CPMP) has produced teachers organized for change in Chicago and Southeastern Wisconsin, greater connections between UIC/DePaul and the Chicago Public Schools, and many effects on the teaching of mathematics at UIC. The most direct successor is the Center for Secondary School Mathematics Reform which is cosponsored by the Department of Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science and the Institute for Mathematics and Science Education. The major project at the moment is the implementation of IMP in 9 Chicago High Schools. Anne Horn and Margaret Small coordinate this implementation and their offices are located in 225 SEO here on the UIC campus.

This should not be confused with College Preparatory Math (CPM) from UC Davis. This is the link showing their results compared to rest of the state (grades 6 - 10). It's quite an accomplishment, when you consider the size of the staff that runs this project. Also, if you complete the four years of course 1 - 4, unlike the other standardized curriculum, you will be prepared to take Calculas. I thought it was a shame that districts would adopt course 1 only. UC Davis staff started this program, partially because of the need to have a curriculum for ELL students available in the Central Valley, so its available in Spanish.