Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Missouri Math Educator needs to get out more

It appears that Missouri suffers from the same oversights as Washington...

"There are no research mathematicians on the writing group (for the standards),” said Barbara Reys, co-chairwoman of the writing group for the K-12 mathematics standards and a professor of mathematics education at MU. “In hindsight, the organizers probably should have invited their participation. We are continuing to seek feedback from all interested parties (whether those parties know anything about math or not), including mathematicians from Missouri and elsewhere.”

WOW!!! Those Missouri Organizers are just like Washington's.
Stack the deck and then look at the result... No surprises that way.

Barbara Reys had a major hand in the recent Missouri Math adoption process.

Department of Curriculum & Instruction Mathematics Education

Barbara Reys
104 Stewart Hall
Columbia, Missouri 65211
University of Missouri-Columbia
Phone: 573-882-8744
Fax: 573-882-4481

December 18, 1998

Dear Professor Tsang,

A letter dated 12/21/98 that you wrote to the Piano ISD Board of Trustees was forwarded to me via e-mail. The letter refers to a paper I co-authored reporting research documenting the impact of two different standards-based mathematics curricula on student achievement.

The research reported is a carefully designed study that collected information from students after one year of use (grade 6) of “standards-based” mathematics curricula and compared that information to students who had used a more traditional, teacher-constructed curricula. The evidence indicates that students who use standards-based curricula (we studied two groups of students - one group using Connected Mathematics Project and another group using Math Thematics) perform as well as students who use more conventional curricula on traditional measures of mathematics achievement - Stanford Achievement Test (SAT), ninth edition. However students using the standards-based curricula performed significantly better than students using traditional curricula on a standardized problem solving measure (SAT Open-Ended Mathematics Problem Solving Test). As a research physicist I’m sure you understand the value of emphasis and expectations that students understand apply mathematics in problem solving settings. We know that U.S. students lag seriously behind students in many other countries, including Hong Kong and Singapore (countries you note in your letter), and that what they lack is not the ability to apply computational procedures or formulas ( Wow.. she must see different kids in MO than I see here in WA state Then this letter was written ten years ago and the kids had not yet been though a decade of reform math)but rather the ability to reason and solve problems (see the Third International Mathematics and Science Study for evidence). This is precisely the focus of the standards-based curricula.

As a parent of both a sixth and ninth grader, I expect the public school system my children attend to select the highest quality mathematics curriculum - one that challenges, intellectually engages, and focuses on understanding and applying mathematics. I believe that middle school students should be learning from a mathematics curriculum that places heavy emphasis on algebraic reasoning, statistics, geometry and number. Unfortunately, too many middle school students experience a mathematics curriculum that is focused too narrowly on computational and procedural skills. This narrowly focused curriculum has been standard fare in the U.S. far too long and it is not serving our students well. I want something better for my own children. I have spent many hours over the past three years studying the standards-based middle school mathematics curricula (as a parent, a teacher, a teacher educator, and a researcher). I am convinced beyond a doubt that these materials incorporate important mathematics that students in the middle grades should learn. I agree that the new curricula are challenging to teach. Rather than condemning the curricula, we need to find ways to better prepare and support teachers to teach challenging mathematics to our students. Nothing impacts the quality of our children’s’ mathematics education more than the teacher. I have great respect for teachers and recognize that they are performing the most difficult job I know. I also respect the decisions they make about curricula. I urge you to listen carefully to teachers and to respect their input and leadership in selecting and implementing good mathematics curricula.

I take exception of your dismissal of the study that I co-directed. You state in the letter to the Board of Trustees that “one should be especially wary of studies that are tainted with money from the publishers ... three of the four authors of that article are associated with the Show-Me Center which is in partnership with the CMP textbook publishers. Such studies should be dismissed as research similar to those designed by cigarette company ...“ As an academician you know that there is an established process of peer review in funding research studies and in reporting them. The study cited in the paper was funded by the National Science Foundation, not a commercial publisher. In fact, the Show-Me Center receives no funds from publishers. The study cited was reviewed by a panel of the American Educational Research Association and accepted for presentation at the annual AERA meeting in 1998. It is currently under review by a respected professional research journal.

I don’t know if you have read the paper you cite. If not, I encourage you to do so. As a fellow researcher, I would hope to be treated with the same professional regard you would offer a researcher in your own field. That is, that you would read the research report, engage in dialogue with the authors if you have questions about the research design, analysis or reporting of results, and portray accurately and without bias the information in the report.

As a scholar at Michigan State University, you are certainly aware of the importance of truth and accuracy in presenting information. Your analogy between our work and research related to the tobacco industry is both unwarranted, inaccurate, and unprofessional. While you are certainly entitled to express your opinion of CMP or any other curriculum, please do not misrepresent the integrity of the study. I hope in the future you will clearly distinguish between fact and opinion--and confirm the facts before you state them as such.


Barbara Reys
Professor of Mathematics Education and
Director of the Show-Me Center

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very entertaining piece to read


Dr. Jim Milgram of Stanford said of this study, it is akin to the tobacco company studies of the 50's and 60's telling everyone "smoking is safe, we've tested it."

In preparation for presenting the material to the board, I spent several hours researching and contacting people. One person I was directed to was Sandra Stotsky, who was the assistant commissioner of education in Massachusetts when this study was performed there in 2000. She wrote:

“I am aware of several major problems with the MA part of the study. (1) As the Executive Summary admits, mostly high--income "white" schools were using the "reform" programs in the MA grade 4 sample, (2) no information is given on the supplemental tutoring that exists in these suburban communities (a hard factor to get information on without labor-intensive exploration at each school), (3) no information is given about supplemental curriculum materials the teachers themselves may have used--all we are told is that the schools that were contacted said they fully used the reform program. I know that many teachers in these high-income schools use supplemental materials to make up for the "reform" programs deficiencies, (4) no information is given on the amount of professional development the "reform" teachers had (a huge amount in all probability) in comparison to the teachers in the comparison group (if no new math program, no professional development), (5) no information is given on the amount of time spent on math in the reform schools compared to the comparison group (the "reform" programs require a lot more time per week than most schools had been allotting math for many years. For example, I discovered that one Newton elementary school with top scores was considered a model because it taught math one hour each day!), and probably most important and relevant (6) the MCAS grade 4 math test was originally designed with a great deal of advice from TERC. TERC also shaped the math standards in the 1995 standards document that were being assessed by this test in 2000 (it is acknowledged in the intro to this document). TERC's supporters (and EM supporters) were on the assessment advisory committees that made judgments about the test items and their weights for the math tests. It is well-known that the grade 4 test reflects "constructivist" teaching of math. In other words, the grade 4 test in MA in 2000 favored students using a "reform" program. “

I also contacted Dr. Jim Milgram at Stanford. He is on the advisory board of NASA and says that these programs have been around for decades and if they were effective, NASA, IBM and others would be actively looking for high schoolers that went through these programs. He also said it's generally acknowledged that no valid study has ever been performed to show the effectiveness of these programs. I will post his entire fascinating email at the bottom of this page, but I wanted to give you his quotes that I read to the board at the meeting from his review of Connected Math. I gave each member of the board a copy of this document and asked them to read it. ftp://math.stanford.edu/pub/papers/milgram/report-on-cmp.html

Page 1 of 22: “If one visits the web site of the program (Connected Math), http://www.math.msu.edu/cmp/Index.html, one finds two preprints, presumably using rigorous methodology and statistical analysis, that are advertised as showing the benefits of CMP. Unfortunately, as we see in the appendix to this report, both studies are fatally flawed and deceptively presented. Additionally, at the website one will find a strong endorsement of the program by the AAAC. They grade it as one of the most effective programs for teaching middle school mathematics Unfortunately, this too must be taken with a grain of salt, as is also discussed in the appendix. In fact, it is generally acknowledged that there are no reputable studies showing that any of the NSF developed mathematics programs actually benefit students in testable ways.


(Oak's comment: What a sense of humor he has! Then he proceeds to closely examine the three grade levels for connected math and skillfully show this curriculum as one of the worst available.)

Page 2 of 22: “Overall, the program seems to be very incomplete, and I would judge that it is aimed at underachieving students rather than normal or higher achieving students. In itself this is not a problem unless, as is the case, the program is advertised as being designed for all students. In fact, as indicated, there is no reputable research at all which supports this.”

Page 20 of 22: “There is a second paper extolling CMP at the CMP website by Reys, et.al. In this paper the statistics are done well but the "control group" is not realistic. The paper looks at three programs: CMP, another similar program, and a "control group" that consists of teachers who seem to share the same philosophy as the developers of CMP but are teaching without the assistance of any books or course materials. In other words the control group consists of teachers who are just winging it.

Unfortunately, this kind of statistical analysis, poorly done and misleading, appears to be very common in research on NSF funded programs, and the errors all seem to be in the direction most favorable to the programs.”
Besides presenting this material to the board, I challenged the board to 3 things:

1) Don't ever let someone from the district contradict me after I leave and then not tell me about it (which happened in either October or November) and not give me a chance to respond.

2) They've acknowledged that teachers are now able to teach anywhere on the spectrum that they think the students need to learn from Investigations to Traditional math, so now put your money where your mouth is and fund teacher choice of curriculum (the statement giving teachers authority to teach without fear of reprimand was read in November at the board meeting and the direct result of my October visit to the board). http://www.oaknorton.com/ASD%20November%20Board%20Meeting%20Statement.doc

3) A challenge to find JUST ONE VALID INDEPENDENT STUDY by the end of January that shows these constructivist programs are on par or better than traditional programs. If they find one I agreed to publish it on my website and email it to all of you. I didn't make them promise to drop the programs if they couldn't find one, but hopefully it will make some people think about what's happening as they try to find an untainted study. Of course I'll keep you posted on this.