Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summary: Washington’s Math Problem

Summary: Washington’s Math Problem

Under Terry Bergeson’s administration, inquiry-based math was instituted in 80% of WA schools. Inquiry-based math stripped proficiency of basic math skills from the classroom and encouraged rampant calculator use and dependence. The results have been disastrous for WA students.

• 1..After a decade of OSPI’s pushing inquiry-based math on WA schools for the sake of increasing WASL scores, 50% of 10th graders still can’t pass the math WASL.

• 2..Over 50% of WA 2 year college students need remediation in math, costing students and taxpayers extra time and money.

• 3..Over 60 UW professors signed a letter to the legislature attesting to the declining math skills of incoming students over the past decade, forcing them to simplify the math content of their courses.

• 4..Tutoring has tripled in the last decade.

WA math education is hurting minority, low-income, and ELL students the most:

• 2007 math WASL passage rates were only 22.5% for African American students, 25.6% for Hispanic students, 10.7 % for ELL students, and 30.5% for low income students1.

• Over the last decade the achievement gap has continually grown.

• Inquiry-based programs purport to make math more accessible to disadvantaged students but school districts that have faithfully adhered to inquiry-based programs have widening achievement gaps.

WA students need to be internationally competitive:

• The National Science Board indicates that the growth of jobs in the mathematics-intensive science and engineering workforce is outpacing overall job growth by 3:1.

• Math is the universal language of technology, which drives our economy and national security. The National Math Panel warns that it is “fundamental to recognize that the safety of the nation and the quality of life—not just the prosperity of the nation—are at issue”.

• “For the high tech industry, it's about attracting the "best and the brightest" from overseas as the U.S. educational system struggles to produce graduates skilled in math and science. Microsoft has 3,000 U.S. job openings that it can't fill because it can't find qualified people or can't hire them from overseas because of existing immigration restrictions, Krumholtz said.”

Despite legislation to correct the current math failure, Terry Bergeson’s math education agenda continues to be driven by ideology rather than data, and is concerned more about process than results.

• OSPI has manipulated the standards and curriculum selection process to allow curriculum choices that will continue the status quo7. OPSI repeatedly minimized public input and stacked decision making committees with pro-inquiry, non-math specialists. Without a change in this biased and unprofessional approach, it is likely the result will be another decade of the same failing curricula and the same disastrous results.

• After spending nearly 1.5 million dollars, OPSI’s draft standards were so poor the State Legislature took the responsibility away from OSPI and gave it to a private consulting firm under the direction of the State Board of Education.
(See SB 6534)

• Pro-inquiry educators claim that their methodology is “research-based”; however, the National Math Panel report cited more than 16,000 studies on math instruction which were found unsuitable because they were not conducted with scientific rigor, thereby preventing any significant conclusions about math instruction methods.

We need a State Superintendent who is willing to follow the National Math Panel’s recommendations to improve math. Without a major shift away from inquiry-based math, WA children will be doomed to mediocrity in our global economy.

• Continued use of the same math programs is not the answer. The new, “updated” editions of inquiry programs still allow excessive calculator use and downplay or ignore the importance of standard computation methods that the National Math Panel cites as critical for success in “authentic” algebra. Why continue this harmful experiment when there are products that have proven success?

• The students in China’s gifted program exceed the total US K-12 population. India’s for-profit, private school population also exceeds the entire US K-12 population.

• The math curricula of top performing countries outpace our newly revised standards by roughly two years11. This cuts short future career opportunities and the millions of higher skilled workers around the world will take the best jobs.

Summary: Washington’s Math Solutions

Washington State has a golden opportunity to lead the nation by incorporating the recommendations set forth by the National Math Panel12 in the WA math standards revision and curriculum recommendations. Anything less will short-change our children.

Where’s The Math’s Specific Suggestions:

1. Clear, rigorous math standards that are pedagogy-neutral and keep pace with top countries.

2. Quality textbooks that are coherent and focused on proficiency of key topics at each grade. They should have clear examples/explanations and balance conceptual understanding; computational fluency and problem-solving skills. Textbooks that do not fully support the level of computational fluency recommended and described by the National Math Panel (automatic recall of basic math facts, fluency of the standard algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and fluency with fractions) should not be endorsed by WA.

3. Useful assessments that require answers in math terms and provide diagnostics.

4. Safety nets for students with learning gaps and opportunities for students to excel.

5. Find ways to attract and retain more math teachers. Require professional development in math content.

6. Options for 3rd year of High School math other than Alg II.


Anonymous said...


1. One state-approved track - best, recommended curriculum for the 'everybody else' track - my recommendation is Singapore because it is k-12.
a. strong elementary program
b. standard methodology
c. formal algebra taught in 8th grade.

2. Use SAT scores to measure school achievement, since they are norm-referenced. Eliminate standardized testing. The goal is to get more students enrolled in college and taking more math and science. If the curriculum is uniform between schools and prepares students for university then it makes sense to give schools incentives for doing better.

3. You don't need authentic algebra (Algebra 2 alternative) if you adopt a curriculum that students enjoy learning from.
Put your resources into building support programs that work.

4. The state is rewarded with enormous cost benefits by choosing a curriculum that actually prepares students for college. Our students currently can't compete in higher education with international students and consequently they miss out on the best paying jobs.

5. Remove the ESDs and continue consolidating districts to cut costs, strengthen unions, and undermine OSPI power grid.

Anonymous said...

With stronger unions teachers will improve the quality of schools and provide the financial incentives to attract teachers by negotiating contractual agreements.

Anonymous said...

The disincentives for teaching are creating a shortage of teachers. With charters, teachers are giving up a lot of rights that unfortunately new teachers take for granted, such as tenure. Currently, I see more good teachers (10-15 years experience) moving up or out of the public school system.

Anonymous said...

Teachers pass TEP programs because the entrance bar is high and there are very few incentives for being a teacher. There is a shortage of teachers, not a surplus.

The lack of a sound elementary curriculum is preventing children from taking advanced math in high school. Its not the teachers, look at the curriculum. You don't need to major in mathematics to teach elementary or high school math. Its not that difficult.

dan dempsey said...

I strongly disagree with the previous statement about not needing the Math Major or similar preparation for teaching high school mathematics...

Look at the fact that decisions need to be based on a solid understanding of how all this fits together.

Notice also how few involved in the decision making in math at the school district level have this qualification.... Look at the SBE or most school boards...

We have a large number of people talking and making decisions that have no idea what they are talking about.

Lets not wonder any longer about why direction is so poor...

Look at the math preparation of teachers in Korea and Singapore and the results.....

In WA we have 62% of the teaching force with masters degrees and a teaching force that knows very little math ...

Please pass the methods course catalog ... I think I shall enhance my professional practice .. These are acting classes often taught by those who know little math to those who even know less.

I'll agree no math degree needed for grade 2 teachers but for high school different story..

The fact that it takes work and dedication to get a math degree and that the entering pay is pathetic when compared with other jobs for that level of technical preparation... certainly the operators of this corrupt system would be happy if no math degree was needed..... with Core-Plus and IMP little math is taught in a structured way ... so perhaps no math degree is needed ... but then again I am talking of the teaching of high school mathematics needing a math degree or equivalent.

Anonymous said...

Look at the population of students that US schools are graduating. Most students do not go beyond algebra. How many HS students actually take calculas?

I'll admit that it would be nice to have teachers with college degrees in math, but we don't have the curriculum to support them. At a training I gave on the pythagorean theorem, the exercises had teachers using the pythagorean theorem to build irrational numbers.

But at a certain point, the teachers said if the students didn't need it, then they shouldn't have to learn it either. I can't argue with the majority of teachers. While I do things because they're interesting, most teachers look at math as work.

You have to first create standards, then build the curriculum, and finally train teachers.

In the US, TEP professors set the bar low relative to Singapore. Its an evolutionary deadend.

Our children can't compete internationally and its because of the curriculum, not the teachers.

Anonymous said...

And then you have idiots that have teachers using core plus or IMP and they're not even allowed to teach math. The children are expected to read the textbooks. I have never seen so many incompetent jackasses. You'd think they were preparing for the THE GREAT FLOOD.

Anonymous said...

The issue is over access - allow districts to use Singapore and once other districts see the results they will chanage their tune. You don't need a math degree to teach with Singapore. You don't need standards either. Singapore created them before they created the curriculum. And they were HONEST! That's why it works - HONESTY goes a long way in the curriculum business. Shame on NCTM.

Anonymous said...

There might a connnection between the academic training of korean teachers and the success of their students, but this does not explain why teachers with degrees in mathematics cannot produce the same results in the US. In fact, some of the best physics teachers in the US have degrees in biology and their math background is no more than a year of calculas.

Historically, the revolutions in education have occurred after great conflicts when governments were revolutionized. Schools were tasked with educating children from many diverse communities, the products of these revolutions, and they succeeded with very little.

Israel(1950's), Hungary(1940's), and USSR(1920's) are excellent examples.

Anonymous said...

An AP physics professor w/BA Biology explained how he got his results - he teaches a year of mechanics and thermodynamics and that's his physics class. He is realistic about what his students need to learn for college and many go to ivy league colleges.