Thursday, November 6, 2008

Tim's SBE testimony on 11-06-2008

November 6, 2008

Honorable Superintendent and Board Members,

Thank you for the privilege of serving on your Math Advisory Panel. It has been an interesting and rewarding experience.

Today you will be making your final recommendation to the SPI on the Math Curriculum programs. There has been a lot of heated rhetoric and sour grapes from both sides. I’ll not add to that part of the debate.

As an engineer from the High Tech Business & Industry sector, I would offer you another more practical viewpoint. I urge you to make a good business decision.

You have before you two excellent K-5 programs, Math Connects and Math Expressions, upon which there is no disagreement. You also have before you three 6-8 programs, Math Connects, Holt Mathematics and Prentice-Hall Mathematics, about which again there is no disagreement. These five programs will serve Washington children and teachers well. They are programs which are high quality, complete, supportable and affordable. I believe that Math Expressions will quickly become a tasteful delight to both reform and traditional palates.

I fully concur with the findings of Strategic Teaching.

The point of contention surrounds the Bridges in Mathematics program for K-5.

From a good business decision standpoint I ask you if Bridges in Mathematics rises to the same level as the other five programs.

Desire for Quality. Washington students, parents, teachers and districts deserve to have only unquestionable quality programs recommended to them. Not withstanding the publishers’ mathematicians’ comments, it remains clear from Strategic Teaching’s independent findings and mathematical analysis, that there are serious questions about the mathematic quality of Bridges. Does Bridges in Mathematics enjoy the same high level of confidence in quality which Math Expressions and Math Connects enjoy? If not, how can we burden the tax payer with a questionable recommendation?
Complete. K.I.S.S. principle. Bridges’ publisher concedes to requiring heavy supplementation, and Strategic Teaching finds that Bridges has gaping holes in its mathematics which would require even more extensive supplementation. It is unquestionable that Bridges is incomplete. Washington is already littered with incomplete programs that are supplemental puzzles for the teacher to navigate, make sense out of, and present in some sort of coherent way. Why would we add another puzzle to the list?

Cost Containment. Bridges represents an open ended investment in hidden costs. These intangible costs of providing supplementation to such programs are already evident in existing adoptions throughout the state. They require more teacher prep time, much higher professional development investment, more resources for oversight and management, and higher untracked costs associated with home-grown supplements, duplication and distribution. Supplementation puzzles require “more of everything” to make them work. These are hidden costs which quickly spiral out of control.
Supportability and Sustainability. In districts where supplementing programs such as Bridges has worked, you will also find the story of a strong champion exerting almost super human effort to ensure success. You will also find that when the champion steps out of that role, the program quickly collapses. It is very hard to duplicate success, because it is so dependant upon that strong champion. On our panel we have a very experienced member, Brad Beal, who has shared with us that very scenario in which he was the champion. You as directors and administrators have seen the same in many districts. Extensively supplemented programs such as Bridges are brittle in their nature, difficult to support, and almost impossible to sustain.

The Bridges program is tainted in too many ways. It is a 2nd generation reform program which in terms of a quality, completeness, cost effectiveness and supportability, is just not there yet. I am encouraged that 3rd generation programs such as Math Expressions demonstrate that achieving high quality in these critical business aspects is doable. I believe we will see more of these 3rd and 4th generation high quality programs emerge over the coming years. But Bridges in Mathematics just does not live up to the expected threshold of quality, completeness, cost or support expected by our state.

On these practical business principles, I would urge you to clearly discourage adoption of Bridges in Mathematics.

Most Respectfully,

Timothy Christensen

Math Advisory Panelist
Sr. Research & Development Engineer
Agilent Technologies, Inc.

Parent East Valley School District


Anonymous said...

Strong champion is a misnomer - more like lapdog for attracting fleas - the data is so corrupted by the time it gets into a public setting where it can be scrutinized, the outcome a year later, once said champion is gone, are an even more alarming and predictable drop in test scores and enrollment. You are corect about Bridges. Someone should shut down the WestEd mullet thinktank for stinking up the aquarium.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know what the next steps are? What is SBE's official position on OSPI's text recommendations?