Thursday, March 12, 2009

Dumbing down in Palo Alto

On the front page of the Palo Alto Daily News:

Parents frustrated over math texts By Diana Samuels

Palo Alto Daily News
Posted: 03/12/2009 12:59:12 AM PDT

Palo Alto parents came to a meeting about a new math textbook curriculum Wednesday ready to fight, expressing frustration that the district has narrowed its choices down to the two programs it has and at several points asking the superintendent to conduct a poll determining which program parents liked best.

The district is choosing between two curriculums — "Everyday Math" and "enVision Math", with a supplement called "Investigations. " Many Palo Alto parents, on the other hand, say they prefer a third choice, "Singapore Math," which the district removed from consideration a few months ago.

Math teachers, parents and school officials on the Math Textbook Adoption Committee have spent the last several months piloting and evaluating the two programs, and could decide their final pick at a meeting Monday. They're scheduled to present the program to the school board April 14.

"Everyday Math" has been controversial since it teaches the use of algorithms different from the standard multiplication, division and other processes that parents are used to.

"EnVision Math" has been described as a more standard textbook.
About 100 parents, teachers and school officials were at Wednesday's "Parent/Community Information Night" and heard some background information on the textbook adoption process, and then were asked to split into small groups and brainstorm ideas about what they want their children to learn and how math materials could support those goals.

Assistant Superintendent Ginni Davis said they would take "good, concrete suggestions" from parents back to the committee meeting Monday, though she warned parents at the start of the meeting that blanket statements about which programs they like or don't like wouldn't be useful.

"People who thought that we were going to vote, or dissect programs, that wasn't the point of tonight," Davis said after the meeting.

Nevertheless, as the different small groups began reporting back on what they'd discussed, some parents said they felt like they were "discussing this in a vacuum." The meeting didn't allow them a chance to speak directly to the district, and the lofty goals they'd brainstormed — "a good grasp on the fundamentals" or "a good balance between skills and concepts" — could apply to any math curriculum.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly said he didn't want parents to leave the meeting dissatisfied, and asked if there was a way to get to the heart of the matter while remaining respectful to the teachers and other committee members who'd spent so much time discussing, evaluating and piloting the programs. Parents asked for a poll of which program they preferred. While Skelly came close to calling for a show of hands, he ultimately asked parents to write their thoughts on paper, indicating the strength of their preference or objection to different programs.

"I'd rather hear it now than I would at 11 o'clock on April 14 (during the school board meeting)," Skelly said. Most of the notes expressed frustration with "Everyday Math," ranging from "What is wrong with regular, normal math being taught today? Why do we need 'Everyday Math?'" to, "I will fight 'Everyday Math.'"
Others were less forceful: "I don't know all the ins and outs of the program. I trust the hard work, expertise and knowledge of the committee," read one. "This is a difficult choice, well-meaning parents should not be able to vote based on five minutes of Google research," read another, perhaps referring to the harshly critical reviews of "Everyday Math" circling online.

The district did share some of the reasoning behind their decision at Wednesday's meeting, saying they eliminated "Singapore Math" because they felt it wasn't the best program to teach to a class of students at a range of math levels, and it didn't provide enough support for English Language learners.


My inserted comments here:

So they think that EDM does?
These folks are only spin-meisters.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

Look at Seattle ... Look at Denver
These folks are aparently the ones that came up with recommendations based on 5 minutes or less of data analysis.

60%+ of Singapore kids come from homes where English is not the principle language, whatever do those kids do to get to be among the top in the world when all math classes are taught in English in Singapore. Thanks to Palo Alto we now know that English language learners are not well served in Singapore .... so the Palo Alto kids may get Everyday Math ... who is kidding who on this one?

Of course great analysis should be undertaken whenever schools proclaim "we have the best interests of the students in mind"....
Usually that is code for we have little to no supporting data for our thoughts.

So where is the data that backs up any of this Palo Alto blah blah?

"The committee felt like there were some really nice things in the program, but when you evaluate it against our criteria, it really didn't meet our needs," teacher Staci Stoveland said.

So Staci what are your needs? Me I would like a country with enough engineers to have a national defense and a functioning economy.


They also passed out a list of pros and cons for both "Everyday Math" and "enVision Math." They said they liked how "Everyday Math" provides a more thorough and in-depth teaching of standards, and is engaging and challenging for students, but worried that the pace could be too fast for "emerging mathematicians."

Whatever kind of standards are being referred to here? How can a text series like EDM which does not even teach long division much less division with a two digit divisor meet standards?
The pace of EDM is not to rapid. It is to jumbled and incoherent for most any kid.
EDM has an enormous number of learning goals that keep getting recycled year after year. According to the National Math Advisoty Panel this approach is a bad idea. Did the committee miss that fact?
I could understand the pace of Singapore as being to rapid for "Emerging Mathematicians" as Singapore teaches and requires mastery of the standard algorithms for multiplication and division. It requires necessary skills needed to lay the foundation for future success in collegiate mathematics.


Evaluating "enVision math," they liked that it focuses more depth on one big idea at a time and said it's a good program for students struggling with math, though they said it might be too easy and that it "treats math as a sequence of little ideas rather than big ideas."

"I was a little bit surprised, at the very end (of the meeting), it seemed like the dialogue and interaction was truncated," said parent Gil Wong, who moved to Palo Alto a few years ago from Rochester, Minn. There, his son learned under the "Everyday Math" curriculum, and they had to supplement his schooling with after-school tutoring. Since the program is different from the standard algorithms parents know, it's also hard for parents to help their children learn, he said.

Teacher and math textbook committee member Lisa Swagerty said it was "unfortunate" that the district and parents seemed to have different views of the purpose behind Wednesday's meeting.

The teacher's view of this meeting sounds like the parents were supposed to buy this nonsense. ( Spin-Master production)
The parent's view that the meeting would allow them to get a worthwhile mathematically rigorous curriculum that actually has a track record of success for their children was apparently in error.


"We have the best interest of kids at heart," she said.

That is what the schools always say when they have no data to support poor ideas.


Anonymous said...

I agree completely, the adoption process is completely corrupted and disenfranchises minorities from the community. Providing students with lesser textbooks is an apartheid scam that is ageless.

The people most affected by poor curriculum adoptions are the at-risk students. The drop in test scores that results from using Everyday Math or Math Investigations is the most damaging evidence against their adoption in the first place. Palo Alto children will definitely suffer from the ethics of their school board.

Anonymous said...

The headlines always read "Parents frustrated..." - this really shows a lack of understanding. This issue is more than a frustration. The textbook adoption process is flawed and a shallow attempt to deceive and defraud the will of the people. Put these charletans out to pasture.

Anonymous said...

You can add Charleston, SC, to the list of dumbed down districts. They aborted EDM 6 years ago amid public and teacher upheaval. Yet, they "adopted" the program again--cowardly fogged under much secrecy before the board approval was final. Does anyone know that EDM plans a new program in the next 12-18 months? The people are spending their hard-earned tax payer money on a very old 3rd edn. program. Parents hate it, kids hate it, teachers hate teaching it, and middle school teachers hate getting kids who had it. How can this be good for anyone?