Sunday, March 15, 2009

Town Hall statement by Paul Dunham

Over the last couple of years this state has re-evaluated it's math standards and arrived at a new set that is a vast improvement. OSPI did not initiate this effort, and if left on its own, is unlikely to have improved what it had created before. The Board of Education had to force them to involve actual mathematicians in the process, because otherwise the effort would have failed.

The simple truth is that most people who actually learn math and learn it well enough to apply it go into industry, not education. That leaves the education community short of expertise. And who winds up in positions of authority on matters of math education? Exactly those same persons who are short on expertise. So to assure success in the standards rewrite and curriculum selection process, the board wisely brought Strategic Teaching in to fill that void.

Now it appears that Strategic Teaching and OSPI disagree on what constitutes “mathematical soundness” in high school curricula. Why is this a surprise to anyone? I understand there is a proposal to establish a third group to “reconcile” their differences. This is a supreme folly, clearly based on a policy of placing the politics of adults over the good of our children's education. If OSPI is allowed to select such a group from their own math-challenged club they are sure to corrupt the entire process. Our state needs to be able to train more math teachers, but it also needs to provide training for new generations of scientists and engineers. If the board allows OSPI to reject or discredits the input of actual mathematicians, this will be as difficult as ever and another generation's opportunities will be lost.

The new math standards are an improvement, but a silly element of politics stands out in the alternate form for “Integrated” high school math. Oddly, the standards are almost entirely the same, the two forms just list them in a different order. Now it's time to establish End of Course Assessments. EOCs are available off the shelf for Algebra and Geometry. But has the board considered what the creation of an EOC for Integrated math will lead to?

I've little against the concept of an integrated curriculum, but it's well known that this simple word describes a very broad landscape. No two integrated curricula are the same, and some that were chosen in haste to get in on the fad are atrocious. Even OSPI's alignment study shows this. So how is it be possible to devise a valid and meaningful EOC for it? Since the new standards and their integrated parallel standards are virtually identical, why is it even necessary? This state has spent a billion dollars on the WASL fiasco, and the math portion is the worst part of it. Is the state anxious to repeat this? Please select existing and proven End of Course assessments to meet the goal of the law and serve the kids, not the adults.


Anonymous said...

If the law is not going to be followed then why have one? Why are we spending billions to do something that nobody wants or is inferior to what's being done everywhere else in the world? I see no other country doing what the US does to children for 12 years? It is morally unethical to set expectations that cannot be achieved using the current textbooks.

Anonymous said...

I believe Mr. Dunham is correct in his assessment of the situation.


Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with Paul, but I do see a moral dilemma which is not being considered. OSPI should not be making policy for Washington, it should be following the laws passed by the state. A third party OSPI-controlled arbitration seems counterproductive, since it will only result in something less then what we already have. IF I were a school district, I would hold off on any adoption until the issue is settled permanently. Even then I would wait until another school district has an opportunity to follow OSPI's recommendations. Let someone else fall on their sword.