Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Authentic Algebra or Pretend Algebra

May 5, 2009
Dear Director Carr,

Ever wonder why so few teachers
other than Rice, Murphy, Nutting, Femiano, Bailey and Nguyen express their opinions?

In April of 2007, Bruce Bivens, my WSHS principal, informed me that he had received a letter from Ms. Carla Santorno. I was no longer to give testimony at school board meetings unless I had new information to present. I told Bruce he could tell Carla I always present new data and other information. I went right on testifying. Most teachers do not like exposure to either reprisals or vindictive retribution and keep quiet.

You will notice that there are no principals or department heads ever speaking without authorization from the chain of command. To expect a principal to do anything but support the Company Line is unrealistic. In 2007, the principals all signed a letter of support for Everyday Math. So what?

The major math issue is whether a significant change in direction is needed?

Is the board satisfied that the k-8 programs are doing the job and that little if any modification is needed?

There is substantial evidence that the board will be throwing good money after bad.

For over a decade the achievement gap has consistently grown … lots of talk produced no results. District math programs have not worked.

The district uses a definition of mathematics that encourages a continuation of the mathematics that places the USA #25 out of 30 nations. Do you really wish to continue with this? Can the nation afford to continue this direction?

The District is handing out calculators in primary school and still not teaching long division. The promotion/non promotion policy has yet to be followed in regard to offering effective interventions for students not attaining those necessary skills. The state says long division is a necessary skill and yet Everyday Math does not teach it.

The High School instructional materials recommended by the administration are a cover for a system failing to educate the children in a satisfactory manner. Instead of the NMAP recommended “Authentic Algebra” which requires adequate knowledge of fractions, decimals, and percents the District recommends “Pretend Algebra”.

Director DeBell is absolutely correct a change in direction is needed.

One needed change would be the ending of excessive calculator use. Whether in second grade or algebra, excessive calculator use should end. “Discovering Algebra” substitutes calculator use for the development of Algebraic manipulation skills, which require actual knowledge of arithmetic … Calculators and “Discovering Algebra” will hope to cover for a situation where 30% of eighth graders cannot score above level 1 on the Math WASL. The district failed to effectively intervene and teach these students mathematics.

The OSPI ratings revealed that “Discovering Algebra” aligns reasonably well with the state math standards. There is no claim by OSPI that anything in “Discovering Algebra” will work successfully. The State Board of Education tells us that this book is “mathematically unsound”. It will fail to develop needed algebra skills in the students.

What “Discovering Algebra” will do is cover for a Central Administration’s inadequate system of k-12 mathematics education for a little while longer.

Does anyone actually think that students with little knowledge of fractions, decimals, and percents can be placed into a real first year algebra program and be successful?
NMAP indicates not possible.

The graphing calculator attempts to cover for a multitude of sins but it will not create in the students an essential underlying knowledge of math. Student attainment of Authentic Algebra knowledge and skills requires adequate background knowledge, student effort, excellent teaching, and in many cases effective interventions. “Discovering Algebra” is a defective shortcut.

Student attainment of Authentic Algebra knowledge and skills is NOT where SPS math is headed. A change of direction is drastically needed.

You can in the words of Brita Butler-Wall trust the District’s hired professionals.
Instead why not change direction and deliver improved math programs.


Dan Dempsey

B.A. Mathematics, M.Ed.
NCLB Highly Qualified in Math and Chemistry
SBE Math Advisory Panelist 2007-2009

P.S. In four years when the State Testing for Algebra Skills has been in place for a couple of years, will everyone be wondering how Seattle wound up with “Discovering” instead of Prentice Hall? Senator Oemig will likely have legislation passed for the comparison of data collected and analyzed for each math text series. Approve the Best not this defective series.

What a combo ….
New state standards and NMAP recommendations + Focal Points thrust
What a combo …. Everyday Math, Connected Math, and “Discovering”
The district has made no change since NMAP + Focal Points and new Standards. Why?


concerned said...

Seattle children deserve better.

Parents will demand it.

Better start now!

Anonymous said...

School reform or Jurassic Park?

There is a flaw in the reformers' utopian plans for 'improving' education. The transformation of schools unfolds as it evolves. If education were a genetically engineered three legged stool (one of those legs being curriculum) One should not start reforming by first cutting off one of the legs. Its no longer a three-legged stool.