Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Discriminatory Math Plan to Nowhere

Many Seattleites see their city as better than other places in regard to social issues. Aren’t we the “Bluest of the Blue”? None of that supposed Red State lack of involvement on social issues for us. Shockingly Seattle and Washington Schools are among the most ethnically discriminatory in regard to mathematics education in the USA.

The recent focus on ending the two trends of increasing numbers of students in need of math remediation and falling scores on collegiate math placement exams needs to be expanded. K-12 math practices that instructionally disable learners must end. School should be a place where math content and skills can be efficiently learned. Unfortunately many Seattle parents find home to be the place where that happens NOT school, but what happens to children with no such supportive home environment. They are termed educationally disadvantaged. For math in Seattle they would appropriately be identified as out of luck. Seattle, whether by ignorance or design, chooses instructional materials and practices that are known to be ineffective for disadvantaged learners. The result is student confusion and overt discrimination of disadvantaged learners.

District policies requiring mastery of grade level expectations are ignored. Instead of offering mandated effective interventions, the choice has been to socially promote children rather than educate them. The claim that “Differentiated Instruction” in mathematics will be successful with masses of marginally skilled math students if only the teachers receive enough professional development and coaching has no research basis. This district’s plans are a “Math Plan to Nowhere” because those plans are based on neither sound research nor appropriate recommendations. This expensive continuing experimental voyage through “Fantasyland” needs to end.

Over the last decade, Seattle Schools consistently narrowed the achievement gap in reading and just as consistently expanded the gap in math. Seattle’s WASL measured math gaps surpass reading gaps by wide margins,
for Black students by: at grade 4 (+15.3), grade 7(+13.8), grade 10(+30.8);
for Hispanic students by: at grade 4 (+13.2), grade 7(+12.6), grade 10(+11.6).

Some argue WASL testing is unreliable. The real math problems are the choice of instructional materials and devotion to failed ideology. The NAEP test referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card” shows our State NAEP data changes from 2003 to 2007 in regard to math achievement gaps as:
Black grade 8 increased by 4.02 ranking #39 of 41
(2nd from the bottom)
Hispanic grade 8 increased by 5.93 ranking #36 of 37
(1 from the bottom)
Black grade 4 increased by 6.50 ranking #43 of 43
(dead last)
Hispanic grade 4 increased by 4.46 ranking #42 of 44
(2nd from the bottom)

Seattle bases math education on the cognitive model of exploration and inquiry. The largest study in education history, Project Follow Through, which studied the effectiveness in grades k-3 of nine education models on educationally disadvantaged learners, found the cognitive model the worst of all nine for math. Check those grade 4 gaps above for evidence of the cognitive model in action.

The National Math Advisory Panel’s final report “Foundations for Success” reported:

Explicit instruction with students who have mathematical difficulties has shown consistently positive effects on performance with word problems and computation. Results are consistent for students with learning disabilities, as well as other students who perform in the lowest third of a typical class. By the term explicit instruction, the Panel means that teachers provide clear models for solving a problem type using an array of examples, that students receive extensive practice in use of newly learned strategies and skills.

On May 6th, instead of NMAP’s recommended array of examples and extensive practice, four school directors chose the “Discovering Math” series with few examples and insufficient practice. This action continues Seattle’s ongoing process of ignoring what is recommended for educationally disadvantaged students.

NMAP stated: “A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula. Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.

Everyday Math continually revisits topics year after year without closure and without a focus on proficiency with key topics. On June 3, the directors will likely vote to support continuing ongoing discriminatory practices in mathematics education with a positive vote for the Superintendent’s recommended expenditure of $474,440 for one year of Everyday Math consumable materials.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. The data is available but where is the intelligence?

Intelligence would demand an end to this failed experiment. Will a Federal Court decision be needed to end these continuing discriminatory practices?

Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.
SBE Math Advisory Panelist 2007-2009


Anonymous said...

Post-millennial fraud, plain and simple. These schemers know the power to pyramid. They dilute wealth in order to concentrate it elsewhere - modern day alchemy.

Anonymous said...

I doubt this will get posted on the other blog, but dang... I worked at this, so here is my argument.

My concern this blogger is a college professor) who is propagandizing, not publishing. It is not, as he says "his field of research." therefore he's not entitled to an opinion. This sounds very familiar.

However, surely he has an opinion that he is more than qualified to make. Otherwise, why blog.

To not be concerned with the quality of the research, and only with the abstract, as it were, I am treating with deepest skepticism. Read futher.

"Here's an example - If you were to plant a row of carrots and there were 4 carrots per foot - how many carrots are in a row 10' long? It would seem pretty obvious to a third grader that you would multiply the two numbers together and get 40.

Not so, says a math reform author. That would depend on where you started planting your carrots. Yeah right! No, really.

And true it sounds like another other problem I know - How many fence posts would a person need to encircle a 20' x 30' garden if the posts were spaced 5' apart.
But are they same problems?

I know this because I've seen the problem used on both students and teachers. And both groups struggle with it. These problems tend to be more of an annoyance, because it speaks to how much we think we know, as compared to what little we really do know about math.

My first criticism is more with the emphasis. Not the subject matter because a traditional textbook would treat this more as an exercise in enrichment, not as a core subject.

And it touches on nearly everything I read in math reform textbooks - using Core plus as an example - lines are taught as abstractions using statistical models, not as something that is concrete which really goes against Piagetian principles.
Where else would you find:
y = a + bx

This is not the complete model by the way, there's more. Students have to find a recursive rule for generating the line and it begins with a seed (if you know what I mean) Doesn't it strike you as being odd? Is this a line or a fractal we are generating?

I call it the Zen model of a line. And literally, it goes far beyond the understanding and maturity level of our students. Most teachers avoid this chapter, but statistics (obsolete- that it is -e.g. look up mean absolute deviation).

Secondly, how does one assess this sort of learning and can you apply it beyond the limitations of discrete math. Are you not teaching students how to count? Where do you see problems like this on a standards-based test? My answer is no where on such tests do such problems appear. Yet it is the rationale used behind adopting these textbooks when adoption committees review the research.

Once again, I think there is a need for discussion and blogs are one way to assist teachers, but it does little good to publish abstracts when the entire field is under fire for publishing research that is excessively biased.

Aside from parents - when the learner's expectation is that they are doing multiplication when in fact they are counting fenceposts. Is that ethical?"

Anonymous said...

Here's the response. It is priceless.

"As far as your "carrot problem", I would have to agree with the math reform author - the answer is certainly not 40! There is more to the problem than that, and I don't think there is a point in teaching the pupils to simply find the numbers in a word problem and let them perform some kind of random (more or less) operation on them. On the other hand, you are entering a discussion about the use of "real-life" problems here, and this is a big discussion!

As far as the rest of your comment is concerned, I think you have a point, although I don't agree completely with everything you say. I also have to explain that I don't live in the U.S., I live in Norway. I have never lived in the U.S., and although I have read about it, I am in no position to provide any answers to you "math wars"! I find them interesting, but only as an outside observer. The purpose of my blog is not to make arguments for either side of these U.S. reforms!

I agree with you that discussions are needed, and I think blogs are good ways to communicate with teachers, but please respect that these kinds of discussions are really not the purpose of my blog! I am writing this blog primarily to inform fellow researchers on what is happening within our research community. Publishing abstracts is just what many of my fellow researchers want to read, so that they can decide for themselves whether or not any of these articles are worth reading. If you want something else, I am sorry to say that you will probably not find this on my blog. This blog is about mathematics education research, not about mathematics education. Teachers are not the intended audience, I am. I started writing this blog as a tool that I could benefit from myself, and that is still going to be the main purpose. I am not trying to attract the masses, and I am not trying to assist teachers in this blog. I'm trying to assist myself more or less. If other people find it helpful, then I'm happy. If not, that is too bad :-)"

Mr. Math War is for Amusement -"If you find the math reform textbooks are helpful then I'm happy. If not, that is too bad."

Anonymous said...

I can't resist -

Speaking of Mathematics in Society. After reading the NFR application for the Learning Communities Math proposal (2003), I noticed your team referenced Vygotsky's "Mind in Society".

Just curious if you see any parallels between your collaborative approach in the mathematics classroom and the world-renowned school system that Vygotsky helped create after the October Revolution.

Anonymous said...

If you're not a mathematician, then you can always try mathematics education.

4 x 10 is not 40 according to some educational researchers. They claim mathematics is more complex than that.

By reflectional and introspective practice into the through and now of mathematics and
'social justice' we arrive at a belief system full of contradictions and paradoxes. Without ethics, educational research has a serious flaw.