Archive for May, 2009

The following letter was sent to the Alpine School District School Board on 5/27/09.

Dear School Board,

Can one of you tell me why our district continues to use Connected Math when the state has declared it is an unacceptable program?  The state office has removed it from their approved program list and yet it continues to be used in ASD middle schools. What is your plan to remove it from the schools for next year?  I am well aware that some of your teachers and administrators love the program, but the utter lack of content in the program is really hurting our students.

Not only that, but here are the results of real studies from the government run “What Works Clearinghouse” website and you can see CMP is a failure compared to other programs.  It’s a 10 point downward swing from Saxon and actually produces negative achievement in students.   http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/reports/topic.aspx?tid=03

Effectiveness Ratings For Middle School Math: Mathematics achievement

Intervention Sort Icon Improvement Index Descending Order Evidence Rating Sort Icon Extent Of Evidence Sort Icon
The Expert Mathematician Improvement Index 14 Potentially positive effects Small
Cognitive Tutor Improvement Index 8 Potentially positive effects Medium to Large
Saxon Middle School Math Improvement Index 8 Positive effects Medium to Large
I CAN Learn® Pre-Algebra and Algebra Improvement Index 5 Positive effects Medium to Large
Accelerated Math Improvement Index 4 No discernible effects Medium to Large
Transition Mathematics Improvement Index 0 Mixed effects Medium to Large
Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) Improvement Index -2 Mixed effects Medium to Large
University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP) Algebra Improvement Index -6 No discernible effects Small

A couple years ago, Chrissy asked me what curriculum would provide one solid K-12 experience for children.  I didn’t really have a sure-fire K-12 solution at the time and still don’t.  In fact, I’m convinced there is no K-12 solution that is absolutely best.  What I do know, is that K-8 ought to have a cohesive, solid foundation so that all upper grade math is then more understandable (and that upper math 9-12 should be top notch books to prepare kids for a rigorous study of the sciences).  Two of the very best programs for this are Singapore and Saxon math.

Regarding Singapore math, nothing else can touch it.  Please look at the attached pdf (link below) provided by Dr. Richard Bisk from Massachusetts. I encourage you to review the entire document, but especially page 21 and the last page.  Page 21 shows a contrast between Singapore math and Scott Foresman and Everyday Math.  It’s a stark difference which goes right to your “mile wide inch deep” phrase you all like to use. You traded in Investigations math (sort of) to get SFAW that has similar problems.

Now on the last page of the pdf is perhaps the very best information you could possibly see.  In 1998, Massachusetts raised state standards and the North Middlesex Regional School District adopted Singapore math.  Over the course of a few years all scores improved because the state raised its standards, but NMRSD had much better changes than the rest of the state.  Look at the advanced category where NMRSD had a 2 point advantage over the state, and after 7 years had a 22 point advantage.  However, the most impressive thing is the failure rate. It’s obvious NMRSD had fewer students in the failure category to begin with but after this span of time, they reduced their failure rate from 39% to 2%.  Only 2% of students were in the failing category while advanced went from 9 to 57%.  Astounding, and certainly caused by Singapore math’s amazing program.

MA still has a long way to go and if you didn’t see it, a week ago, results were released where they tested the teachers in the state on math and only 27% of them passed the test. Our teachers would do no better.  Too many don’t understand math because they keep getting indoctrinated in pedagogy instead of content so they have no clue where math leads.

Have any of you looked into Project Follow Through?  For 3 decades the government tracked students that went through K-16 education to see what really worked. They watched 180 schools and 79,000 children. The graph on this page of my site says it all. Constructivism is a proven failure.  The graph above also shows that CMP actually damages children’s progress in math. http://www.oaknorton.com/imathresults34.cfm

Please drop CMP and IMP. The state office has dropped TERC and CMP and I have asked that they review IMP, all because these programs are among the very worst available.  How do you justify using these programs when you know for a fact the district has no studies to support using them?  I filed a GRAMA months ago and they couldn’t produce one single study to support them and to the contrary, you have hundreds of mathematicians who have testified these programs are utterly devoid of content so they are not preparing students for collegiate level math work.  Please address this important issue soon.  I would like a response as to what your plan is–to stay with them, or to replace them with something more “balanced”. 🙂

Sincerely,

Oak Norton

Bisk Presentation

This is simply an amazing debate.  Chris Matthews has Rep. Jim Moran(D) on the show to help beat up on Rep. Dana Rohrbacher(R) over the “settled science” of global warming.  This so reminds me of the math wars and how district administrators and teachers declare “all the studies show this is it” and yet they can’t hold up a candle to actual evidence.  Rep. Rohrbacher tosses a few facts in their faces and they switch to name calling and try to change the subject of the debate to evolution without answering any of Dana’s questions.  Hilarious.

This is a copy of the letter I sent to the school board president in State College, PA on 5-12-09.

Dear Mr. Madore,
Steve Piazza forwarded me your email asking for research regarding Investigations math. You mentioned that you had seen a number of biased sites on the web and you wanted something objective.  Let me assure you that my website at www.oaknorton.com is 100% biased. However, 4 years ago, it was completely neutral. It was only over time that I came to realize the damage being done by these programs and the lies being put out by the publishers to sell books. I apologize for the length of this email but I think this is not a simple problem and requires a little background to understand my “credentials” to be able to send you this email and a bit of information to specifically address your concerns.

A few years ago I was asked by the Utah State Director of Curriculum how he could get more parents involved in their children’s math education.  I replied, “easy, just implement Investigations math.”

I got started here in Utah (I’m a SCAHS ’87 alum) when my 3rd grader wasn’t being taught the times tables and I was told it wasn’t part of the Investigations math curriculum and that “all the research showed this was the best way to teach kids”. I was also told that even though this was different from how I was taught as a child, the kids turned out just fine.  I can without reservation assure you this is not the case as the local community college now has a remedial math *department* (not just classes) for the over 40% of incoming freshmen that require basic math at pre-college levels.

When I got started, I did a non-scientific poll to ask parents (and even a school board member) what they thought about the math. You can see the questions and results starting here if you’re interested:
http://www.oaknorton.com/imathresults.cfm

Over time, I had many discussions with this school board member and I think she grew quite weary of me, until one day her child’s teacher broke her leg and was out of school for a while and a substitute came in and started doing straight Investigations.  Previously the older teacher had not followed the district plan to teach straight Investigations math. She called me after a few weeks and said, “now I know why so many people don’t like this program.” This is the crux of the problem. Investigations version 1 and 2 have such a lack of content that unless you have highly trained math teachers, it will be a complete failure. These students will then be pushed up through the system into algebra classes where they will become very frustrated and exhibit more behavioral issues and eventually in high school your true math teachers (majored in math) will pull their hair out that they have to spend so much time retraining students they are prevented from covering their material.  Right now in our district (Alpine, Utah) the middle schools spend the first 10 minutes of class reviewing basic math facts before diving into pre-algebra and algebra classes and this is deemed acceptable by our board.  It’s nothing less than insane, if I may show my bias clearly. 🙂

Now before I get into research, I’d like to ask you a question.  Do you really want to implement a program that is among the most controversial programs, which cause so much community contention, and leave you with parents so mad they start putting their children into private schools, charter schools, and home schools, just to avoid it?  You’d better have some extremely strong and compelling evidence from the other side (pro-Investigations) that this really produces results on par with Singapore and the best to move forward with such a plan.  My district in Utah has a dozen charter schools now with applications for more.  It has the highest number of charters per capita of any district in the state.

RESEARCH
This is where things get interesting. If you are an objective individual, and I have no reason to doubt it based on your email to Steve, then I think this will be a compelling argument.

Last year the national math panel released their first report on the early grades and a secondary grades report is due out this year (I think). The conclusion of the report was that there wasn’t a lot of good and proper scientific studies available about specific curricula. That said, there is strong and compelling evidence about the types of programs that are effective vs. what aren’t, and there is a newly released study that was absolutely scientific that should provide you what you need.

First, Project-Follow Through.  This is the largest scale federal study ever performed that has been completely ignored by educators.  The study showed conclusive evidence after tracking 180 schools’ students (79,000 of them) for over 3 decades into college. The results are astoundingly clear as you can see on the graph on this page of my website. (I’m actually attaching it but there are more comments and background on this page about the study should you want to read it)
http://www.oaknorton.com/imathresults34.cfm
Note the comments from a researcher at the Fordham Foundation concerning Project Follow-Through:

Until education becomes the kind of profession that reveres evidence, we should not be surprised to find its experts dispensing unproven methods, endlessly flitting from one fad to another. The greatest victims of these fads are the very students who are most at risk.”
…”This is a classic case of an immature profession, one that lacks a solid scientific base and has less respect for evidence than for opinion and ideology.”
…<snip>
Education has not yet developed into a mature profession. What might cause it to? Based on the experience of other fields, it seems likely that intense and sustained outside pressure will be needed. Dogma does not destroy itself, nor does an immature profession drive out dogma.
The metamorphosis is often triggered by a catalyst, such as pressure from groups that are adversely affected by the poor quality of service provided by a profession.”

If educators were truly concerned about education, they would look for what works and improve on that.  Direct instruction programs were shown to conclusively work far better than constructivism and all other fads.

Next, just recently the federal government completed a fantastic research project of first graders in a number of schools. They will be continuing to follow the study in subsequent years, but they showed with statistical significance that Investigations math students were a full letter grade below Saxon and Math Expressions.  You can read the study here:

http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/pubs/20094052/pdf/20094053.pdf

Here is one paragraph from the conclusion:

“Student math achievement was significantly higher in schools assigned to Math Expressions and Saxon, than in schools assigned to Investigations and SFAW. Average HLM-adjusted spring math achievement of Math Expressions and Saxon students was 0.30 standard deviations higher than Investigations students, and 0.24 standard deviations higher than SFAW students. For a student at the 50th percentile in math achievement, these effects mean that the student’s percentile rank would be 9 to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon, instead of Investigations or SFAW.”

On a side note, one of my co-workers who thought I was nuts, but just a little concerned took his daughter to a Sylvan center for testing.  She was in the middle of her 2nd grade year and had a 94% A on her report card (Investigations math classroom).  Sylvan tested her and said she had a Kindergarten level of calculation skills and a mid-1st grade level of comprehension skills.  Needless to say, he was most upset at the grade inflation and the lack of any real comprehensive teaching going on.

Last study: This is the ultimate study of all studies concerning constructivism.  For years I had my district telling me “all the studies show this is the new sliced bread” this and that, and I finally got fed up with it and called their bluff by filing a GRAMA to see what studies they had to support their math programs.  They couldn’t give me a single study.  Then I found this gem.

http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf

Now I know I’m giving you a lot to read and digest, but this above link contains some great information by the author detailing how the learning process of both instructivism and constructivism work and then he searched the literature to find valid studies supporting constructivism and couldn’t.  There are none.  In fact the only studies that exist he documents as showing CAUSE HARM to children.  If you want to just read the conclusion of this study, go to this page of my website.  It’s an impressive conclusion.

http://www.oaknorton.com/mathupdates/20080903.cfm

The only other thing you might look at is something I noticed on Steve’s site just yesterday which is the number of school districts that adopted Investigations but have now abandoned it.  You can find it at this link and scroll to the bottom to see the school administrator comments.

http://parents-for-quality-math-education.googlegroups.com/web/Investigations_Success_Stories_Debunked.pdf

Now for the other side of research that is pro-Investigations…

To begin, as stated above, I can quite honestly tell you there are no studies that support it (you are welcome to ask your district people to find you a study and if they are able to produce one, I am quite confident it can be shot down as these next examples will show).  What I have seen touted in support of Investigations is disturbing and inaccurate.

First, a few years ago one of my local board members sent me an email saying, “Oak, if you ever get open minded you should go read the ARC study that showed conclusively that Investigations math works.”  I replied, I’d be happy to read it since I’d been asking for a study for anything that would show our children would turn out OK.  This was the best they could come up with, rather, the only thing they could come up with.

I went to the ARC website and was amazed to see the most comprehensive blanket endorsement ever given regarding Investigations math, Everyday math, and Trailblazers (all NSF funded programs).

“…The principal finding of the study is that the students in the NSF-funded reform curricula consistently outperformed the comparison students: All significant differences favored the reform students; no significant difference favored the comparison students. This result held across all tests, all grade levels, and all strands, regardless of SES and racial/ethnic identity. The data from this study show that these curricula improve student performance in all areas of elementary mathematics, including both basic skills and higher-level processes. Use of these curricula results in higher test scores.”

WOW I thought. That’s amazing. In no circumstance was this not the very best program. Then I started digging.  Dr. Jim Milgram at Stanford (an expert in international math standards and familiar with this research) pointed out to me that this center was founded, funded, and operated by TERC, the publisher of Investigations math (whoops). Then I contacted Sandra Stotsky, the Asst. Commissioner of Education in Massachusetts when this study was done and she gave me these details:

“I am aware of several major problems with the MA part of the study. (1) As the Executive Summary admits, mostly high–income “white” schools were using the “reform” programs in the MA grade 4 sample, (2) no information is given on the supplemental tutoring that exists in these suburban communities (a hard factor to get information on without labor-intensive exploration at each school), (3) no information is given about supplemental curriculum materials the teachers themselves may have used–all we are told is that the schools that were contacted said they fully used the reform program.  I know that many teachers in these high-income schools use supplemental materials to make up for the “reform” programs deficiencies, (4) no information is given on the amount of professional development the “reform” teachers had (a huge amount in all probability) in comparison to the teachers in the comparison group (if no new math program, no professional development), (5) no information is given on the amount of time spent on math in the reform schools compared to the comparison group (the “reform” programs require a lot more time per week than most schools had been allotting math for many years.  For example, I discovered that one Newton elementary school with top scores was considered a model because it taught math one hour each day!), and probably most important and relevant (6) the MCAS grade 4 math test was originally designed with a great deal of advice from TERC.  TERC also shaped the math standards in the 1995 standards document that were being assessed by this test in 2000 (it is acknowledged in the intro to this document).  TERC’s supporters (and EM supporters) were on the assessment advisory committees that made judgments about the test items and their weights for the math tests.  It is well-known that the grade 4 test reflects “constructivist” teaching of math.  In other words, the grade 4 test in MA in 2000 favored students using a “reform” program.

Dr. Milgram at Stanford is the only educator to sit on NASA’s advisory panel. He is there specifically to work at increasing the number of students capable of doing NASA level math work and to raise this level of top performers around the nation. He told me in an email that if these reform programs really worked, NASA, IBM, and others would be looking for students that went through these programs K-12.  He also said it is generally acknowledged that no valid study has ever been performed to show these programs work.  I would be happy to put you in touch with Dr. Milgram if you would like to speak with him. He has helped write standards for many of the top rated states and has vast knowledge about what works.

One other study that was touted by a BYU math ed professor was the Noyce study. It also showed how great constructivism worked, but in the end Noyce refused to reveal what schools they tested in their study so the results could be verified.  Hardly an objective study.

CURRICULA

A few years ago when I was curious to know what really worked, I asked my national contacts this question.  “If someone held a gun to your head and made you state what the 3 best math programs in the world were, what you you say?”  Amazingly, all of them responded the same for 1 & 2.  Singapore math is #1, Saxon is #2, unless you have weak math teachers in which case Saxon is #1.  Their #3 pick varied between a few other programs, but it was significant they all said Singapore math #1 and Saxon math #2.  In Utah, 8 out of the 10 top scoring schools are using Saxon.  In Arizona, the top school in the state for several years was a Saxon school until a couple years ago when they were displaced by Benchmark elementary using Singapore.  Benchmark also polls the students each year as to their favorite classes.  94% of ALL the students say math is their favorite subject.  How would you like to have that kind of result in the SCASD?  Can you imagine how parents would love you instead of cursing everytime they see the words “Investigations math”?  Believe me, it happens. I have 1,000 families on a petition and most of the district doesn’t even know this exists.  One town in our district actually tossed a question on a study they were doing of their citizens and 50% said they hated the program.  That’s significant when you’ve got a portion of the population without kids in school that don’t even know what it is.

Ask yourself if you want a constant thorn in your side from parents like Steve and I?  Do you want upset parents? No parent complains about the program when their child brings home solid math assignments and struggles with them.  That’s normal education.  But as my children constantly brought home games to cut out and play with and do the stupidest assignments imaginable, it was more than I could handle and this is what happens with your highly educated parents.  They will take matters into their own hands, rebel against the district, and find alternative sources for their children to learn from.  In our school district, this means the most involved parents pull their children out of the system, and the charter and private schools far outperform the local district because they get the children from the most involved educated parents.  Here’s some graphs I did a couple years ago that illustrate this:

http://www.oaknorton.com/imathresults29.cfm

VISION

Now for a totally separate plug… 🙂  There is nothing in any state law that says you can’t achieve more than what the current state standards require. There are better standards than what Pennsylvania is using.  States in our country typify the mile wide inch deep problem because we have so many things we try to cover during a school year, whereas a country like Singapore limits its standards to 15-20 items during the year and spends the time to deeply master them.  You may have a couple alternatives. You may be able to petition your state board to adopt Singapore’s standards and curriculum in your district as a pilot plan.  If not, you could still use it coupled with PA’s standards and the students would still perform just fine on the state tests and probably outperform the other schools anyway.  In our state there’s only a few things that would have to be supplemented during the year and they aren’t significant.  I really would love to see SCASD become one of the premier places in the country for math education.  You are in the shadow of Penn State, an engineering powerhouse.  Your opportunity is to either set the bar high, or risk everything on a totally unproven but philosopically attractive program that has consistently enraged parents and hurt the poorer students who do not have the resources to supplement the program at home.

If you wish to contact me about anything, I am happy to discuss this with you except not tonight as I will be attending the new Star Trek movie. It never would have taken this long to see a new Trek movie after opening when I was younger and had lesser demons to battle than Investigations math. 🙂

Biased by information,

Oak Norton

Project Follow-Through Results

Project Follow-Through Results

As I mentioned the other day, my hometown in State College, PA adopted Investigations and is looking to continue with the 2nd edition.  I’ve been impressed with the efforts of the parents fighting the battle back there and they’ve got some fantastic stuff they’ve researched.  Here’s a post about the success (or rather failure) of Investigations math. You’ve got to read the district comments in the pdf at the bottom of this post.
http://groups.google.com/group/parents-for-quality-math-education/browse_thread/thread/1d25d49ab4f3ea78

Sadly, even the Investigations “success stories” that have been put
forth by Pearson (who sells Investigations for TERC) are NOT truly
successful. It listed 70 sites, and someone in Virginia decided to see
how those districts are doing with Investigations.
Here’s the summary:

• 62 of 70 “Evidence for Success” school districts responded to the
survey

• 36 of these districts have discontinued use or are in the process of
discontinuing the use of Investigations (58% of districts responding;
51% of districts overall)

• 17 of these districts currently using Investigations are Title I
(schools/districts) and/or receiving National Science Foundation
funding and/or other grants for continued implementation of the
curricula (27% of districts responding; 24% of districts overall)

• 8 of the districts using Investigations are using supplemental
material to support gaps in the mathematical content of the program.
(7 of these districts are comprised of 7 elementary schools or less;
the 8th has only 15 elementary schools)

• Only two district responding were using Investigations without
supplementation (3.2% of districts responding; 2.9% of districts
overall)

• To date (24 Feb 2009) 8 districts had yet to respond; 6 of these are
Title I districts

Full report is posted below on our PQME website, fyi. (be sure to read the comments from districts at the end of this pdf)

http://parents-for-quality-math-education.googlegroups.com/web/Investigations_Success_Stories_Debunked.pdf

The parents in my home town of State College, PA have taken out a full page ad to run in Sunday’s paper on 5/10/09. Here’s a link to check it out. It’s excellent and I truly hope for their success.

Centre Daily Times Ad

Thanks to Joel Wright for posting a link to this interesting article.  Schools in Harlem are the traditionally picked on “failure” schools, but when they said, “no more excuses” everything changed.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/08/opinion/08brooks.html

Thank goodness President Obama promised to make cuts in the budget (snicker).

Obama's budget cuts

Obama's budget cuts

After getting laughed at for this idiocy, he proposed to increase the budget cuts to $17 billion. Amazingly, ABC news did some real reporting for a change and caught him in his deception from when he was debating McCain and said McCain’s $18 billion budget cut plan was insufficient. Watch Jake Tapper’s report here:

http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalpunch/2009/05/is-17-bill-in-b.html

If you’ve never read the relatively short essay by Frederick Bastiat entitled, “The Law”, you owe it to your country to do so. His essay helps elucidate the basic freedoms of man and how socialism is the true path to slavery. You can read The Law online for free or start listening to it by clicking the Youtube video below. If you like it go to Youtube and search for “Bastiat The Law Griffin” and you can listen to the other 8 segments in turn. Each segment is about 10 minutes and is read by Ed Griffin (author of The Creature from Jekyll Island). I like Ed’s reading of the text better than other versions I’ve heard.

Part 1

This past week the citizens of my hometown made the press as their fight against Investigations math got big enough to attract attention. I just posted the below message to them on their fight site and encourage you to visit their petition site.

http://groups.google.com/group/parents-for-quality-math-education

I am so sorry you have to go through this pain. As a graduate of the class of 1987, back when teachers required you to solidly understand and perform math, I remember with great fondness doing timed tests in 3rd grade at Park Forest Elementary school to master the 12×12 tables.
Those essential skills serve all other aspects of math (and life).
Foundational mastery and rapid recall is essential to be able to dissect algebraic equations where you must see connections invisibly and instantly to solve quadratics such as what two numbers add to 19 and multiply to 84. This must be low level programmed into the subconscious for further mastery.

I left State College thinking you an anchor being next to the great engineering college of Penn State. Moving to Utah and raising a family here, I was horrified to learn that my children weren’t being taught the times tables in my district. Parents were told not to teach them for fear it would “mess them up” because of the supposed critical thinking skills Investigations math would instill.  I thought, “if only I could be back in State College where the grass is greener.”
Then my sister told me a few years ago that you had adopted Investigations math and my world came crashing down. I have survived through the years by working to eradicate this program from Utah.

I have learned that there are NO studies that support Investigations math or constructivism as a curriculum. The International TIMSS exam proves that curriculum is the #1 determining factor for successful students. Singapore is #1 for a reason. Their math program teaches children the basics of algebraic problem solving starting in 3rd grade.  By the time they are in 4th grade, they have 7 times the number of students with an advanced understanding of math as we do in the United States. They’ve cracked the code.

I truly hope you will rise up and help the board members in State College understand that their job as elected officials is to represent YOU the taxpaying public and not be apologists and protectors of the school district administration who are being paid by YOU. It’s your tax dollars and the board’s responsibility is to ensure the wisest course of action (most bang for the buck).  This is the single biggest misconception of school board members who allow themselves to be bullied by district “experts” who tell them “all the studies say this is the best way to do it” and who are they to argue with experts?
It’s time they started arguing before this Enron of educational programs destroys our technical prowess in America.

The greatest thing you could do is adopt Singapore Math (Primary Series from www.Singaporemath.com). When Benchmark elementary in Arizona did this, within a few years they were the top scoring school in the state for math, and 94% of students reported that math was their FAVORITE subject.  Imagine that.  Kids that master math love it.  When kids struggle with weak math, they hate it.  Which program do you think will better let your children move into a bright future?

Sincerely,
Oak Norton

www.oaknorton.com
www.utahsmathfuture.com  (be sure to click on America’s Dire Straits page, and Singapore and Utah math) www.weaponsofmathdestruction.com

The state board has told charters they must hire more employees to handle counseling issues. The comments on this article are as idiotic as this rule.  If a school deems it needs a counseling program, they’ll create one.  The thing nobody seems to be able to grasp is that if you teach children a solid curriculum they will not need as much counseling because they won’t have the disciplinary problems that come from bored kids not being taught mind expanding concepts.

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/1,5143,705302140,00.html