In the August 2004 issue of Teaching Children Mathematics, 5 co-authors from Alpine School District and BYU’s mathematics education department (Scott Hendrickson, Daniel Siebert, Stephanie Z. Smith, Heidi Kunzler, and Sharon Christensen) collaborated on an article entitled “Addressing Parents’ Concerns about Mathematics Reform.” This article appeared over a year before I entered the “math war” and was a result of hundreds of parents before me making the effort to get rid of fuzzy math in ASD. This publication by the NCTM went out to teachers all across the country in an effort to support “reform” math programs being implemented and contains ASD’s strategy for dealing with parents (aside from the one that has district administrators tell multiple parents “you’re the only one that’s complained about this program” when they come in for a visit).

In the article, this is how they describe dealing with vocal parents.

During the first few meetings, we encountered a small but vocal group of parents (Oak: boy does that line sound familiar) who opposed the reform curriculum. These parents often asked so many questions during the general presentation that we were unable to offer a coherent overview of the new curriculum…

To address this issue, we decided to accept parent questions only after we had completed our initial forty-five-minute presentation. Furthermore, we attempted to anticipate the common questions that parents had and to address these questions systematically and coherently in the presentation and the handout on homework. We found that most parents were satisfied by the presentation and were eager to either visit the classrooms or go home. We therefore created a ten-minute intermission immediately following the general presentation. We invited parents to go directly to the classrooms or stay for a question-and-answer period. Usually, 90 percent of the parents left immediately after the general presentation. Some parents used the intermission to approach district and school leaders to ask questions. These information conversations seemed particularly productive in addressing parents’ concerns. After all the parents who wanted to visit the classrooms had left, we held our question-and-answer session and stayed as long as there were questions. This left the vocal parents with a much smaller audience and prevented many of the antagonistic feelings that had been unexpectedly generated during the first few meetings.

Translating Eduspeak to English: isolate, let them vent, don’t let their message spread

Further down the article we read some of the nonsense about reform math.

Students are given fewer problems so that they have time to reason, build and test conjectures, try multiple solution strategies, and make connections between what they are learning and experiencing and what they already know. Because learning with understanding is now more important than speed of computation, students do not need as much practice as in traditional instruction. Furthermore, to help ensure that students are learning with understanding, a significant amount of instructional time focuses on sharing solution methods, both orally and in writing, so that students can organize their thinking through expression, receive helpful feedback, and be exposed to new ideas. This process of allowing students to work for longer periods of time on context-rich problems and to communicate their solutions enables them to develop many different solution methods they can use efficiently and flexibly.

Context rich problems like “describe a Yekte, what it eats and where it lives.” “What color is the number 5?” “Using a bottle of glue, paste cotton balls on this picture everywhere there is a bird’s nest.” Oh, you can just feel the deep rich learning taking place from these problems. Having fewer problems without any rigor and spending more time sharing solutions means kids don’t learn. How these educators can look parents in the face without a shred of common sense and say, “don’t teach your children the times tables at home or you will mess them up” is just stunning. It’s no wonder ASD can’t produce a single study that supports reform math. The only studies out there show how badly it performs. Here’s one What Works Clearinghouse study that should just be entitled, “How to set your child back with Investigations or Scott Foresman Addison Wesley math.”

  • 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.
  • …There were no subgroups for which Investigations or SFAW showed a statistically significant advantage.

Thank you ASD for steering the district from Investigations into SFAW. Glad someone did their homework on that program.

Those of you outside ASD are not isolated from these programs. Pay attention to the work your children bring home and find out what they are using in their classrooms. Be involved in your children’s education.

3 Responses to “How ASD Handles Vocal Parents”

  • Teresa:

    I have vivid memories of a meeting at Alpine Elementary where ASD utilized these methods to deal with “vocal” parents, i.e. anyone who questioned investigations math. ASD had already received a lot of negative feedback from parents so at the beginning of the meeting we were told they wouldn’t take any questions. They were just there to explain the program to us. Basically, sit down and shut up; we know what’s best because we are the ones with a degree in education from a university. Hence, the rapid growth in the number of charter schools during that period of time. (Of course, then the state stepped in and limited the number of charter schools they would approve each year.)

  • Jon F:

    They could not stop a parent from handing out a flier before the meeting to tell them what is really going on in their children’s education and to stay put for the parent questions afterwards.

    If they skirt the issues by parental isolation, then we should bring the parents into it sooner, rather than later.

  • Richard Smith:

    It looks like the best part if “reform math” is that it creates less work for the teacher.

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