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One Step Ahead of the Train Wreck

A great article from Barry Garelick on the insanity of Everyday math and the virtues of Singapore math.

What exactly is the attraction of reform math? I still haven’t figured out why so many “educators” are so blind to this method of teaching and the results it’s producing.  Two year colleges are being hit especially hard with the number of students requiring remedial math. Utah is no exception, but here’s some hard figures from another community college:

The numbers of students needing remediation went from 63% in 1999 to 71% today. One eighth of the PGCC budget is allocated to remediation.

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Impressive Math Lesson Videos

Someone recently sent me a link to the Khan Academy’s site. This person has over 800 videos on YouTube teaching various math courses. The videos aren’t too long, but the amount of them is quite impressive. If your child is struggling with a concept, see if there isn’t something on this page they can review to get up to speed.

Not only does he cover tons of math subjects, he also has a lot on finance including some analysis on the Geithner and Paulson plans.

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Teachers Can’t Teach?

Confused? Not if you like reform math. Found on the TERC website comes this nonsense:

“In reality, no one can teach mathematics. Effective teachers are those who can stimulate students to learn mathematics. Educational research offers compelling evidence that students learn mathematics well only when they construct their own mathematical understanding (MSEB and National Research Council 1989, 58).”

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National Standards are Dangerous

There are certain appealing aspects to having national standards, such as looking at a country like Singapore or Japan that has very high standards and achieves great things through them. However, within the United States, we have already seen tendencies from those in power to dictate down to the local level things that are “best” for us when in fact they’ve been proven wrong over and over again.  This article by Laurie Rogers is an excellent summary of some of the issues.

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“No Common Denominator”

Two reports by the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) do a fantastic job of showing just where education colleges are failing students who want to become teachers, and then our children who are taught by these teachers.  One report was released in June 2008 for mathematics preparation of teachers entitled “No Common Denominator–The Preparation of Elementary Teachers in Mathematics by America’s Education Schools.” The second, released in May 2006, is on reading and is titled “What Educations Schools Aren’t Teaching About Reading and What Elementary Teachers Aren’t Learning.”

The math report examined 77 schools around the country and Utah State University was the only college in Utah that was examined, and also received a failing mark for teacher preparation.

This August, thanks to a grant by a generous donor, a report will be revealed that examines all 8 major colleges in Utah. I understand that only 1 college has received a passing mark, while 3 would pass if they required more courses of elementary education students, and 4 fail completely.

The links below will take you to the math and reading reports, but the gist of them was to give a few standards for teachers and development of a proper education base before they go off to teach impressionable minds.  The math report details 5 standards as follows:

1) Teachers must acquire a deep conceptual knowledge of math focused on

1. numbers and operations,
2. algebra,
3. geometry and measurement, and — to a lesser degree —
4. data analysis and probability.

2) Higher entry standards into the program with teachers demonstrating mastery of geometry and algebra 2 at the high school level

3) Must demonstrate a deeper understanding of math than what they must teach to children

4) Elementary content courses must emphasize numbers and operations and student teaching must focus on delivery of math content

5) Math content delivered to teachers should be done within the purview of a MATH DEPARTMENT

The entire math report is 28 pages and contains some other interesting things should any of you wish to look over it.  I am eager for the report in August and can’t wait to see how <cough>BYU</cough> fares.  I’m not expecting it will be the lone passing school in the state.

Link to math report

The reading report is also great and tells us what we already knew, that phonics and explicit instruction work best.  Sorry whole language constructivism.  You lose again.

Link to reading report

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An excellent new site has popped up recently that is a great resource for those fighting Investigations math. Check it out here:

Loads of resources in one giant white paper.  Produced by people in Frederick County, Maryland, this site is a great topical view of the problems with TERC.

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ASD Math Teachers

Want to know which are the best math teachers for middle and high schools?  This is the place.

I will update this post with additional schools as volunteers help this list grow for every middle and upper school in the district. Please volunteer to comb the school website and call the school.  Find out which teachers use CMP (Connected math) or IMP (Interactive math) vs. a more solid program and send it to me.

The point that needs to be made to the schools and district is to have hundreds of parents at every school contact the school and request a “traditional” (aka. “real) math teacher and to demand to be removed from the fuzzy math teachers classes.

Here’s the information for AF Jr. High.

Traditional/real math teachers at AF Jr. High that you want your children in their classes are:

The others use Connected math or don’t cover as much material so CALL NOW and find out if your child is going to be in one a class by one of the other teachers and request to have one of these 3. Then tell  all your neighbors to request those teachers as well.  If enough people do this RIGHT NOW and not wait till fall when it’s too late, the schools should get the hint.

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Tragic Parent Story

Although it is tragic when I get stories like this expressing the frustration of a parent over how constructivism has destroyed a child’s love for math, it is not unexpected.  I have received many of these over the years but I believe this is a good time for middle and upper math constructivism to get the boot.

“Mr. [name removed]–I know that my son [name] has already spoken to you regarding
his grade.  Now I am coming to you as a parent.  Perhaps if you were able to
show us why he lost so many points on the “student taught” assignment or if
you had given him some way to make up for the lost points…I am so
frustrated as a parent.  I watched him put in many hours on your class.  I
watched as he and my husband had to go online to find out how to do things
because my son hadn’t been TAUGHT how to do them and had no textbook.  I
know the frustration that both my husband (a PhD and also an educator like
yourself) and my son felt over the lack of basic instruction that occurred
in the classroom.  I watched as my own father, also a PhD and a math
teacher, struggled to help [son] with assignments.  His assessment was
always that [son] has not been TAUGHT basic fundamentals.  I suppose that
you have to give him the grade that his points equal, but I assure you that
this is not over.  I am tired of watching the math program at Lone Peak High School, and all of Alpine
School District, be a joke.  And I guess you have lit a fire in me that has
long been waiting for a match.  I am sure we will meet as some future point.
A crusade has begun…”

Donna C.

Follow-up email about how this teacher “teaches”.

“My understanding is that he gives the assignment, without instruction and without a textbook to give any guidance.  Then the student is supposed to “figure it out”….the intention is to “go over it in class” but my son says they usually don’t have time.  What are they doing with their time?  I have no idea. “

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Connected Math letter to Alpine School District Board

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.

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.

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”. 🙂


Oak Norton

Bisk Presentation

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Letter to State College, PA Board President on Investigations Math

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 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:

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.

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)
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.”
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:

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.

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.

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.

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.


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:


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