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Parent Concerns in Alpine School District

This past week I received a couple of troubling emails from parents in Alpine School District. Here’s the first:

Last night my daughter was at a youth activity when a 12 year old girl from her church class mentioned some fun creative writing assignments she was given at the public junior high school in our neighborhood. In the first assignment, the students had to write a fictitious story about a woman who planned the murder of her husband. They had to write how and why she did it and how she got away with the murder. The other assignment was to tell a detailed story about a girl that had murdered her best friend and how she was beaten by her father so badly that she almost died. My daughter was shocked and told her friend that she thought it was an awful and evil assignment and that she would never write such a thing. My daughter told her that assignments like that are given to desensitize students into “believing that killing is a natural thing which isn’t bad”. Another young girl listening in agreed and said that her charter school would never assign a paper like that because it would be “highly inappropriate” and she would have to agree with her school. Unfortunately, the sweet young girl who had to write these two papers disagreed and said it was fun to write thriller stories and they were, after all, just stories. Are they? What was the purpose? After spending hours plotting and writing about how to murder a friend and family member, what kind of memory does that instill in a child? Couldn’t there be other appropriate character-building writing assignments given to 7th graders?

All three of these girls come from great families and they are all very sweet, smart girls. However, only two of them were able to discern how inappropriate this assignment was and to stand up courageously, expressing to their peer why they would never agree to such an awful assignment. These assignments are coming at an accelerated rate to younger and younger children.Parents need to talk to their children constantly about what they are learning in school and to give their children the tools they need to stand up for what is right.

I really don’t think I need to add anything to this story about how inappropriate this is. Here’s the second comment regarding math.



I thought you might be interested in my latest experience with Mountain Ridge Junior High.

When we received [daughter’s] schedule and teachers I knew right away that I would be requesting a teacher change for Algebra I. She was given the same math teacher that [son] was given last year. If you recall, I transferred him out of the Algebra I class when he brought home his “Connected Math” book that looked like a 1st grade lesson book. My teacher request was denied and the response email is below.

Your teacher change request has been denied.  According to our records, [daughter] has not had this teacher.  It is not our procedure to make teacher changes when students have not had an opportunity to learn from the assigned teacher.  It is the practice of our math department to teach a balanced math approach, there are no “traditional” teachers anymore.
We are happy to resolve concerns that exist when the need arises.
If you wish to discuss this further, please see administration rather than counseling.

[name], Counselor


Of course, it was my decision to take this up with the principal, but in all “fairness” I thought that perhaps this teacher had changed the way she was teaching as so far [daughter] had been coming home with math worksheets that looked okay to me. I emailed her to set an appointment so that she could show me her curriculum for the entire year (I did not want to see only the semester and then the Investigations come into play the second semester). Because of scheduling, mostly on my part, I was never able to meet with her, but she did explain to me through email what books and so forth she would be using. This Connected Math curriculum was listed.

I went into the school and was able to speak with the Vice-Principal, explaining to him that I was not happy about the math teacher and the curriculum she would be using and that I would be pulling [daughter]out of Algebra I and teaching her at home using Saxon Math as my teacher request change was denied. He informed me that all of the teachers at the junior high are now teaching a “balanced” math using traditional and Investigation methods. For the next couple of minutes, he commenced to convince me that I should give Investigations math a chance as his kids have done very well with it. I explained that my kids have not done well, and I will not risk the best education of my kids on a math program that in studies and tests, and in my own experiences, has not proven to be the best math we can be teaching, and in most cases detrimental. The conversation ended as I firmly informed him that I would indeed be pulling her out and teaching her at home for that period.

After a week and a half, she was able to add another elective and she now does Saxon Math at home after school. Was it worth it? Of course! After just the first lesson, [daughter] said, “Wow, Mom, I finally understand how to do these problems.” She enjoys working at her own pace, being challenged, and having me as her teacher (of course, I think that is the best perk). Within the first few lessons she was learning/understanding things that she was not before, like how to find a common denominator. What?! 🙂

I hope other parents are speaking out about the education their children are receiving. So far we have had a great time home schooling and have now pulled [another daughter] out of the school.

This parent’s story illustrates the problem within ASD now where they tell parents that they use a “balanced” approach to math but everything they do in teacher training is geared toward the constructivist approach which is an unproven method of teaching. Actually, it is proven as a failure. Project Follow Through proved that, and the school district has been forced to admit they have no studies that support the use of Investigations, Connected, and Interactive math. These programs are utter failures. If you would like more information illustrating this, I’ve posted my letter to the School Board President in State College, PA on why to avoid Investigations math, and then another letter I sent the ASD board showing a government study that shows Connected Math actually produced a negative effect on learning.

You need to know that the schools DO have teachers who prefer and favor a traditional method and this counselor knows this. There are teachers that lean in both directions and you may have to speak with some of them to find out who is who. The problem exists at the high school level as well. Find out from your child’s teacher if the class will use Interactive math or a real math program.

Here’s where you can learn about dual enrolling your child to teach math at home but take other classes at school.

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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