Sunday, June 1, 2014

Math Wars: Once Again Into the Fray

Math Wars: Once Again Into the Fray

 Having a granddaughter in the fifth grade has brought the Math Wars home to roost. Our three children learned Math in an ABEKA curriculum using Saxon Math. All three scored off the charts on standardized tests in Math and have gone on to careers where that proficiency was important (Engineering, Marketing, and Business).

I earned my degree in education in 1972 at a time of revolution in education. A world shift in education came about at that time to manipulate children for social engineering purposes de-emphasizing individualism and competition toward team/group learning and peer tutoring. (Read the Whole Language Catalog by Ken and Yetta Goodman) Individual excellence was headed for the chopping block.  In the early 1990s, I ran for the Dothan City School Board twice with a Back to Basics agenda. I thought the fact that 60% of first time entering freshmen at the local community college being required to take remedial Math and English was a pretty telling indictment against OBE/Whole Language/Progressive Education agenda of the prevailing education establishment. Others thought that was important as well and we had lively discussions on the Ramsey/Moore Report, a talk show I co-hosted on a conservative radio station. The campaign against me was pretty much directed from the system's central office. They won. 

Before the Dothan City School Board paid someone to rewrite the Board bylaws, the bylaws stated that learning would be "sequential." That is important to note because the shift in the late 60s was to Progressive educators' preferred method of having learning be inferential and thematic. With the centralization of education in the Department of Education the words "drill and repetition" became dirty words not to be repeated in polite education society unless you wanted to be labeled an educational "flat earther." The Elementary and Secondary Education Act created the environment for Progressive educators to practice their experiments on America's school children under the guise of leveling the playing field for all children. Then in 1979 President Jimmy Carter established the Department of Education and local control of education became a thing of the past. Though we did not officially have a national curriculum, professional educators with a progressive agenda more focused on social engineering than academic excellence distributed funds for participation in special programs. Local boards got addicted to the funding and found themselves bound, gagged and disenfranchised by those dollars.

Twenty years later the disturbing numbers of those needing remediation have not improved but those administrators of the early 90s did go on to bigger and better jobs, salaries and lucrative retirement. I must admit to being shocked that something so basic as teaching children to read and do math was now political!

I threw my hands in the air, retreated to my garden and genealogy and started writing books. 

Then my smart, sweet, precocious fifth grade granddaughter who lives in Panama City started dreading Math. Though she reads several grades above her grade level (we made sure she got a phonics based education early on) the new, new Math gave her problems. When my daughter (her mother) and I began asking for the reason for the shift from traditional Math to this new Math (InVision by Pearson) we were informed that the answer to a problem was not so important as the thinking process. Ergo, the need for a new direction in Math education. Several steps had been added to the process and that made no sense to my daughter, her husband, her grandfather or me. My daughter, an electrical engineer, could not help her. Thus far we have not been able to get anyone to answer how we got to the moon with traditional mathematics instruction and plummeted to 34th in Math when we gave over Math instruction to this new batch of professors in colleges of education and their colleagues in curriculum and technology sales. 

When I first called the Dothan City Schools in the early 90s for information on curriculum (the ABEKA Christian School our children had been attending did not at that time go past the 8th grade), the Director of Instruction asked me, "Who are you? Just a parent?" This time my answer would be 
"I am not 'just a parent,' I am also the grandmother of five VIPs including four still 3 and under who will be in Dothan City Schools and Bay District Schools eventually. That makes me a very important person... to them at least. Plus, I have two degrees in education and experience dealing with administrators using our children as guinea pigs for fads. So, once more I am jumping into the fray.

I spoke to the principal of the school she attends who told me no one else had spoken to him about having problems with the new Math program. Yet, my daughter had already emailed him with her concerns, an email to which he did respond. A congenial, affable man, he promised to look into it. In the meantime, our daughter has hired a tutor, but the method still seems laborious. Our granddaughter is still having problems and I have not heard again from the principal. 

We have been told that if she scores well on the FCAT and gets admitted to the Advanced Placement program, she will get out of Pearson EnVision Math and will then take Singapore Math. But, from what I read, placement tests tell parents/teachers on what level a student performs and not having been exposed to this program may present other problems. One parent wrote, "Singapore Math is  sequential and doesn’t re-teach concepts or skills, using the program may set these students up for failure, whether they’re moving into a district using it or out of district using it." 

Read this blog post and perhaps you can understand our confusion with EnVision:
That child is beginning the program in the first grade. Imagine how confused our granddaughter is!

How much do you suppose all of these bells and whistles cost the school system? Watch this video and see the technology needed. Check out the "computer learning" assists at

In the New York Times article, October 8, 2011, "GRADING THE DIGITAL SCHOOL
"Inflating the Software Report Card," Trip Gabriel and Matt Richtel write: "School officials, confronted with a morass of complicated and sometimes conflicting research, often buy products based on personal impressions, marketing hype or faith in technology for its own sake."

“They want the shiny new one,” said Peter Cohen, chief executive of Pearson School, a leading publisher of classroom texts and software (including InVision). “They always want the latest, when other things have been proven the longest and demonstrated to get results.”
Twenty years ago when I pointed out according to studies conducted by Dr. Robert Slavin, the Computer Assisted Instruction program Writing To Read was totally ineffective, I was told they couldn't stop now because they had too much invested.  And now, Dothan City Schools has bought into Carnegie Learning. The New York Times addressed this program directly: THIS IS A MUST READ FOR DOTHAN CITY SCHOOL PARENTS.
Billions of education dollars spent and the result ... “there are no longitudinal, randomized trials linking eLearning to positive learning outcomes.” (Intel in a Web Document) “Decisions are made on marketing, on politics, on personal preference,” said Robert A. Slavin, director of the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University. “An intelligent, caring principal who’d never buy a car without looking at Consumer Reports, when they plunk down serious money to buy a curriculum, they don’t even look at the evidence.”

Since I wrote this I have found out much more about how Math education became politicized. I recommend you read my more recent articles on Paulo Freire, the Whole Language Catalog (excerpts that explain the philosophy behind Progressive Education that dominates public schools) and also visit the website on Radical Math

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