kitchen table math, the sequel: He's Back

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

He's Back

I just happened across the Connecticut Academy for Education and a reference to the Algebra I Curriculum Project. You know, just doing my five minutes of Google research and such. Channeling the eternal optimist, I wanted to believe that perhaps there was hope and that CT might finally be on the path to joining the ranks of those states with world-class algebra standards-- or any algebra standards at all for that matter.*

One click led to another and I ended up learning that in December 2008, the CT DOE opened up the bidding process for a curriculum grant for the Connecticut Algebra I Model. They don’t appear to have had an overwhelming response given that of 25 available spaces at the bidder’s conference, only 4 were taken. Four.

Not yet ready to abandon all hope, I trudged on to the winning proposal submitted by the Connecticut Academy for Education folks. I was stopped dead in my tracks when I hit page 8, regarding personnel:

“The Steering Committee includes a diverse group of individuals, respected within the state, nationally, and internationally, who will provide vision and guidance for the work. The committee members are Steve Leinwand…”


This would be the same Steven Leinwand who in February 1994 said, It’s Time to Abandon Computational Algorithms.

"It's time to recognize that, for many students, real mathematical power, on the one hand, and facility with multidigit, pencil-and-paper computational algorithms, on the other, are mutually exclusive. In fact, it's time to acknowledge that continuing to teach these skills to our students is not only unnecessary, but counterproductive and downright dangerous."

The same Steven Leinwand who in September 1998 sealed our doom with CT Math PIRK. The very man who can take all the credit for our failing math standards -- earning an “F” as well as a place on the list of “states to shun”. His hand in our state standards is glaringly obvious and the result of his handiwork makes it no surprise that 40% of incoming freshman at Central, Eastern, Southern and Western Connecticut state universities are ending up in remedial math. (Courant)

The same Steven Leinwand who made decisions on which math programs recommended by the Department of Education to the tune of billions of edu-dollars, would be rated “exemplary” or “promising” despite having “personal connections with ‘exemplary’ curricula.” (Math Problems) The very programs which have prompted districts such as my own to sink boatloads of taxpayer money into well-hyped and expertly marketed snake-oil.

Yep. He’s back.

He’s crept back into the Connecticut math standards game and that’s a very, very bad thing.

In fact, I'd say it's counterproductive and downright dangerous.

*Not surprisingly, not only does Connecticut not have world class math standards, it seemingly has no standards for Algebra I and II courses at all. (National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report: Report of the Task Group on Conceptual Knowledge and Skills- Figure 2)


SteveH said...

It's not just him.

This is from the CT Academy for Education site:

"1. Parents should expect that the way mathematics is being taught to their children will be very different from the way they were taught 20 or 30 years ago.

2. Parents should expect that their children will be using calculators regularly.

3. Parents should expect to see their children doing fewer repetitive and tedious drills, such as multiplication tables and long division.

4. Parents should expect that their children’s mathematics classes and homework will include solving interesting and relevant mathematics problems, gathering
and analyzing data, justifying solutions and writing conclusions.

5. Parents should expect that the mathematics their children are learning will
be beneficial and applicable to life outside of school.

6. Parents should expect that their children will be prepared and encouraged to take algebra and geometry during their high school years.

7. Parents should expect that their children’s mathematic achievement will be assessed and reported on the basis of their problem solving abilities, projects
and portfolios of work (done individually or as part of a group), not on the basis of Mastery Tests and standardized tests alone.

8. Parents should expect that mathematics will be enjoyable for their children and that mathematics classes, activities and assignments include hands-on experiences that are likely to excite and encourage their youngster.

9. Parents should expect that, if or when these expectations are not being
met, they (and their questions) will be welcomed by school personnel; and, that parents will be valued for caring enough to ask questions.

10. Finally, parents should expect that learning takes work and discipline."

Give them credit. Leinwand is a perfect fit.

They do what they do. Many have argued all of these points, but still, here they are.

I've yet to really understand this. Can't they even understand the issues? I guess that if you take this away from them, they have nothing. They can't even begin to understand.

Barry Garelick said...

They forgot point number 11:

"Parents should expect that their children will not learn enough math to help them either in daily life or to succeed in higher math courses in high school or college."

SteveH said...

"In 1991 with National Science Foundation funding, Connecticut and nine other states literally 'invented' a new model of excellence called systemic reform. Systemic reform was a demanding scheme to bring excellence to mathematics and science teaching and learning - not just in single classrooms - but to entire districts. Together, we sought to put in place system improvements that would create and sustain academic excellence for all students over time."

Blah, blah, woof, woof.

"6. Parents should expect that their children will be prepared and encouraged to take algebra and geometry during their high school years."

"Encouraged" to take algebra sometime during their high school years.

This is how Connecticut defines academic excellence? I grew up in CT. I am absolutely astounded.

They can't have it both ways; better math curricula and a goal of algebra in high school.

concernedCTparent said...

I'm not a CT native, but I do live here now. I am absolutely astounded too.

Astounded and horrified.

SteveH said...

Add "excellence" to the list of words educators are redefining.

Our schools are "High Performing" even though this only means high performing at getting most all kids over the state's minimal proficiency cut-off in a high SES town. Some have even used this to claim that we have quality schools.

concerned said...

You might want to check out

Chapter 13: National Science Foundation Systemic Initiatives: How a small amount of federal money promotes ill-designed mathematics and science programs in K-12 and undermines local control of education

by Mike McKeown, David Klein, and Chris Patterson

linked on David Klein's website.

concernedCTparent said...

That's what's so horrifying. Imagine the kind of damage 15.4 million can do.

The original role of the CT Academy was to administer and broker a ten-year, $15.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF) funded initiative to increase student achievement in mathematics and science throughout Connecticut. The CT Academy has brought more than $16.5 million to Connecticut since its inception.

LynnG said...

I am so glad you posted this. Despite CT falling to near the middle of the pack on NAEP, CT educators still continue to claim that we have the best schools.

There is no data to support such a claim. There is only one measure in education in which CT places first -- teacher salaries. Every other measure puts CT well down the list.

It wasn't always this bad, but Steven Leinwand has a lot to do with why we've fallen so far so fast.

SteveH said...

I read through the CT Algebra I Model Curriculum proposal. It's like stepping back in time ten years. Nowhere do they explain why none of the existing algebra textbooks (of any flavor) meet their needs. They don't even say how this algebra fits into a normal K-12 curriculum. It's obviously not so excellent for those planning to get on the AP calculus track. I find it interesting that part of the project involves marketing.

Anonymous said...

This EdWeek article is interesting:

"High School, College Standards Out of Sync, Survey Finds
By Lynn Olson

"A study released today highlights the gap between what high schools are teaching in their college-preparatory courses and what colleges want incoming students to know."

About math, the study reveals "In mathematics, postsecondary instructors rated being able to understand and rigorously apply fundamental skills and processes as more important than exposure to more advanced math topics. High school math teachers tended to view the latter as important."

The whole article is here:

SteveH said...

The more I look at the CT Algebra I Curriculum Project, the worse it seems, and I thought it was bad on first glance.

There is no context. You have to figure it out.

"Objective Four: Develop and deliver marketing strategies to secure parent and community support and advocacy for a statewide mandate that all students must succeed in learning the key mathematics of a relevant and rigorous algebra course."

The best I can figure out is that they think this is going to be a terminal course in math in high school, and that they have to convince parents that even this is worthwhile. It appears that their goal is to make sure that more kids are prepared for post high school opportunities.

This course is clearly not to prepare kids for the AP calculus track. It is only "excellence" (in a very distorted way) with respect to all of the kids who drop out or need remedial math in college. However, not needing remedial math in college doesn't mean that the kids are prepared for any degree program. They are only prepared to not take a remedial math course. Duh!

What bothers me most is that they try to frame this approach to math education as better. Not better than flunking out or remedial math in college, but better than any other approach.

Even if they believe that this will help many kids, they don't define how it will fit into the overall curriculum. They don't say when this course should be taken, and they don't talk about the curriculum leading up to this course.

If they do work backwards, it will institutionalize lower math expectations back to Kindergarten. (pretty much what's going on now) This will guarantee that the only kids who will be prepared for the AP calculus track in high school will be those who have outside support.

After studying this problem for about 10 years, I am still dumbstruck about their basic assumption that it's the student's fault. I am also dumbstruck about how they think that this sort of math is somehow better than something like Singapore Math.

I guess the answer is that if they don't call it better, then they have to answer many more difficult questions. They can just call it better and then point to all of the kids who do get onto the AP calculus track.

It would at least be truthful if they said that they can't worry about those kids who can make it onto the AP calculus track (because of math brains, not outside help, of course), but they have to lower expectations and simplify math to help a bigger group of kids get further.

I won't hold my breath.

I guess some will continue to think that these techniques are better somehow. They will argue about the purity and importance of discovery or how the brain works, but conveniently ignore the implementation and low expectations. I could define a rigorous, discovery-based approach to math that set high expectations of mastery (and even uses a calculator), but that's not what they really want. They just want cover for lower expectations. Calculators are used as avoidance tools, not magnification tools.

Some kids might go further in math if you slow the pace down, but if you start this process before 7th grade in math, then many kids will never reach their potential. Instead of a slower, but rigorous, approach to math, they are advocating a slower approach to a different kind of math.

That's always been a big problem with math, even back when I was growing up. once you hit the tracking split in 7th grade, the math changes for the lower track. But now, educators have extended the lower track of "everyday" math into K-6 and declared it to be better for all.

Pump; not a filter. At least until you can confidently blame it on the kids and they will believe it. Just look at all of those other kids who are doing well.

Anonymous said...

Hi All
Living in CT (Monroe) I have been LOVING this post. THanks everyone for your insights. I was wondering about the remedial math statistic (40%) at CT universities- they mention west conn, etc by not UConn in Storrs. Does anyone know if UConn Storrs is seeing the same ridiculous percent of remedial math needed?
Since I remember hearing that UConn admissions is very tight now (only B-B+ average students can get in)-This would indicate that a B-B+ in CT is not what it is crackked up to be?
Dee Hodson

concernedCTparent said...

I'm not sure about UConn remediation rates specifically, however it is very possible that there is grade inflation at the high school level that factors into that.

There is a good policy paper regarding the state of CT in general:

Paying Double: Inadequate High Schools and Community College Remediation