kitchen table math, the sequel: Everyday Math in Palo Alto's Neighbor, Menlo Park: Controversial math books get go-ahead

Friday, April 3, 2009

Everyday Math in Palo Alto's Neighbor, Menlo Park: Controversial math books get go-ahead

From the local weekly, the Country Almanac:

The Menlo Park City School District is going ahead with plans to roll out new math textbooks in the fall, despite the vocal opposition of a group of parents. School board members appeared surprised by the controversy, and said they would do more to explain their decision to use "Everyday Mathematics" and dispel parents' "misconceptions" about the program.

The board approved the adoption of the textbooks in December, on the recommendation of a committee made up of teachers and administrators. At the board's March 24 meeting, a number of parents complained that they had just heard about the adoption of "Everyday Mathematics" and that the adoption decision was poorly publicized.

"I don't appreciate a process in which the community was almost totally shut out," said parent Perla Ni. "The choice of a math curriculum needs to be a total community process."

Several people said they'd done Google searches and found scathing indictments of the textbooks -- that kindergarteners learn to use calculators instead of learning basic math, that strange alternative algorithms like the "lattice method" are taught in place of traditional ones, and that students are left frustrated and unprepared for future math classes.

David Ackerman, the principal of Oak Knoll school, said those accusations simply are not true, and warned people that just because there's a lot of criticism on the Web doesn't mean it's valid. Try Googling "creation science" he said, and you'll find a lot of hits, but it doesn't mean that creation science is valid or meaningful.

"I have the third-grade textbook. Nowhere does it say to use calculators for learning basic math," Mr. Ackerman told the board. "Out of 600 pages, there are three pages on the lattice method. It's optional."

Superintendent Ken Ranella said that Menlo Park's math scores on the state STAR tests are very high. "A lot of districts would die for 80-85 percent of their kids (testing at) proficient or advanced. I don't think we're going to do something to go back on that."

"I have confidence and faith in the teachers and administrators who looked at (Everyday Mathematics)," said board member Mark Box. "It's not replacing basic and computational (skills) but enriching them with a deeper understanding of mathematics."

The "Everyday Mathematics" textbooks are being used in the nearby Woodside and Portola Valley school districts, but the recent recommendation to adopt them in the Palo Alto Unified School District has stirred up a great deal of controversy.

"If Palo Alto wasn't buzzing about this, there probably would not be a buzz (about it) here," said board member Jeff Child.

Backstory from the local weekly's discussion area:

Hearing on EveryDay Math for MP Schools
Menlo Park, posted by Perla Ni, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Mar 19, 2009 at 3:55 pm

Controversial new math curriculum focus on calculators, estimations rather than teaching traditional math

There’s significant controversy about the school district's decision to use Everyday Math starting in Sept. See the Palo Alto Weekly online and several thousand angry parent comments. This affects kids starting September 09 through the next 7 years.

The basic issue is that the new curriculum:

1. Ignores traditional multiplication and division and instead only teaches inefficient, contorted methods that cause confusion and math-avoidance among students. It teaches “partial-products method”, “Egyptian multiplication”, “Lattice multiplication”, etc. Mathematicians and parents have almost universally criticized these methods for teaching math.

3. Instructs kids to estimate rather than actually doing the math to get an exact answer.

2. Instructs kids to use calculators rather than calculating math themselves. Here's the manifesto from the teacher's manual: "The authors of Everyday Mathematics do not believe it is worth students’ time and effort to fully develop highly efficient paper and pencil algorithms for all possible whole-number, fraction and decimal division problems. Mastery of the intricacies of such algorithms is a huge endeavor, one that experience tells us is doomed to failure for many students. It is simply counter-productive to invest many hours of precious class time on such algorithms. The mathematical payoff is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator."

See samples yourself here: Web Link

There's a school board meeting and parent attendance is encouraged:

March 24, 6pm, MP School District Office, 181 Encinal Ave, Atherton

Join the googlegroups parent group on this topic:

AND come out on March 24th!


Anonymous said...

Three questions for the school committee?

Your current system is achieving 80% proficiency. Now tell me again why are you changing it?

You're going to create kids with richer understanding. Isn't it true that the extra time to accomplish this is necessarily going to be carved from the program that is accomplishing 80% proficiency?

Are you dopes or do you think 51% of the parents in the district are?

SteveH said...

"I have confidence and faith in the teachers and administrators who looked at (Everyday Mathematics),"

This is about turf.

"It's not replacing basic and computational (skills) but enriching them with a deeper understanding of mathematics."

This is too easy. What, exactly, is "understanding"? What is "rich" understanding versus regular understanding? But they've already decided and there is no process.

You could argue the process angle, but in the end, their decision would probably still be EM. As the curriculum head at my son's old school said (after much input from parents and my loaning her my Singapore Math books - it wasn't on her list of options), "EM is a better match for our mix of kids".

You are better off setting up a web site and sending letters to the editor that go into many more details. Demand that they define "rich understanding" and have them show exactly how this is taught and tested. Have them list exactly which sections in the workbooks they covered and which have been skipped, for each teacher. They hope that people will go away after a first level response with talk about "understanding". Don't stop. This is just the start.

There is a reason why this is called math wars.

SteveH said...

I gave a technical talk at a Navy workshop last week, but many (even a keynote speech by an admiral) talked about workforce development. (Probably 75% of the attendees from around the world had a PhD in a technical field.) They have very serious concerns over where the next generation of scientists and engineers are coming from. They do the numbers. This is not just some vague idea.

One specific issue had to do with the attrition of engineering-inclined students after first year calculus. These are students who were competitively accepted by a top school. Engineering departments are starting to take over the teaching of this course (from the math department) to help students along rather than let them sink or swim. It isn't about lowering expectations. It's about helping students.

How many remember a college orientation where they ask you to look to your left and look to your right. Then they say that one of those students won't be here next year. How can colleges put students through a very competitive application process, accept tens of thousands of dollars from them, and then have this sort of attitude.

Often, students don't declare their major until after the first year. There is a now a trend towards bringing students into the departmental fold from the start. Departments want students to succeed; colleges don't care.

Many talked about mentoring and helping in high schools and middle schools, but some see it only as a matter of creating interest in technical fields. Others (typically parents), talked about the lack of basic math skills. It doesn't matter how much interest they have if they aren't good in math. Some of us were trying to emphasize that the problems start in K-6 and that the biggest filter happens when kids take a math placement test in 6th grade. If they get on the slow track, they will never recover. My impression is that those who like the idea of understanding don't have a clue about how bad the math is in the lower grades.

K-12 schools are trying to adopt a mentoring (advisory) process, but everything is based on expectations placed on the student, not the school. Mentoring is about passing along knowledge and skills, not just providing students with a process for self-evaluation.

VickyS said...

One of the main rationales for constructivist math is "workforce development."

But have you ever seen K-12 educrat provide evidence that companies are demanding the kind of outputs these constructivist programs produce?

Where are the studies showing that constructivist math programs produce workers with a set of skills that is a better match for the current workforce than the skills brought to the table by workers educated in a structured, sequenced, teacher-led setting?

In the college arena, we actually do have evidence: statistical, e.g., the amount of remediation needed, as well as anectdotal, e.g., the stories about calculus dropouts and the drop in the number of kids who are able and willing to go into technical fields.

I can find no basis for the persistent claim that constructivist math produces kids who are better prepared for higher education or the workforce. This claim is either wholly unsupported (as it related to workforce readiness) or the evidence actually speaks against it (as it relates to college readiness).

It's time to ask for the evidence, because the current wave of constructivism has been the dominant theory in K-12 education for long enough that the disaster we are seeing as the kids leave high school can be fairly attributed to it.

dan dempsey said...

Here is evidence from the Seattle Public Schools:

The adoption of Everyday Math in May 2007 replaced a pretty disorganized potpourri of math materials largely TERC/Investigations centered. In the 2007-2008 school year Seattle increased math instructional time to 75 minutes/day a 50% increase at many schools. It was mandated that the Everyday Math pacing plan be followed. From Spring 2007 to Spring 2008 Fourth grade WASL Math scores declined 5.5% and Hispanic 4th grade scores declined 10%. There was a large expenditure of professional development dollars.

The math wars are painted by school administrations as Reform vs. Traditional and Admin says you will get a blend.

This has become a dispute between parents who want their kids to eventually have a decent shots at College Math success against school administrators who implement programs that deprive children of that chance.

EDM does not teach the standard algorithm for multiplication and as for division of a four digit dividend by a two digit divisor .. EDM recommends pick up a calculator because we don't teach that.

Stotsky is correct:

More notes from Seattle
at the Math Underground

concerned said...

Regarding Workforce Development
Achieve's 2004 "Ready or Not"

Discussion on page 31 details how the data on employer and college expectations were gathered.
The Math Benchmarks start on page 64 and are illustrated by extensive examples of workplace tasks and postsecondary assignments starting on page 81.

(ps-I'm just relaying this info)

SteveH said...

The basic premise of Achieve is fundamentally Flawed.

The goal of education is not about raising some sort of average expectations or defining a meaningful high school diploma. The goal of education is individual opportunity and not closing doors.

You don't identify those doors by doing your own analysis of workplace skills. You look at the requirements set up by colleges and universities and work backwards. College departments are experts in their fields and they spend a lot of time defining those doors (required courses). They don't define degree expectations only by looking at average jobs in the workplace. They define required courses based on much higher standards. You can't get an engineering degree that says you can do everything but differential equations. Colleges define the ultimate doors, and many in the education world don't like that.

It's a power grab. It's a turf and philosophy grab. Beware of those who talk about P-16 education. They aren't from colleges, unless it's a college of education.

"Anchor Academic Standards in the Real World"

This is their mantra, and it's not what college departments do. College departments anchor requirements on what is expected for a practitioner of their field, not on average job expectations.

"Postsecondary institutions should:
Use high school assessments for college admissions and placement. Little justification exists for maintaining completely separate standards and testing systems for high school graduation on the one hand and college admissions and placement on the other."

They obviously don't like SAT or ACT, but they don't want to add to the list of data that colleges use for selection, they want to replace SAT and ACT.

"Because a University of Washington study showed that the Washington state high school assessment is as good a predictor of college GPA as the SAT, postsecondary officials have agreed to use the state’s high school assessment data in scholarship, admissions and placement decisions."

Replace, not add.

But what math standard is Achieve pushing? Algebra II for all, based on a workplace analysis. This is not an individual door-based approach. This is based on an average workplace expectations. I could argue that some students will never need Algebra II, while others need much more.

Education is about individuals, not averages. Individuals are helped by looking at doors, not averages from the workplace.

What, exactly, are these doors?

Ahieve wants to look at the workplace, but the doors are already defined by the colleges and the vocational schools. The are defined by experts in their fields! Look at college catalogs.

This is anathema to many educators.

Achieve doesn't have to do their own workplace analysis, unless they are looking at requirements for those NOT going on to vocational schools or colleges. Colleges have done the work for them. Look at the degree requirements. Achieve would be better off providing a workplace analysis that shows what degree is usually required. They could add in a statistical breakdown of which degree (or no degree) is commonly found for that job.

Maybe it already exists online, but there should be a list, broken down by college and degree program, of all course requirements. Each course should publish a syllabus listing the textbook used, the material covered, and the work expectations. If students in middle school want to be biologists, they should be able to see exactly what courses and what knowledge and skills are needed for that degree. K-12 schools will then have details to use to see where doors close for each field.

A door analysis approach would also catch the problem of the 6th grade math placement filter. If they studied the problem, schools would find that very few students ever recover from the lower tracks to meet the requirements of engineering in college. These students might eventually meet the Algebra II requirements of Achieve, but it's unlikely that the student will ever get into a school of engineering. Achieve might be happy about Algebra II, but some individuals, who want to go into engineering, might be devastated. Achieve might be happy about Algebra II, but the student who wants to go into a vocational automotive training program after high school might never get there.

Achieve might say that they want high schools to align themselves with the needs of colleges, but they don't follow through with the details.

In the math section, they basically say that what all students need is Algebra II.


What individual students need depends on where they would like to go.

The report goes into details about what math is needed. Needed for what, exactly? For everyone?

The report defines individual math skills and then relates them to specific workplace jobs.


You need to look at the degree required for that job and the college requirements to get that degree.

Machine Operator - no degree required

Licensed Nurse - They list the degrees required, but then proceed to list their own English and Math content strands. No. Look at the degree requirements.

Actuary - "Bachelor’s degree in mathematics, actuarial science, statistics or a business-related discipline, such as economics, finance or

accounting. Then they list their own English and Math content strands. No. look at the requirements for the degrees.

It goes on. For all of the jobs that require a degree, the report presumes to define the content and skills that are needed for the average job.

They ignore the college degree requirements.

It's all quite incredible! There is a certain mindset here.

Then they talk about first year college courses, but then say nothing about overall degree programs and requirements.

"1. define in detail the English and mathematics content and skills necessary for success
in freshman, credit-bearing courses at their institutions;"

Which freshman, credit-bearing courses? They are trying to define a generic alignment of high schools with colleges, and they are looking only at lower level courses. What happens if the individual student coming to college doesn't align with the degree program he/she wants?

It's all quite incredible

Anonymous said...

Well said Steve H.

The most effective way in their minds to close the much mentioned Achievement Gap is to slow down the achievement level of the top students. Few students can recover from fundamental omissions in their K-12 educations.

Here in Georgia where the state talks repeatedly about P-16, it is clear (because they are on record) that Schools of Ed want to change the requirements of all degree programs to reflect the output of our K-12 system.

Who wants to drive over or walk under a bridge designed by an engineer whose degree program was redone to stress collaboration and group workin the classroom and projects rather than assessments?

Anonymous said...

What on earth has happened to Georgia?! It used to be a strong education state.

SusanS--proud Georgia pioneer descendent

Catherine Johnson said...

Have the rest of you noticed that "roll out" is the new edu-verb?

My district is constantly rolling out this, that, & the other.

concerned said...

I like the premise that a diploma SHOULD mean something and that Achieve is gearing up toward Algebra II, which is prep for college algebra.

Students must succeed in college algebra in order to reach their individual goals.

How do the math standards of states which haven't joined ADP look to you?

Do they contain content required for success in subsequent courses?

I'm in Missouri, where they are extremely weak. Joining ADP would be an improvement.

Anonymous said...

In Georgia the content of the math standards is relatively strong but the state gets to come up with a list of approved textbooks that the school districts must use.

The texts on the list are largely constructivist, NSF funded texts like Investigations, Connected Math, and the Discovering Algebra series that don't provide the content prescribed by the standards. Also high, content rich standards need explicit instruction and the emphasis here is that students can somehow "discover" solid math principles themselves.

Solid textbooks like McDougall Littell's Structure and Method (based on Dolciani's famous and well regarded books) that would actually cover virtually all the middle and high school standards are not on the approved state list.