Wayzata responds to math questions

One of the Wayzata school district's finest, thirty-year math teacher Judy Stucki, responded in this week's Plymouth Sun Sailor to my "Is integrated math right for your child?" March 17 commentary. Her response was respectful, straightforward, and supported by fact. Stucki has also invited me to visit Wayzata High School to observe math classes in action. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

In her column, Stucki says that "Integrated math is an example of using current research to improve our programs...We would not want to continue to teach like we did 50 years ago and therefore ignore what we have learned recently about sound instructional practices." Of course, traditional or sequential math ed proponents do not advocate ignoring sound instructional practices. I would go one step further and suggest that we not throw out 50-year old practices just because they are 50 years old. And there are many who question the research supporting integrated math, considering its relatively brief track record in the schools.

Stucki also states that "A criticism of math in the United States when compared internationally has been that our math curricula were 'a mile wide and an inch deep,' meaning that too many topics were covered without depth. The integrated curriculum addresses that precise issue." She supports this with the favorable results of a study funded by a National Science Foundation grant. Well, the NSF also actively promotes (to put it mildly) integrated math curricula, so are they really an unbiased source?

Wayzata parents should be pleased that, according to Stucki, the district recognizes "the need to gather more data about how our graduates are doing," and that such a survey "will be conducted next year so we can gather more than just anecdotal data about how our schools prepare our students for success." Scholar applauds this announcement and looks forward to hearing more about this study next year.

UPDATE: Stucki's full commentary can be found here.


A math teacher responds

Please check out this excellent post by math teacher Jonathan Kallay of Bellevue, Washington, in which he responds to my commentary, "Is integrated math right for your child?"

I am not a math teacher, I don't even play one in the blogosphere. I'm not even very good at math, but I am a decent writer. That's how I got to be a technical writer instead of an engineer. I just want the best possible math education for my kids, given their interests, priorities, and talents. I also think that it would be a good idea generally to train enough engineers to create the iPods, Stow-n-Go minivan seating, medicines, and other lifesaving and life-enhancing technology of the future.

I purposely chose a question as the title of my commentary. I am raising what I think are legitimate questions about integrated math. Teachers and implementation are certainly as important as the curriculum. It is our responsibility as parents and taxpayers to find our own answers. I welcome thoughtful responses like these from math educators, mathematicians, students, staff, parents, school board members, legislators, and anyone else who can help Scholar's readers to understand the esoteric but important issues surrounding K-12 math education. You are the smart people, please enlighten us.


Traditional math: priceless

Congratulations to all who competed in last week's annual Minnesota State High School Math League state tournament, especially the team from Wayzata High School, which won first place for an unprecedented third year in a row.

Alex Spurrier, Wayzata High School grad and blogger at The Bellowing Bantam, says:
In the report you mentioned, it cites the Math League titles won by WHS students the past 2 years. Many of the more talented students like those on math teams did not go through the integrated program and instead went to the U through the University of Minnesota Talented Youth Mathematics Program (UMPTYMP), and only took the non-integrated AP calc and stats courses at WHS. Just an important little fact the report neglects to inform you of.

(Dr. Lawrence Gray informed us that the acronym UMPTYMP is pronounced "ump-tee-ump.")

The Star Tribune ran this story yesterday on page W2 of this week's west metro section: "Wayzata Math League=very impressive." And in case you missed the story, it ran this blurb at the bottom of page W3: "Wayzata: Math 'three peat.'" And in case you are one of those people who don't read the paper from front to back, this story ran on page W9: "Wayzata wins state math league tourney."

Did we mention that Wayzata won last week's annual Minnesota State High School Math League state tournament for the third straight year?

The Strib article (the one on page W2, not to be confused with the one on pages W3 or W9) featured Wayzata junior Hwa-Sheng Chang, who "led the team in scoring at the state meet and finished third overall in individual scoring." Chang told the Star Tribune, "I want to be in electrical engineering or computer science." The talented 11th grader should go far in either program in college, thanks to Wayzata math teachers like Tom Kilkelly, who also coaches the Math League team, and presumably a family that highly values education, but apparently no thanks to integrated math. According to the article:
"[Chang] took Algebra I in seventh grade, Algebra II and Geometry in eighth grade, Pre-calculus and Trigonometry in ninth grade, AP Calculus in 10th grade, and he's been working on Number Theory with Kilkelly in the 11th grade."

Regents return to 'old' math

In New York, integrated math has failed to the point that they're actually going back to "old" math.

URL: http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050321/NEWS02/503210329/1018

(Original publication: March 21, 2005)

High school students will take a math class more like their parents' or grandparents' next year, much to the delight of several math educators.

When news that the Board of Regents last week had agreed to toss out the new Math A and Math B curriculum and return to algebra, geometry and trigonometry, reaction was favorable.

The new state policy won't cause any disruption at Mahopac High School, where students have taken algebra, geometry and algebra II-trigonometry for the past five years. Secondary math coordinator Joseph DiCioccio said Mahopac decided to set up those courses after the state went to Math A and B.

DiCioccio said it was how he learned math (he graduated from high school in 1969) and still believes it's the right way to teach the subject.

"We think this best prepares kids for college or careers," DiCioccio said. "That's what I grew up with, and it works."

This week, the Board of Regents approved changes to the high school math curriculum that erased more than four years of math programming designed to help struggling students pass the math Regents they need to get a diploma. The reason for the change: The curriculum didn't work.

For years, students were taught algebra, geometry and trigonometry as separate subjects in middle and high school. Then those subjects were integrated into the sequential math series most recent graduates remember, in which all three topics were touched on in a given year, at increasing levels of difficulty.

About five years ago, when the state revamped its educational requirements, the math curriculum was changed again. Three years of math were divided into two courses, A and B, each of which lasted a year and a half. Students who needed extra help could extend the Math A course to a full second year. In this way, the Regents said at the time, all students would be prepared for the math Regents.

But in 2001, when the first set of Math A tests were given, fewer than half the state's high-schoolers scored a 55 or better, jeopardizing their graduation. The Regents tossed out the test and set up a committee to look into problems with the exam. Their conclusion was that the course was too broad, the students had forgotten too much because of the course's length, and teachers had no idea what the students needed to know to do well on the math Regents.

A second committee of mathematicians, educators and other interested people then delved into the entire math curriculum, recommending a return to clear-cut, single-subject courses that could show students in-depth math concepts. The Regents approved that change Tuesday. They are expected to decide soon when the change will occur and what will be taught in each course.

Full text at: http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050321/NEWS02/503210329/1018

Smart people redux

Imagine an "education night" where edubloggers from across the country would cram into the friendly confines of Keegan's to quaff some Irish brews and have a lively discussion of the current state of education. Well, a virtual education night occurs weekly courtesy of the Education Wonks, and they call it the Carnival of Education. The Week 7 Carnival of Education is hosted by edublogger Jenny D. Check it out for a link to my "Is integrated math right for your child?" post, and many other interesting topics from around the "edublogosphere." You'll learn a lot by checking it out every week.

Traditional math student, "integrated" siblings

Scholar received this e-mail in December from a Wayzata High School graduate:
I am a senior here at the University Of Minnesota Institute Of Technology majoring in Mechanical Engineering. I was fortunate enough to go through the Wayzata schools while they were still on the traditional math curriculum.

I took algebra I and II, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus. I found it odd to hear that my siblings (currently enrolled in Wayzata schools) were not taking these courses; instead, they were taking integrated math 1, 2, 3, 4. While in college, I have taken Calculus 1 through 4 so my siblings are constantly asking me for math help whenever I come home for the weekend or the holidays. What I found while helping them on their homework was that the topics that they were learning in their integrated math courses were very obscure and, in my opinion, not preparing them for college mathematics.

When in college, especially in the Institute Of Technology, the instructors of the Calculus courses expect you to know how to think logically, critically and know basic algebra, geometry and trigonometry. I feel that these "Integrated Mathematics" do not teach students the fundamental basics of mathematics and are not straightforward in their teachings.

I find myself having to look back into my siblings' math books (which, in my opinion, are not very good either) to find out what exactly a problem is asking for. Now, once I figure out what the problem is asking for, I can explain it to my brother or sister, but someone who has completed college mathematics courses should be able to know what a problem is asking for without looking back in the book. If I cannot understand a problem is asking right away, how can the students who are learning the subject for the first time be expected to understand it?


A concerned Wayzata alum responds

Scholar received this e-mail today from a concerned Wayzata High School graduate:
After reading, "Is Integrated Math Right for Your Child?" in the Sun Sailor, I felt compelled to write and give you a student's input. I graduated from Wayzata High School in 2002. While I attended East Middle School, I loved math, did very well, and received mostly A's. During my freshman year at the high school that changed drastically. We were one of the first classes that integrated math was introduced to. If you were lucky enough to have taken advance math in 8th grade, then you could move on to regular math courses in 9th grade. Unfortunately, many of us were not that lucky. The majority of us, me included, were forced into taking integrated math.

From the very first day I walked into math class, I knew I was in trouble. The teachers were very nice, do not get me wrong, but they thought the books would teach us and the books thought the teacher would teach us. The result of this was, we did not get taught! This is when my grades in math took a nose dive. I struggled with math for three years. The only way I passed was by getting a tutor to teach me what I should have been taught in class.

Dr. Lawrence Gray from the University of Minnesota states that if you took integrated math, you would not do as well in college math. This is true for many other colleges as well. For family reasons, I decided to attend North Hennepin Community College from the fall of 2002 to the summer of 2004 to obtain an Associate in Arts Degree. I remember walking into the placement test that fall. The lady that checked in the students asked where we attended high school and what type of math we took. I told her, "Wayzata" and "Integrated Math." She looked at me and sadly shook her head saying that because of the math program I took in high school, I would have a lot of trouble with their math. Sure enough, as I talked to Wayzata students that I knew that went on to college, they were not placed in Freshman Math, including myself. We were forced to take an intermediate math just so they could re-teach us. Not only did I have to use my valuable time to take this course, I also had to pay for it. It didn't even count towards my degree. While talking to many math teachers, I have discovered that this was a very common problem with the integrated program.

Last fall I transferred to Saint Cloud State University to finish up my degree for Elementary Education. I was hoping this integrated math problem would not follow me. Sure enough though, the minute I stepped in the Math 193 class I was behind because of my High School math education. I know this math program has hindered my performance in every math class, not to mention that I now dread math, and feel like I am never going to be at the level of my peers.

I am sure most of the people that make the decisions on curriculum in the Wayzata School District must fully support Integrated Math, because why else would we have this program. I think you should send out a survey to all college students who took Integrated Math and see how it has affected their performance. I am willing to bet you will be in for a rude awakening.

We should take some of the money they were going to use to replace Skyward and put it towards an effective math program for our students in Wayzata School District. Please, someone at Wayzata wake up and see what this math program is doing to your students. Do not let this program continue to destroy the students' chances at being successful in college level math.


Concerned Past Student
Wayzata High School Class of 2002

I acknowledge the many fine faculty and staff in the Wayzata school district, parents who are engaged in their children's education, and Wayzata's consistently high standardized test scores and high placement in math competitions. It's a terrific public school district and one reason my wife and I chose to raise our family in Plymouth. But some WHS grads now in college are having trouble doing the math. How widespread is this problem, and how much of the fault belongs to Core-Plus math? No one seems to know for sure, but the Wayzata grads who have e-mailed me so far sure have an opinion.

Core-Plus grads at Michigan State University

One of your fellow readers of Scholar's Notebook pointed us to a A study of Core-Plus students attending Michigan State University by Richard O. Hill and Thomas H. Parker, of the Department of Mathematics at Michigan State University, published on January 21, 2005. This study concludes:
While the attribution of causality is impossible in this study, the results are compelling. Except for some top students, graduates of Core-Plus mathematics are struggling in college mathematics at Michigan State University. The evidence shows that they were less well prepared than both graduates in the Control group and graduates of their own high school before the implementation of Core-Plus mathematics. At the very least, these results point the need for larger and broader studies of how Core-Plus students fare in college mathematics.

Wayzata parents should also read this report about Wayzata's math program, authored by Judy Stucki from Wayzata High School, which appears on the official Core-Plus web site. By many measures, Wayzata has some of the top-performing high school math students in the state.

Dr. Lawrence Gray at the University of Minnesota has cautioned us, "all data are suspect." I encourage parents to read and consider these studies in light of their children's needs and interests.

Integrated math wake-up call

My commentary "Is integrated math right for your child?" is waking up some parents in the Wayzata school district. It has been published in the Plymouth Sun Sailor, e-mailed to EdWatch members, and mentioned on some of the Northern Alliance blogs. I think it will also get a link in the The Education Wonks "Carnival of Education" roundup next week.

Meanwhile, back in the western suburbs, parents are beginning to voice their concerns to Wayzata district officials and school board members. Some are also checking out the math programs in the neighboring Robbinsdale and Minnetonka districts, which offer traditional math instruction in their high schools. And Veritas Academy promises Saxon Math in a new (no tuition) public charter school.

Parents who want to know more about the "math wars" should visit Mathematically Correct for further info on integrated math, the educators who love it, and the concerns of parents and mathematicians. If you just found out about integrated math, don't take my word for it, do your due dilligence and ask questions. What's more important than your child's education?


When the shoe is on the other foot

In the Bailey Hall dorm on the Saint Paul campus of the University of Minnesota, I was the floor radical. Second Floor North was single-gender, no smoking, no alcohol. I am a lifelong non-smoker, but I occasionally enjoyed tipping back a Miller beer with a basket of popcorn down in the basement of The Valli in Dinkytown or over at The Cabooze during a Johnny Holm Band show. As the city kid on Saint Paul Campus, I wandered down to the dining hall for breakfast each morning to meet my floormates coming back from their campus jobs milking the cows. The farm kids laughed when I put skim milk on my cereal. At least I was a good Jimmy Carter Democrat like most of my dormmates.

Back then I had a collection of political buttons for my green Army jacket. My favorite was one that said "QUESTION AUTHORITY." No, I was not identifying myself as an expert on questions, it was an imperative statement to ask questions of those in the establishment. Back in my salad days of reading Jack Ohman, Elmo, and James r Lileks in the Minnesota Daily, I enjoyed Doonesbury and was rather anti-military. Today, liberals dominate the mainstream media, K-12 and higher education, the judiciary, Hollywood, the United Nations. And I am a Reagan Republican.

Now that the shoe is on the other foot, how do liberals react when they are the authority in question? "They're out to destroy us."

According to liberal commentators, conservatives who question authority with proposals for vouchers and school choice are supposedly out to "destroy public schools." Those who would shield conservative students from punitive measures by their liberal professors are accused of wanting to eliminate freedom of speech. Now they say that conservatives who criticize the mainstream media are out to destroy it:

"...the target of the conservative blogosphere is the free and independent press itself, just as it has been for conservative activists since the '60s."

...Republicans' ultimate aim is the destruction of all objective reporting, so that they can say whatever they want, true or not, and get away with it: "Their explicit goal is to get us to the point where there are blue [state] facts and red [state] facts."

In other words, Republicans for decades have wanted to control the press much as Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler did, by attacking and attempting to discredit independent journalism, and for them blogs are just the latest tool in their war.

The liberal establishment, like any establishment I suppose, is extraordinarily threatened by any questioning of its authority.


Is integrated math right for your child?

This school year, the Wayzata school district began a comprehensive review of its mathematics curriculum for grades K-12. This is part of a continual effort to review and improve teaching and learning in the district, and to meet the high expectations of parents, state and federal governments, post-secondary education, and employers.

How well is Wayzata preparing its students for college-level math and beyond? Do standardized test scores tell the whole story? What changes if any should the district make to the way it teaches math?

K-12 math education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. New academic standards in math have been adapted by the state of Minnesota. By state and federal law, schools and school districts are held accountable to these standards through a series of assessments that are aligned to the standards. In all grades, Wayzata uses the "integrated math" approach advocated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). One of Wayzata's curriculum review tasks is to find out how closely the district's curricula align with the new standards and make any needed adjustments.

What is integrated ("reform") math? It is a way of teaching math in which traditionally separate subject areas, such as algebra and geometry, are integrated into one course of study; and it integrates math with non-math subjects and real-world experiences.

Current Wazyata parents may recognize that integrated math also expects students to discover mathematical formulas and principles on their own, has students work in groups and direct their own work, and requires an August trip to the local office supply store for a standard-issue calculator. Textbooks are de-emphasized or not used at all.

In contrast, traditional math is offered in public school districts, private schools, homeschools, and college-preparatory charter schools such as Veritas Academy, which opens this fall. Integrated and traditional math options are offered in the Robbinsdale school district, and the Minnetonka district is replacing its integrated math with a traditional math curriculum. It offers the familiar discrete algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus courses, which build knowledge sequentially. It is the math instruction that most parents remember from their high school days.

Does integrated math align with the new Minnesota academic standards for math? When the Profile of Learning graduation standards were repealed, most of the integrated math went out with it. The new academic standards contain a balance of computing and context.

Is integrated math right for Wayzata? The district reports that 86% of the Class of 2004 went on to a two- or four-year college. How well have Wayzata grads fared at college-level math? The district has yet to formally study this question, but some anecdotal evidence is coming to light.

In 2005 testimony before the Minnesota House of Representatives Education Policy and Reform Committee, Wayzata mom Lynn Handberg compared the experiences of her "traditional math" daughter (Class of 2001) with her "integrated math" daughter (Class of 2003). Both were good students at WHS. "[My older daughter] went through algebra, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus with As and Bs. She had a great math experience in a traditional math setting...

"During [my younger daughter's] sophomore year in college (fall of 2004), she took two weeks of algebra, did not understand it, and talked to the head of the math department to see if she could switch out of the class...he told her...she wasn't taught enough algebraic concepts during high school math to understand college algebra..."

Wayzata 2003 grad Kevin Nelson dropped out of integrated math in middle school to take traditional math classes at the University of Minnesota. "I remember talking to some of my friends who were stuck in integrated math...In their entire unit on quadratics, they did not learn the quadratic equation. I don't know what they could have possibly learned since quadratics was built on that one single equation."

Dr. Lawrence Gray, head of the University of Minnesota School of Mathematics, said in 2003 that University students who had taken integrated math were not learning enough algebra to prepare them for college math, and were one to two years below grade-level in their math skills.

The Wayzata Public Schools should survey Wayzata graduates about their college math experiences, and seriously consider adding back a traditional math option. Public input and questions may be directed to Jane Sigford, Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Wayzata Public Schools, and to the Wayzata Public Schools Board of Education.

This column originally appeared in the Plymouth Sun Sailor on March 17, 2005.

UPDATE: Thanks to the MOB for your support and trackbacks! It turns out that jonzjr from The Attic is another Wayzata High School grad who had some trouble with integrated math. A mention on Fraters Libertas by Saint Paul is a real shamrock in the cap for any MOBster. And check out the comments for an appearance by Professor King (every other letter is an "a") Banaian and more. If you are a recent high school grad who had integrated (such as Core Plus), please leave a comment!

My goal here is to raise some awareness and generate some respectful yet important questions about how math is being taught in our schools.

UPDATE: Our favorite econ prof and candidate for president of Colorado University comments on integrated math's effect on college freshmen.

From cradle to grave

Millions of dollars are being funneled into Minnesota and other states to promote universal, state-run (i.e., taxpayer funded) child care. This is not a new idea. Think No Child Left Behind for kids. Or worse.

Scholar just received this information in an e-mail from EdWatch:
Minnesota is one of the states targeted by a multi-state project, the National Build Initiative, that plans to "build a coordinated system of programs, policies and services" for children, birth through age five -- a state-run system of early care for our children. The Initiative is well-funded by 15 major foundations and endowments, including the W.K. McKnight Foundation , the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (dedicated "to promote universal, quality education and care for pre-kindergarten children), and the Kellogg Endowment (focuses on "policy reform," meaning, changes in state law). They have poured up to $350,000 into Ready 4 K to activate a network in Minnesota and promote their plan. It appears that wealthy foundations and corporations with an agenda are purchasing a state-run system of child care in Minnesota. Who will speak up for the families?

The Minnesota Early Learning Fund (SF 907 / HF 1419) is a bill that sets up a non-profit group (Early Learning Foundation) with state matching funds to create "strategies" for implementing the new system of child care in Minnesota effectively and efficiently -- the standards, the assessments, the rating system, the grants, and so on. This Fund will give Ready 4 K our tax money to fully implement their plan. Minnesota government will "partner" with the large corporations and foundations that are driving this agenda. The mission of the Fund is described as establishing "infrastructure supports and accountability measures." This puts unaccountable non-governmental organizations in charge of child care policy in Minnesota and is a major shift in governance.  It sounds a lot like No Child Left Behind for babies and toddlers.

It seems there is an unstoppable and infinitely funded effort to replace that old-fashioned notion called "parenting" with standards, assessements, and rating systems. Will this Baby Ed be optional? Or does "all children" mean "all children?" Will this system replace parenthood as we know it, leaving nothing for the biological parents to do except "breed 'em and feed 'em?" As No Child Left Behind takes the teacher out of the classroom, Baby Ed seeks to take the parent out of the nursery. (But don't worry, as the Department of Children, Families, and Learning once said, "Their minds are in our hands.")

This brings to mind three quotations from Scholar's quotation library. One was said by Marc Tucker of the National Center for Education and the Economy. The other was said by Dr. Robert Ley, head of the Labor Front, Nazi Germany. See if you can tell which is which:

A. "What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one's skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone..."

B. "Our state never releases the human being from the cradle to the grave...We do not let go of the human being...until he dies, whether he likes it or not."

And finally:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive...those who torment us 'for our own good' will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. —C.S. Lewis

Don't take the marketing langauge of this bill at face value. Ready 4 K is the same group that turned a Department of Education study on its head to claim that "Half of all Minnesota kids are left behind because they start kindergarten not fully prepared." Call your legislators and ask them whether the Minnesota Early Learning Fund bill (SF 907 / HF 1419) strengthens Minnesota families, or simply creates another gargantuan, insatiable bureaucracy with your tax money.


Cygnus Academy

Parents in the Anoka Hennepin school district have informed Scholar of another charter school opening this fall, Cygnus Academy.

Cygnus Academy middle school (grades 6-8) will teach using the Core Knowledge Sequence and use Saxon Math for math instruction. Latin, debate and civics will also be taught. The school will most likely be located in Coon Rapids near the Emma B. Howe Northtown Family YMCA, next to the Fuddruckers restaurant.

A Cygnus Academy informational meeting will be held at the Rum River Library, 4201 6th Ave., Anoka, March 23, 2005 at 6:30-8:30 p.m. For more information contact the charter school office at 763-323-0166.



Minneseota Department of Education spokesman Bill Walsh recently got himself into hot water with some remarks to reporters about a bill that would direct $750 million more to public education than Gov. Tim Pawlenty recommended in his initial budget request. The bill's sponsors, including Sen. Steve Kelley (R-Hopkins), would not specify where the additional money would come from.

The Associated Press quoted Walsh: "It's gutless to say 'We want more money for education and this much more' without saying how to pay for it."

This prompted Sen. Kelley to call for an apology, and education commissioner Alice Seagren to promise that she would meet with Walsh about the incident. Scholar hopes that Walsh will clarify his harsh remark, but not back down from his challenge to Pawlenty critics to show how they would pay for their proposal. Perhaps Seagren should hire ScrappleFace as a consultant; here's how he would have advised Rod Paige after Paige facetiously called the National Education Association a "terrorist organization (WARNING: the following is satire and does not represent anything that actually happened or was said by anyone):"

Paige Sorry, Meant to Call NEA 'Extortionist Cabal'
by Scott Ott

(2004-02-24) -- U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued an apology today for joking that the nation's largest teachers' union is a "terrorist organization."

"It was an inappropriate choice of words to describe the NEA as a 'terrorist organization,'" said Mr. Paige. "I consulted a dictionary today and found several more appropriate terms to describe the highly-paid Washington lobbyists who masquerade as altruistic advocates for America's children. Therefore, I revise my previous remarks. The NEA is not a terrorist organization. The NEA is an extortionist, obstructionist, monopolistic cabal."

Mr. Paige added that his remarks did not necessarily apply to America's hard-working public school teachers, who he described as "NEA victims and conscripts."

Peer review

Never the early bird, Scholar nevertheless snapped out of his a.m. bleariness today with a note from EdWonk himself that Scholar's Notebook has been added to the "EduSphere" blogroll over at The Education Wonks. To wit:
Here at The Education Wonks, we are constantly on the look-out for sites that present a variety of political and educational viewpoints regarding The World Of Education. Our aim is to present sites that represent the complete spectrum of educational thought and discourse.

Today we are adding Scholar's Notebook to the EduSphere.

We're proud as a peacock. Who needs coffee? Thanks, EdWonk.


Value of math curricula not black and white, says Gray

Dr. Lawrence Gray came not to bury integrated math, nor to praise it.

Lawrence Gray (Photo: MNEdReform News)This took many of the thirty-five parents, friends, citizens, and countrymen, assembled last evening to hear him speak, by surprise. Dr. Gray, head of the School of Mathematics at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Campus, is well-known at the U's College of Education as a fly in the ointment of integrated math. He has publicly expressed his concerns about integrated math as early as 2001. He is currently keeping the state Department of Education honest as it writes the test specifications that will align the new statewide math assessments to the new Minnesota Academic Standards for math, which he helped to write.

But instead of telling parents which is better, integrated or traditional math, he told them: it depends.

Dr. Gray's "class" sat attentively for nearly two-and-a-half hours in an overheated second-floor classroom at The Hill School in Wayzata as he dispassionately defined terms such as integrated math, traditional math, constructivism, discovery learning, "sage on the stage," and "guide on the side." He described the "new math" of the 1970s as "mathematicians gone wild," and "new new math" (integrated or reformed math) as "math educators gone wild." He traced integrated math's roots to a 1989 recommendation from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), which rejected the concerns of mathematicians in favor of math teachers.

According to Dr. Gray, meaningful studies to determine the effectiveness of integrated math for college students would be virtually impossible to conduct due to the number of variables in how high school math is taught, study habits, transfers between schools, and more. Further, he said "all data is suspect," especially data used to sell something. But he provided the following evidence and invited the group to draw its own conclusions:

  • Most freshmen accepted into the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology come from traditional math programs.

  • In the University's General College remedial math classes, students who took integrated math in high school struggle more than those who took traditional math in high school.

  • To replace retiring engineering workers, more students are needed to take college-level math. Very few of these need to be math majors (future mathematicians). As the home economies of foreign-born engineers improve, fewer of them will move to the United States to fill jobs in high tech.

  • According to Dr. Gray, middle school math in Minnesota is "a mess." Sixth, seventh, and eighth graders are "marking time" until high school, where many arrive less prepared than they could be for high school math. Students should be grouped by ability to allow mathematically talented youth to flourish.

  • Teacher preparation makes more difference than curriculum in math education. Many teachers are insufficiently prepared to teach math.
Dr. Gray concluded by advising parents to become as well-informed as possible about integrated and traditional math programs, to consider their own child's priorities and talents, and to select or fight for the math program that is best for their individual circumstances. A parent observed that it is difficult to evaluate integrated math because no extensive "field tests" exist, since it is still relatively experimental.

Wayzata Schools Board of Education directors Greg Baufield, Carter Peterson, and Gary Landis sat front and center in the audience. Baufield remarked that he "would love" to offer both integrated and traditional math at Wayzata High School, but the costs of materials and teachers to support a dual track are beyond the district's means. Wayazata is already using parent booster clubs and an education foundation to supplement state funding and fees. Baufield praised Dr. Gray for his detailed and unbiased overview.

Sherokee Ilse, of The Hill School, remarked that Veritas Academy will provide parents with a tuition-free charter school option. The charter high school will offer Saxon Math, a traditional math curriculum. Eagle Ridge Academy, an Eden Prairie charter school, also offers Saxon Math.


How much money is enough money?

How much money should it take for a public school to educate a child?

Parents, like many who attended Monday's rally for more money by raising someone else's taxes, really aren't interested in the intricacies of K-12 funding. As a legislative action committee member, I have had countless parents' eyes glaze over as soon as I say the words "funding formula." They just want a decent education for their kids in exchange for the taxes they pay, and the schools are saying they need more money to deliver it. They trust the schools (what choice do they have), so they board the bus to the Capitol, write a letter, and demand more money. The ideologues include phrases like "core values" in their arguments.

But what if there was an objective way to look at both how financially efficient a school district is, and at how effective a district is in graduating students, compared to districts with similar economic and ethnic demographics? Wouldn't that be the bottom line on funding requests?

This is what Cheri Yecke did, shortly before she became a candidate for Congress in Minnesota's Sixth District. In her report released last month, Efficiency and Effectiveness in Minnesota's School Districts: How Do Districts Compare?, Yecke provides the rest of us with some easy-to-understand data (even if you were taught integrated math) upon which to start an intelligent conversation on how much K-12 funding is enough.

For example, Yecke found that "Although similar in size and demographics, St. Paul manages to graduate 72 percent of its students, compared to 53 percent for Minneapolis -- and spends $1,000 less per student doing so." Why is that? What are they doing differently in Saint Paul from what they do in Minneapolis? Maybe more money doesn't guarantee better results after all.

Yecke also notes that, according to a related study, "In terms of equity between high and low poverty districts, Minnesota ranks fifth in the nation as one of only twenty-four states that provide higher levels of funding to high-poverty districts [than to low-poverty districts]. We rank sixth among all states in terms of providing more funding for districts with high minority populations [than to districts with low minority populations]."

Parents and taxpayers need more studies like this to help us evaluate calls for increases in funding, and to help our schools deliver better outcomes for all Minnesota children (whatever happened to the Minnesota Education League?)

UPDATE: Joe Soucheray asserts that, given declining public school enrollments and ever-rising funding that now consumes 43% of the state budget, we don't have a funding problem, we have a spending problem.


Show me the money

When 5500 people gathered on the state Capitol steps yesterday evening for one reason, it didn't happen by accident. The Alliance for Student Achievement is an alliance of Minnesota's largest education associations, including the Education Minnesota teachers' union, the Minnesota Parent Teacher Association, the Minnesota School Boards Association, and rural, urban, and administrator associations. With all of this member-fueled firepower and an after-school and after-work rally time, bus rides to the Capitol, flyers going home in backpacks, e-mail alerts, letters to the editor, and nothing on TV, I'm surprised that the crowd wasn't bigger.

While legislators certainly got the message that all of these education associations want more money for their members, what they never explain is where all of this money is supposed to come from. The answer on the placards we saw on the opening day of session, "TAX THE RICH," works for the far left socialist crowd that wants to turn Minnesota into a cold Havana; but seriously folks, the improving economic forecast shows that "no new taxes" is working, gosh darn it!

I'm more of a policy guy than a finance guy, but I would rather see more attention paid to lifting levy caps, repealing mandates that are underfunded or unfunded (they steal from a school's general fund), giving more scrutiny to superintendent compensation and severance packages, transferring expensive sports programs to park and rec departments, and kicking the federal government out of our schools (the fed funds 8% of state education budgets in exchange for 800 tons of mandates and stifling bureaucracy).

Midwest Jay has more to say on this topic at Anti-Strib (a MOB blog). His writing is a little more, well, "blunt" than mine, but he and his co-blogger Tracy provide some great antidotes to the latest alarming "Strangling the schools" OpEx cover in last Sunday's Strib.

Speaking of blunt, The Education Truth Squad (not a MOB blog, we don't need no stinkin' MOB) has some harsh words for the aforementioned Alliance.