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The "Norton Plan" for Math in Alpine School District
Discovery learning has it's place, just not as a full program. It's got to be a supplement. You don't put the roof on before you build the foundation of solid facts that have instant recall to the student.
Alpine School District (ASD) Statements
- ASD has announced math choices will be offered next year for each community to decide which program to use for the 2007-2008 school year.
- ASD has stated they will offer as choices, Investigations math, and a traditional math program at the opposite end of the spectrum which will be chosen next year.
Norton Plan Summary
- ASD should offer Singapore Math instead of Investigations since it is already a proven world leader (12 years running as the number one program in the world for 4th and 8th grade test scores).
- ASD should offer Saxon Math as the "traditional" program that uses more drill at the opposite end of the spectrum since it is a proven program used in many of our nations top schools.
Notes to Supporters of Investigations Math
- People that view Investigations Math as a complete curriculum have not compared it to other programs nor have they seen how far behind children are that come out of these programs when compared to other children in the U.S. and especially on the international scene.
- Investigations math is required by the Utah state board of education to be supplemented because even they are aware of the gaping holes in the program.
- On this website are many testimonials from parents that have:
- 1) had their children tested at far below grade level when their children were gettings A's in the classroom.
- 2) moved away and had their children held back or given remedial materials to catch their children up to grade level
- 3) moved here from another location and had their children bored to death they were so far above our children
- 4) put their children into local charter schools and had their children held back 1-2 years in math to catch up
- Programs that match the NCTM standards are not supported by many mathematicians http://www.nychold.com/myths-050504.html
- "By the end of fifth grade, TERC (Investigations Math) students have fallen roughly two years behind where they should be." Dr. Wilfred Schmid, Harvard Math Department (http://www.nychold.com/forum01-schmid.html)
Final notes on weak U.S. standards from http://edreform.com/_upload/NAEPmath.pdf by John Hoven, Ph D
- "My point is simple: There is a chasm of difference in expectations between
NAEP and the problems used by world-class mathematics leaders. We expect too little
from our children, and by lowering our expectations we lower their incentive to achieve."
- "NAEP classifies its problems as “easy,” “medium,” or “hard.” I benchmarked the “hard” 8th grade problems, examining NAEP’s highest level of expectation for 8th grade
math. Most of these “hard” 8th grade problems are at the level of Singapore’s grade 5 –
Supporting Information for Singapore and Saxon math:
An Invitation to Alpine School District
The following email was sent by me to Alpine School District officials on May 24th. I received responses from Dr. Gary Seastrand, Assistant Superintendent of ASD below the email. (The green and red Christmas color theme is because this was such a nice present from ASD after 5 years of asking Santa to bring us something nice)
I'm very excited about ASD's proposal to offer the public choice in math curriculum. I've been thinking a lot about your comment on this new proposal bringing communities together and I would really like to have a dialog with you about the curriculum choices ASD will offer to local communities. The thing that's moving against the district in Orem is how unresponsive the district has been for literally years when it comes to listening to parents. It's really been an "ivory tower" kind of thing that I've been emailed on hundreds of times from hundreds of parents over the last year. If I've had that many emails, you can count on the number of frustrated parents being MUCH higher because only a small percentage of the district even know I exist and a much smaller number take the time to write. I have an idea that I think is worth considering to show people ASD is listening to our needs.
Before starting in on this, I want to say something about my "approach" over the last year to this problem. I know you mentioned the other night I've rubbed some people the wrong way (and it's not the first time I've heard that) and the board and district haven't always appreciated my negativity. Chrissy Hannemann and to a smaller extent Barry Graff, are the only people in the district that have taken the time outside of meetings to speak with and email me and really try to understand where I'm coming from. Chrissy has told me a number of times that due to our conversations she now understands where I'm coming from and that I'm trying to really improve math, not just bash people. I'm copying Chrissy and Barry on this email so they can see what I've got to say below. The big problem I have is when I study something for literally hours and then am limited to 3 minutes to present it, it's physically impossible unless I could get one of those time-shifter things like Hermione had in Harry Potter. :) So I have to point out the most extreme things I've found because I know darn well when I leave the meeting, the board and district people are going to toss my papers in the garbage because everyone's busy and won't take the time to look at what I've prepared in a serious way during their free time. For example, how many people read Dr. Milgram's review of Connected Math that I passed out in January? It was a 22 page packet I paid for and gave copies to everyone because he exhaustively dissects CMP to show the program is not meant for college bound students, but only as a remedial program for students that can't handle the rigor of college bound math. (This is why UVSC and BYU professors are so distressed over teaching high school math to so many students when they arrive at college). The same is true of IMP. They are not meant for college prep coursework because there's a major lack of content. This is why ASD is losing the "brain-game" and seeing charter schools and the more affluent and more importantly, involved people, leaving the district to find a voice that listens to their concerns, even if it means a hardship on their families to go that route.
So now for the plan. A year ago when I met with Barry the first time, I brought David Cox along and we had a lengthy discussion where Barry repeated the phrase, "there's no silver bullet" about a dozen times. (I need to thank you Barry for giving me the name of our soccer team last year, the Silver Bullets...so there are some Silver Bullets floating around the district now though I can't in all honesty declare they'll solve the math problem for the district. :) ) It may be true that every program has some type of weakness and needs to be supplemented in some way, but there can be no question that Investigations math has more absolute needs of supplementation than any other program the district could have chosen (even the state declares that on their website mandating it MUST be supplemented). If any of you disputes that, my head may explode so please be careful if you think you're going to defend a program that absolutely calls for removing teaching the times tables to kids.
One of the things that came out of the meeting with Barry was when I suggested the district look at Singapore math. Barry said Singapore math was very similar to Investigations. Thankfully, I was able to hold down the natural reflux I felt and agreed that both contained strong visual elements but Singapore is far superior to Investigations on a number of levels. First of course, is the long time inclusion of basic facts. Second, Singapore is a PROVEN program where for 12 years running, it has OWNED the TIMSS exam for 4th and 8th grade scores. Many people are under the false impression that those scores only came from "math-track" students, but they do not. It is a full cross-section of the country.
In a prior board meeting, I presented information I received from some of the top mathematicians in the nation that have international recognition. I asked them to state what the top math programs were for elementary school. Amazingly, they all agreed. Singapore math is the very best program if you have trained teachers with good math skills (a problem in the elementary schools I think everyone in the district will agree on). The second best program was Saxon because it can be used by anyone, with or without skills. It's scripted and it's hard to mess up unless you can't read (which so far I don't think is a problem with teachers :)). This doesn't mean you can't still teach from experience and ignore the script if you've got the skills, but for teachers that are weak in math (and believe me I've seen them first hand for my own children) it's an excellent way to ensure they get taught properly. I'll ignore the other results of their suggestions right now because it's not relevant to where I'm going.
To tie this all together, Barry agrees that Singapore is very similar to Investigations and I agree on a visual level and would actually say that Singapore is much more visual. Investigations doesn't teach by its visual problems where Singapore does. Investigations just has pictures to color and totally weak homework. I think Chrissy has a stack of examples should you not be aware of how parents feel toward describing Yekte's or writing 10 descriptive things about a button or what color the number 5 is. There's a word for these kind of assignments...asinine. (I'm not saying that to be mean or take an ugly tone, but kids don't learn anything from this homework and that's one of the biggest frustrations with parents.) So my idea I'm slowly working toward here is that Singapore math should be the option you give local communities next year to replace Investigations with. You'd have excellent buy-in from anyone that likes Investigations for its visual elements, who would also see strong math being used in early grades in very intelligently, easy to understand ways. No one can argue that Singapore is a weak program...it's the best in the world.
On the opposite side of the spectrum where some parents may want more drill and a so-called "traditional" approach, you could offer Saxon math since the massive approach of new-teacher hiring will be able to be solved by such a selection. As you know the Deseret News reported that 44,000 new teachers will be hired in Utah over the next 10 years. That ought to frighten everyone, especially district personnel that have to see this as a potential major hit to math scores in the future since elementary ed teachers are not renowned for their math skills (overall population of course).
This is a sound plan. It's a win-win for the community because you'll be offering two solid programs that can easily get buy-in from parents and frankly quite a few teachers in the district love Saxon, and it's not hard to see the benefits of Saxon math scores at the charters. Communities can then decide which approach they want to take between the more visual Singapore, or the more drill oriented Saxon. The Investigations nightmare for parents will finally disappear into the background quietly and the district will be praised by parents for two solid choices instead of continuing to be haunted by the memory of the word "investigations." Additionally, both Singapore and Saxon have K-12 programs that can be used, though Saxon integrates geometry into it's algebra and trig coursework so there's not a separate year. Even if you just used these programs through say 9th grade for students completing junior high, you could then have one really solid program like Dolciani for 10-12 in the high school. You would have the very best most pure silver bullets available to teach our children from. Either one would provide a rock solid foundation to our children to have all the basic skills to carry them into a strong algebra program. A strong algebra program will then carry them into success in college. I'm sure you're well aware algebra is the number one indicator of success in college across all majors. Please consider this. You will have less resistance and community arguments if you show the strengths of Singapore's program (including the fun-to-do factor for kids which is the number one compliment of the Singapore program and all important for keeping math enticing) as a fit replacement for Investigations' "visual" approach, and have something like Saxon opposite it. Please, please, please consider this. Don't wipe it away just because you have a lot of principals and teachers that like Investigations. You have an equal number that hate it. If you can smooth both those relationships by moving to Singapore math for that side of the choice, I know you'll mend fences even within the district personnel, let alone win the war for public confidence again.
One potential problem with leaving Investigations on the "ballot" is that anyone who wants it and doesn't get it (absolutely the minority among parents in the community), or people that hate it and get stuck with it due to "voter apathy" in not showing up to the meetings or principals influencing the vote, is you're still going to have unrest in the community. The very best way to erase that is to find an excellent replacement for Investigations period. If you don't think you'll have buy-in, give me an hour with your principals and teachers and I'll convince them. I hope you will prayerfully consider this and see the wisdom in my suggestion.
As further resources concerning Singapore math, please read the two pages below on my website. One page includes a link to download a pdf file showing about 20 pages of various Singapore math workbook assignments from first to sixth grade, including some of the excellent supplementary word problems and intensive practice worksheets. You should also know that Singapore has been aligned to the current state standards through 10th grade geometry and only 3rd grade dipped below the 80% mark where it would need to have a concept or two supplemented in the schools. I can provide that for you at your request.
Here's the two pages that deal with Singapore math information. http://www.oaknorton.com/imathupdates.cfm?page=20060426.cfm
I look forward to your response and hope to have a fruitful discussion that will benefit our community. Thousands of parents are counting on this, and thousands of children are in need of change.
Dr. Seastrand's Reply
It was nice to visit with you at the City Council meeting on
Tuesday. I too am excited about the math direction that is moving forward in Alpine.
I have read your email and wish to make a few measured comments.
As you are aware, we brought in a number of teachers, principals, and parents this spring to visit with us regarding math. We were surprised by the number of positive comments regarding Investigations math because we expected much more criticism than was mentioned. The focus groups have served to provide valuable feedback and some direction regarding math changes.
Our direction toward a more localized decision-making process is very important. School communities comprised of teachers, administrator, and parents will have to thoughtfully discuss what they believe to be in the best interests of children regarding math instruction. This will necessarily require some understanding of a "balanced math approach" as that is the direction the Board of Education has set. At the district level, we will work toward defining what balance means for the district. This will include significant work with all teachers.
As the philosophy and understanding is determined, materials will then be presented from various programs to the responsible group. Ultimately this group will then propose two programs to the Board of Education, traditional and standards-based, underscored by a fairly close match to the philosophy. Once approved by the Board the schools will then move toward their determination and selection. Right now I am not sure of the total number of programs to be reviewed. That will have to be determined.
While there are counterpoints to some of your concerns, it is not necessary at this point to debate and continue in any devisive way. We need to respect the process and trust that the committee will base their decision on balance and consensus. Protocol for the process will be established at a later date, prior to September, and then we will move forward with the plan.
Thank you for your approach to this issue. You have never attacked anyone personally and your message has been consistent and on point. That is a much higher way to solve issues and work toward good solutions.
Best wishes for a good summer. Go Silver Bullets!
My reply back to Dr. Seastrand
Thanks for the reply. A couple questions:
1) Will the choices be available all the way up the grade levels K-12? So we will have the ability to replace Connected and Interactive math? Because if it's only to replace Investigations, then our work as petition signers won't be done.
2) You mention the focus groups that gave feedback on Investigations math. I'd like to know how many people were in the focus group and how they were selected. I had no knowledge that parents were being called in to give feedback on the program so I'd like to know how many parents were in the group as opposed to administrators and teachers.
Dr. Seastrand's reply back to me
In response to your two questions:
1. The process for math adoption will center only on elementary schools. The district has not typically adopted a single text in secondary schools.
2. The focus groups were subdivided by the three groups comprised of administrators, teachers and parents. Each group met separately in order to avoid any type of undue influence. The group sizes varied but were between 20-25 people.
I hope you have a great Memorial Day weekend. I, for one, still have not planted my garden which means a working holiday. My kids think I am no fun at all.
I have a hard time believing the parent focus group was a true sample since I have over 5% of the district on my petition and none of them were involved and the verbal feedback from the district was that none of the parents had overly negative comments about the program. When almost 20% of your customers (families) are leaving for charter schools, it is statistically impossible to have a true sample and not pull in people that are against the program. (If you're wondering about the 20% calculation, see this update)
Investigations Math Menu
** Most important pages to read (all have value but if you will only read
a few pages make it these)
* Very important