Weekly Math Updates

August 30, 2006


  • Parent Comment--Scary Ones
  • Parent Comment--Funny One
  • Parent Comment--No Change
  • Dan Olson's Letter to Orem City Council
  • Media Articles
  • Off-Topic Favor
  • Weekly Comic


Hi all,

On August 22, after the Orem city council voted to not pass the ballot initiative, you should know that a very high-ranking district official told a parent that all my research was biased and flawed and that Investigations math is a great program. The next day I called this official and left him a kind message asking him to identify where the flaws are for me to correct anything in question, and also to identify the nature of my bias since I'm at a loss on how I can be biased (defined as prejudiced rather than objective). He has never returned the call.

The school district has never produced a single study supporting Investigations math since I challenged them to produce one at the January 10th, 2006 board meeting. They have not responded to any of my allegations or research yet they continue to claim it has no merit without backing up their words with anything tangible. I even personally invited a couple of district people to write up anything they wanted and I would publish it on my site but they have never taken me up on the offer.

As you know over the last week I asked for liasons to each of the schools. These volunteers received a copy of a flyer I prepared to give teachers after they were indoctrinated by the district in the virtues of NCTM standards during their recent in-service meeting. These volunteers went to each school to give a copy of the flyer to the teachers at their own expense to give the other side of the story the district refuses to give to them. However, the district sent out an email to all the principals to not allow my flyer to be distributed to the teachers.

I can appreciate the desire of the district to prevent anyone from passing out bulk mail garbage to the teachers, but they only confirm their own bias' when they give a lopsided presentation for the teachers to consume and never give them the other side of the story showing the evidence of their incorrect positions. Discovery learning was proved ineffective decades ago and it's what has turned our country into a nation of medocre mathematicians. The math that put men on the moon slowly ceased to be taught soon after that historic event with the 70's starting to embrace fuzzy math concepts and filtering them through the country. Look at what happened to California in the 90's. Horrifying!

As for the flyer (click to open), we are trying to reach all the teachers in the district and if you can hand deliver it to your children's teachers it would be a big help. If you can't, then send copies with your children with a note such as "I just wanted you to have a copy of this flyer which I believe portrays the real math story in our district."

Lastly, you should contact your principal and tell him or her that you've read there's going to be a selection committee for choosing math programs and request to be on it.

Parent Comment--Scary Ones

Oak, my 10th grader brought home her Interactive Math Algebra II book from Lone Peak and I started looking through it to see what it had inside.  What I discovered was there's hardly any algebra problems.  When I was a kid our books were loaded with problems to do but not with this book.  So then I started asking my kids some times table problems and my 10th and 8th grader couldn't do them but my 5th grader could.  I can't believe they even put the word "algebra" on the book.  Then I discovered my 10th and 8th graders don't even know how to do long division or long multiplication let alone know their times tables.  These kids have had straight A's all along. I hate to say it but after signing your petition I didn't really know how bad this was until I just had this experience. 

If you have an 7-10th grader, they were in 1st-4th grade when Investigations was put in and would have had the brunt of it's destructive nature. Please ask them to do a couple problems for you like 423 x 87 or 2858/72 and see what they do. You may have thought their good grades were an indication of successfully mastering concepts but that would be folly to assume such in this district. It is going to be majorly disappointing to watch the next few years of college remedial math rates for these ASD students.

I wanted to send out this next comment I received the day after school started because I think some people think that with the small "v" victory we achieved with ASD announcing their intention to let each school decide which math program to use next year, many of you think the problem is solved. It is not. Teachers are being indoctinated by the district that NCTM standards are great. NCTM standards are not great and will not be great until they are revised by mathematicians who understand the nature and rigor of higher math and the foundation that is necessary for our children to compete on the global scene.

"Oak, I talked to two of my children's teachers at [school], both of whom continued to praise Investigations.  I'm not as much a hardliner; I believe there are good aspects of Investigations, but only if used on, say, a once a week basis, with traditional math being taught the other 80% of the time.  I had thought [school] was turning around, as I saw more math facts worksheets coming home with my kids.  My son, in 5th grade last year, finally learned his times tables.  In 5th grade.  That's only two years behind....   So I was really disappointed to hear my daughters' teachers still praising the math, specifically because so many top researchers had come up with this program.  Funny, I thought researchers generally didn't teach, yet they're affecting teaching in a monumental way."

As for being a "hardliner", I admit I am on the outside because you can't turn the Titanic 45 degrees when you're only pulling it 10 degrees off its course. I certainly don't mind discovery learning as a tool, but you do that after the foundation is laid so children can base their discoveries on solid facts. Monumental time is wasted when children have to discover facts well established for the last several millenia as the most efficient methods yet educators who lack the ability to look at this from a common sense point of view have been convinced there is some rationale to justify this fad. Am I against Investigations math? Yes when it's used more than it was designed to be used which is about 20%. Do I think we ought to keep it and use something else with it? No. There's no reason to waste taxpayer money when one of many solid programs could be used at 100% sparing us the extra expense. Good teachers will use some discovery learning in the classroom naturally.

Parent Comment--Funny One

"Hi Oak, The other day, while at my son's football practice, I overheard a couple of parents complaining about "Investigations". So we started chatting about what a nightmare it was and our disappointment with ASD. One of the parents said he had a friend who was registering his daughter (may have been son) for Jr. High or whatever and knew her fees would be about $40. He presented the school employee with a check for $7.00 and was then told he needed to pay $40, not $7.00. He told the employee he was only going to pay $7.00 because he used Investigations to come up with his fee total and that was an answer he felt "comfortable with". hehe. Just thought you would get a kick out of this. If you're going to post this, please don't use my name. Thanks and keep up the great work!"

By sharing this story with you I am not endorsing the use of Investigations math in paying fees or making donations to Alpine District Schools.

Parent Comment--No Change

"I also talked with my son's new teacher and asked her what the school had decided to do with the math program this year.  I was surprised to hear her say that not one thing had been talked about in any of their meetings so far about changing the direction of math.  She said that the district had sent them the investigation copies for the year, and that as far as she knew nothing would be talked about until spring about making changes. That means we still get investigations for one more school year.

It seems that ASD has once again thrown out a bone to us.  One they plan to do nothing about.  And Orem, Pg city councils fell for it and took away our opportunity to have a say.

I am ready to help when ever you need me."

Dan Olson's Letter to Orem City Council

If you listened to the Bob Lonsberry MP3 I emailed out about you know the Orem City Council didn't make the right choice last week just based on their role as "council" members. Their job was to see if it was feasible for Orem to split off, and if so, put the measure on the ballot. Admittedly there's some loopholes that HB77 hasn't addressed but which can and will be fixed in short order. The Council should have then voted to let the people decide once and for all if they wanted to split from ASD. Surely if ASD feels the people love them so much they wouldn't be worried about this going to the ballot. With that said, here's Dan Olson's letter to the Orem City Council. Dan is a professor at BYU in the Computer Science Department.

Council members,

Last night's council meeting was exhausting, yet enlightening.

1) I echo the concerns voiced by many of the council about the transition provisions in the law. School districts are legal entities that must govern by law and the current law leaves serious flaws in the taxation, asset distribution and governance during the transition period. Based on this I could have voted:
a. Let's wait until the legislature fixes the situation and then reconsider. That was implied by 3 of the council members though not clearly stated.
b. Let's give the voters the choice and leave correction of governance to the state. I believe that was the position of 3 of the council.

Though I personally would have voted b, I can understand and support either of these positions.

One item that there was no time to reasonably consider last night was the type of district to be put on the ballot (Orem, Orem/Vinyard, Orem/Vinyard/Lindon, 4 cities, or "the largest possible after the other cities vote"). I can resonate with the idea that there was just not enough time to work through these questions.

Let us suppose, as represented last night, that the legislature does repair the bill so that there is a viable transition plan. We will know that result in the spring of 2007 if not earlier. The very important question then arises. "Were the three council members who implied support for position sincere in their concerns?" If so then the council should reopen the question and we will probably have a vote in Nov 2007. In my mind that would be a great result. We would have a clear viable choice on which the people can express their will.

2) The public discussion last night was very revealing. In opposition to the split there were three groups:
A. A tiny group of "the law is damaged, lets wait to get it fixed"
B. Teachers in Alpine with "change is threatening and education will go down the tubes if the district changes"
C. Alpine board, administration and former administration saying "Alpine is responsive to parents needs, therefore please forbid the parents to vote on this change". This group was the largest.

Group C is exactly why this issue has arisen. There is no problem. We listen. Please don't let the people we "listen to" express their opinion in a politically potent way.

None of these people offered any explanation for the following facts.
1) This not the first attempt to leave Alpine. The last attempt was in the North county.
2) Alpine has parents leaving for charter schools as fast as they can be built with waiting lists to get in.
3) A large number of people showed up pleading for the chance to get out.

This sounds just like East Germany telling the world how much people enjoyed their "worker's paradise". Alpine School District is much more well meaning and their product is far superior to a communist country. But the attitude of not giving the people a politically potent voice is similar.

If all is wonderful, ASD should have no fear of a vote. A positive vote would provide a powerful reinforcement of what they are doing. If they fear a vote then perhaps that says something telling about what is really happening.

3) Non-employee parents far and away favored the opportunity to vote. All of the ones last night were in category A. That would mean that with a repaired bill, no non-employee parent at last night's meeting would be opposed to a vote. To me that is very telling.

4) Every positive comment about the responsiveness of Alpine education concerned a teacher or a principal. We want to bring them with us. It is the district, not the teachers that we want to leave behind. We want a tighter closer connection with our teachers. We like them (mostly). The district is too large and too diverse for the really great people in our educational system to focus on students and parents. I like the people. I just want a better political structure so that we can work together more effectively. Alpine School District is the best that I or any of my children have attended. I want a more effective structure for that to flourish.

5) Many many people described many reasons why they feel that a smaller district would be more responsive. Not one single person gave one single fact in support of "bigger is better".

6) America's economy has the most flexibility and choice of any in the world and it is the envy of the world. America's higher education has enormous flexibility and diversity and all the world wants to come to school here. America's public schools are rigid, large, and centrally planned. Nobody in the developed world envies our public school system. Hmmm.

7) I have attended and put my children through several school districts and I agree with Mr. Sandstrom that money does not make the difference, demographics do. Demographics, however, implies parents and families making the difference not centrally planned education programs. Alpine math scores are up because Utah county parents spend hours every night reteaching their children. We want a stronger voice in our own children's education. Families are making the difference. Let's give them more influence.

8) There are three areas of responsibility:
A. Creating viable frameworks for school governance. This belongs to the legislature and hopefully they will correct the problems.
B. Exploring, filtering and presenting viable school district possibilities. This belongs to the city council.
C. Deciding which district is best. This belongs to the parents of the children and to the taxpayers.

I hope that over the next year the council restricts itself to area B and leaves decision C to the people.

Dan Olson

Media Articles

Charter schools attract parents concerned about public education

Alpine readies to let schools choose curriculum for math (be sure to check out the comments section)

Good Schools Can Happen (From Parade Magazine)

Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.oaknorton.com/weaponsofmathdestruction.cfm

Till next week,

Oak Norton


Copyright 2005-06, All Rights Reserved