Weekly Math Updates

March 14, 2007


  • Math Program Selection
  • Parent Letter to Deseret News on Vouchers
  • Davis County Parents Letter on Vouchers
  • Shocking Media News
  • MIT's Coursework ALL FREE
  • Weekly Comic

Hi All,

Math Program Selection

Well, I went to my elementary school and looked at the 4 math programs being offered at Highland which are Scott Foresman, Macmillan/McGraw, Saxon, and Houghton Mifflin math.

I know some of you have already taken a look at the district picks and one of you commented that you liked Macmillan better than Scott Foresman and I have to agree.  As an example, grade 1, S.F. contained 15-20 different segments between units where 6 full color pages had a small story with absolutely no point to them.  One was a story about a Robin looking for a slug.  No correlation to math.  Macmillan contained similar sections in the book but on each page was a math question.  It was to me a waste of space and money to make a full color page and ask one question regarding the picture. 

I think my greatest fear is that parents are going to walk into the schools and say, "Ooooh, this one looks pretty, my kids will like it."  Teach math in math and reading in English.

An issue I had with Macmillan was on some other full color pages that asked students to circle the tallest bottle or shortest shovel and it was difficult to gauge the correct answer.  Particularly the shovel page was bad because they were laying at different angles on the beach and it was unclear if the student was to guess or measure them and some were similar sized and laying at a bit of an angle made some look the same height as some that weren't at an angle.  They were poorly designed pages.

If I had to choose between the two district picks it would probably be Macmillan, but that's just my opinion at the moment.

Adding Houghton Mifflin and Saxon into the mix, I had high expectations for both since they're approved in California.  With Houghton Mifflin, I was disappointed to see what visually was very similar to the two district picks.  They all seem to be an assault on the eyeballs with so many colorful pages and stand out graphics that focusing on the page content was almost secondary to me.  In that respect, Saxon is plain old vanilla ice cream without any toppings.  It's just straight forward math and after reviewing the others, that was honestly welcome.

Another thing I noticed (and I looked very thoroughly at the H.M. 5th grade book) was there's a lot of estimation.  Not that that's a bad thing because it was typically followed up by solid problems to solve, so for example you'd be asked to estimate answers for several problems like 63 x 276 and come up with 60x300, and then be asked to multiply a few problems like 47 x 382.  It was a tad annoying to see so much estimation throughout the book, but again, that's not that big a negative since there were solid problems right after it and being able to estimate quickly is a useful skill in knowing if you're close to the right answer.

Another observation I had was that in the 3 programs aside from Saxon, there wasn't a strong methodological review process to practice stuff you had learned months earlier.  It *looked to me* like they were organized to learn a concept and move on to the next concept.  For example, you do multiplication and division problems up through page 170 of the 5th grade H.M. book and you next hit a 2 digit multiplication problem on page 333, and on page 351 you get more 2 digit division problems.  Then on to other topics and little review.  It seemed like large gaps to me where Saxon has more incremental review...but this is just my own observation.  There could be other handouts designed specifically to review those concepts periodically to encourage memory retention but I didn't thoroughly look through the smaller workbooks to find out.

While I was in the room looking at the books, a teacher I didn't know (but there's a decent chance she knew who I was) walked in and then out and pointing to the Saxon materials said to me in a slightly snide voice "you might as well just buy workbooks from Walmart.  It'd be cheaper."

I thought that was a pretty silly comment and at the same time thought Walmart workbooks would have been an excellent improvement over Investigations' lack of practice problems.  However, as I got looking at Saxon more (since I hadn't really examined it closely before), I noticed how the teacher guides were broken up into 140 or so lessons for each grade.  There's no question what to teach on a given day because it's exactly outlined for you.  In speaking with the principal, there's a couple of teachers at our school who have said they won't teach Saxon if it's picked and I asked why, but he didn't really have a good answer as to what their reasons were.  We both agreed that Saxon is the most teacher friendly program available and that it doesn't remove the "teaching" from the teacher.  You can cover the lesson material without reading the script, you've just got the benefit of the script which has been proven to work.  There are plenty of teachers who will just teach whatever is put in front of them and to me this is a plus to ensure all the kids get the content.

Saxon also has very plain texts as I mentioned above.  As the reviewers from CA said, it's a welcome change to not have any distractions from just learning the math.  On the other hand, I did see some very nice colored problems in the other texts such as one in the H.M. text that had students calculating percentages of goals scored in the world cup by various countries.  Thankfully they included the women's scores with the men's so the U.S. teams didn't disappoint so badly. :)

I did see that Liping Ma was one of the reviewers of the H.M. math book and she is very highly regarded as one of the premier math educators in the world.  That's a plus.

At this point, it's mostly up to you to take a look at the programs and make a selection for your school.  Always remember that ultimately, your child's success depends on you, not their teachers.  If you want your child to be good at math, encourage and foster their math abilities by being involved.  That's the number one determinate for your child's success in school.  It really helps when your kids have a program you can understand and compliment at home.

Parent Letter to Deseret News on Vouchers

I received this letter from a parent and wanted to share it with you.

I didn't feel like your article was very balanced.

My children are in the Alpine School District. They do not learn how to carry or borrow. They don't learn their times tables. They don't learn long division. We are very unhappy with Investigations math. Though I have decided to stay in the public school system and teach these math principles to them at home (which is lot's of extra work on top of scouts, piano, sports etc.) I believe I should have a viable choice to put them in a private school. I don't think it is fair that I have to pay for public schools and then completely fund their education myself. Having a portion of my funding of the public schools be available to me is important.

From an economic standpoint, the public schools say that $5800 a year is not enough to educate our children. Compare that to a business. If a business says they can't make a widget for $5800. If I went to that company and said, "I'll give you $2,800 and you don't need to produce it", how many would accept that offer? Every single company would accept that offer. Being paid to not do something is a tremendous deal. It's basically a cash subsidy.

UEA and such just don't want competition. They don't want to be held accountable for the work they perform. They don't think competition will improve their product. Healthy competition improves every product and service in the world. Why is education different?

Vouchers are good for everyone. They are great for people who don't want their children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance? They are good for people who's kids are being picked on. They are good for people who want a more intensive education for their children. They are good for the people of low income that are in public schools in a low income area, which tend to have a lower quality product. They are good for people who love the education their children are getting at their public school but want smaller class sizes. Public schools are one size fits all and we can do better than that.

Name removed
Lindon, Utah

Davis County Parents Letter on Vouchers

I received this letter which was written to Davis county parents and thought I'd pass it on.

Dear Davis County Parents,
Is opposition to Parents for Choice in Education (vouchers), based on a real concern for our children, or a concern that with choice, parents might expect more?  I spoke with a mother this week whose daughter had previously suffered from an eating disorder and now in high school was struggling with this terrible affliction again. The mother believes that, among other things, a change in high schools will be critical to her recovery.  Her variance request was denied. Armed with letters from two doctors, the mother appealed.  It was denied. The desperate mother then appealed to the district Director of Admissions, who told her there was nothing he could do. When she reminded him there was plenty of room at the other high school he replied “it is not about capacity, it’s about teachers and things you don’t understand”.

What does the district value over the health of a child?  When the SL Tribune asked the District about the variance policy that had been used to deny the Haycock’s 9th grader from attending the same high school as his older sister, District spokesman, Chris Williams said the district needs to limit transfers so programs aren't harmed by a student exodus.” (See SL Tribune Mar. 7).  I thought our public schools were for the benefit of our children, but Mr. Williams tells us that our children are for the benefit of their programs.

When our school administrators are so paranoid of what parents might do if they could choose, their fear of vouchers should not come as a surprise. Last week DEA President Susan Firmage sent an email inviting school employees to an anti-voucher meeting at Davis High, Thursday March 8th at 4:00 p.m.  In the email she stated that Superintendent Bowles had sent an email requesting that all the Principals attend or send a representative from their administration. At the meeting Dr. Bowles, flanked by Board President Storey and Board Member Bain, instructed them about what role they could play in the petition drive against Parents for Choice in Education. Given that he is the CEO of a $470,000,000 education enterprise and the Board President was standing with him, would you feel strong armed into supporting his plan? If you would, the message was is clear, marshal your resources to prevent choice from ruining a perfectly good monopoly.

How can an administration this afraid of competition ever rise to the challenge of preparing our children to compete in the global economy? Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report on whether we are preparing our children to compete in a global economy, they gave Utah a “C” in “Academic Achievement” and “Rigor of Academic Standards” and a “D” in “Truth in advertising about student proficiency” (see Deseret News, Mar 1).  Nationally, federal studies concluded that 40% of high school seniors failed to perform at the basic level on a national math test and half of 12th-graders couldn’t demonstrate basic science skills (see Deseret News, Mar. 8). Maybe market influences can help create the change necessary to meet the global challenge.

As a public school parent who never intends to use a voucher, I am convinced that vouchers will strengthen and not harm public education even though it may threaten the status quo.  The voucher is far less expensive than the full cost to educate a child, therefore there will be more money available for the children that remain in the system. More importantly, if administrators knew that parents have a real choice, they might be more interested in the will of the parents and more likely to respond to the changing world and changing needs of education.

Please see the attached facts about Parents for Choice in Education and DO NOT SIGN AWAY YOUR RIGHT TO CHOOSE.
Randy Smith
Spokesman, DavisParents.org
“Because public schools belong to the public”

I don't have the "fact sheet" mentioned above, but there is this web site page from Parents for Choice in Education that does have a fact sheet flyer near the bottom that you can print out. As least read the page and I would encourage you not to sign the petition to put this on the ballot.


Shocking Media News


In this Illinois school, students were required to sign a confidentiality agreement that they would not tell their parents about the experience they were about to have. The experience was to have upper-classmen tell about their homosexual encounters and try to keep parents out in the cold as to what was happening. Sick.

MIT's Coursework ALL FREE


MIT has just announced they will be putting ALL of their courses online for anyone to benefit from. Read the article and then you can access their Open Courseware System here:


Weekly Comic

Archive: http://www.weaponsofmathdestruction.com

Till next week,

Oak Norton


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