The Math Planning Team Meeting; Highs and Lows…

In Uncategorized on October 28, 2008 at 3:57 am

My wife and I have two small kids on the verge of entering the K-5 program in Ridgewood, and I am a Travell Tiger and Bejamin Franklin grad from 23 years ago, so we went to the Math Planning Team’s meeting tonight to see what was going on.

It started with the attendees breaking down into small groups of 5 – 8 people, facilitated by a member of the District Administration. We worked to answer the following four questions:

1. What is your passion when it comes to mathematics?

2. Reflecting on your own education in mathematics, what would you want that is different or the same for all children today in their mathematics education?

3. What do you think all students should know and be able to do in mathematics when they graduate?

4. What do you want to see in an elementary mathematics textbook or program?

After an interesting hour or so of discussing these questions, the large pages with our responses were grouped according to question and hung on the walls for a gallery walk/review that all could participate in and the meeting was ended.

I was quite pleased with the direction that things seemed to be headed, until I had a moment to speak with Regina Botsford, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in Ridgewood.

I asked her why, if Benjamin Franklin Middle School had been ranked in the top 1% of all middle schools in NJ from 2000 – 2006, did the BOE change the middle school curriculum to “Connected Math?”

Her quick reply through a smile was, “Because they can be even better!”

So I asked her, “But if what we were doing was proven to work so well, why switch to a program that is still being developed?” I don’t even remember what her non-answer was to my question, but I do remember asking her “What was the program that was in place before ‘Connected Math’?”

This answer of Regina’s I remember: “There were various programs, various books.”
“Really?” I asked. “In just two schools (BF & GW) there were many programs and books? Do you mean there was one program at BF and another at GW? Or do you mean there were multiple books and programs within BF?”

To my last question in that list Regina seemed tense when she replied, “There may have been.”

That was an unclear answer so I asked for clarification, “You mean there were or there weren’t?”

This is where I was really shocked. Regina told me clearly, “I don’t have the answer to that and I am not going to research it.”

Whoah. “Ok,” I asked, “then can you help me understand what the core principle of ‘Connected Math’ is?” Here she said, “You can look it up on the website.”

I thanked her for talking with me and then left with my wife.

Here’s the thing: Regina Botsford is an intelligent, educated woman with strong credentials and experience. You can see her profile for youself on the Ridgwood web site. How could she NOT know what the prior middle school math program was before she went ahead and changed it? To change something as important as a successful math program without understanding what it is, seems like a terribly reckless decision, and Regina doesn’t strike me as a the reckless or irresponsible sort.

Further, if it is not true that she has no idea what the prior program consisted of (and I MUST assume that she had to know about the successful pre-existing program), then why would she put up such an offensive wall between herself and an interested and well educated young father who could have become an ally rather than an opponent?

I can only assume that she may have doubts or a lack of confidence about the “Connected Math” program that she shepherded in, otherwise why would she be so defensive right off the bat? If she had a very high level of confidence she might have said something like, “it’s a wonderful program with proven results. Why don’t you come by my office sometime during the week and I can show you in detail why we selected it over other competing programs?”

Instead I was directed to the internet which is FULL of web sites of parents and communities who are very angry that their kids are being taught the “Connected Math” program. I don’t think this is what Regina expected me to find when I followed her advice to look online. Just type “Connected Math” into Google. You can see what sites come up for yourself.

My question is still out there: Why on earth did we dump a successful math program in the Middle Schools for this? I want a serious answer, not passive aggressive retorts or sarcastic commentary from other aggravated moms and adads. A real explanation. I would accept this explanation here on the blog if it can’t be given in person.

Anyway, I am glad my wife and I still have time to see what happens here so we can track our kids into private school if we have to in order to secure a legitimate and competitive math education for them. It’s a shame that a Travell and Benjamin Franklin alumnus like myself wouldn’t want his own kids to go to the same school he went to. That really bums me out.


  1. Welcome to the wonderful world of the Ridgewood Public Schools. People who have never had a conversation can not truly appreciate the responses given by Mrs. Botsford. You did a BEAUTIFUL job of recapping your conversation! I too had a similar experience with Mrs. Botsford while my children were at Travell and she was introducing the Investigations, TERC, program to parents. Not only did she look like a deer in the headlights when asked the really tough questions like “How will this affect our kids when they take standardized testing?” but she was equally as defensive then as she was tonight with you. At the time I thought to myself, “Is this woman REALLY the Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum in Ridgewood? How is this possible?”

    I wish I had an answer to your question but I don’t. I have 2 kids at RHS who can’t do math to save their lives, they were the original TERC kids from Travell and 1 at BF in 6th grade who spent 3 of the 4 nights last week totally frustrated and on the verge of tears because she couldn’t understand her math homework. Unfortunately I’m no help because I didn’t understand it either! I hope someone does answer you question with a serious answer because I’d like to hear it to. Many of us in town have asked the same question and haven’t any luck getting an answer.

  2. Regina doesn’t answer your questions because she can’t. There was no oversight when deciding to implement CMP2 into the middle schools. “They’ll” tell you there was and that the teachers picked CMP2 out of only a few choices. This is not the procedure mandated by our BOE of eliminating programs (the one before CMP2 with such phenomenal results) and rolling out new programs… CMP2. FYI.. it was asked during public comment at one BOE meeting to hold off on using CMP2 with the guinea pig group of children until the math debate was resolved here in town. Sadly and 2 years later, it was completely ignored by the BOE and Regina. Regina is a huge problem, isn’t professional, and swindles tax-payers of much $.

  3. Well Sir,

    Welcome home to the RPS system. A lot has changed since you went to school here.

    You have experienced the same treatment parents in this math fight have been dealing with for years now; double talk, non-answer answers and the dismissal of our concerns.

    The reasoning behind jettisoning what worked well with untested alternatives has nothing to do with logic but rather it is a political agenda driven by the leftists in the education industry.

    Constructivist math was designed for inner city school children. It’s racist genesis is based on the belief, by liberal educrats, that black and Hispanic students can not learn math in the same manner as white suburban children.

    Now, the goal is to make all children equal. That means equally incompetent when it comes to math by bringing CMP 2 and Everyday Math to places like Ridgewood.

    If this had anything to do with logic and what works best for students, we wouldn’t be having this math war.

  4. I was at last nights event and my biggest disappointment was Mr. Fishbein’s answer to a parent’s question about the middle school math.

    As I recall the question was what will happen at the middle school when the elementary math program is put in place. The answer was “nothing.” Fishbein simply stated that we were in the third year of implementing CMP2 and that was that.

    I was shocked because this response seemed to completely negate our efforts and the district’s efforts to address the rise of poor math programs like TERC and CMP. If we truly manage to select a good math program for our elementary schools, the what would be the point of feeding our children into a weak contructivist program like CMP2 which is really Algebra Light?

    Is it possible that He thinks that CMP2 is a challenging program? The very best math teachers at GW do NOT think so. Is HE a math teacher who knows better?

    BF and later GW ended up with this awful program because it was the least awful of the 3 choices the faculty was given.

    I don’t know about you, but to me having the least reprehensible program from the 3 Regina Botsford allowed them to consider is no choice at all.

    Our teachers better speak up now. They are being set up to take the fall for not teaching CMP2 adequately. This will be no surprise when fully 1/2 of our kids do not test well in Algebra before entering High School.

  5. Sadly, Fishbein announced last night that curriculum for our middle schools is already being implemented: CMP2. I expect more of the same constructivist nonsense for K-5.

    It’s a shame that Ridgewood’s legacy has been hijacked by ideologues that seem blissfully ignorant of the obvious pitfalls of TERC, EM, and CMP2. It’s low level math created by low-level mathematical thinkers.

  6. 10:00 our kids will test well, because of us, because we understand the absurdity of this math program. We will give our kids tutors, and sadly while helping our children we will also be helping Mrs. Bostford.

  7. I’ve been using a used Saxon Algebra text (purchased on eBay!) to negate the impact of CMP2. You are right, 10:54; my children will test well because they have been taught tried and true methods ike “rise over run” for explaining what “m” is in a linear equation. This extremely simple, extremely crucial, useful information does NOT come into play in CMP2 math. They are left to “construct” or “discover” it on their own which does NOT happen.

  8. Dr. Fishbein is all wet, pun intended! He didn’t even introduce himself at the start of the evening, nor did he introduce himself at the start of his group facilitation. His responses to questions from participants were curt and limited. Nice job BOE choosing Napolean!!

  9. The proverbial shit will hit the proverbial fan when they get to high school and can’t do the math. As for the SATs, forget it. Only those who can afford tutors have a chance at scoring above average.

  10. It was a very well attended event. The parents to whom I spoke seemed more informed and educated than those tasked with deciding our children’s fate in math.

    I remain troubled by this over-extended and rather circular process.

  11. had an 8th grade math teacher in our group. she openly said she wanted spiraling in the new textbook or program.

    she openly said this. we all held our collective breaths.

    later when i walked around the room, couldn’t help but notice that a majority of respondent groups wanted NO SPIRALING. i think the teacher had left by then.

  12. Charlie, we missed you last night!

  13. If this weren’t so sad it would be funny.

    Regina picks a program and holds a mock convention for the teachers to choose her predetermined math curricula, CMP.

    Then she proceeds to have all fellow administrators parrot the party line, “the teachers chose the math program.” In other words, “don’t blame me if it fails, blame the teachers.” Which was exactly what parents did at Travell and Orchard.

    Are Ridgewood’s teachers so gullible that they would allow themselves to be put in this situation? If so, then they deserve the blame. After all, it is not an excuse to say, “I was only following orders.”

    What we have here is a whole sale push by Regina Botsford to ensure that she get her way. And that is the implamentation of cinstructivist math district wide.

    This in the face of intense opposition and qualified research which debunks the effectiveness of constructivist math.

    Again, one wonders, why? Why insist on an unproven math program over a tried and true method that we had before. What is to be gained? This does not add up. No pun intended.

    Please tell me it can’t be as 8:11 theorizes, that this is an ideological socio-political agenda on the part of our educators.

    For if it is, then this is a very sad day for our village and our children’s future.

  14. To the original poster –

    Unfortunately I do not have an answer to your question.

    I too was at the meeting last night. I too briefly talked with Regina with similar results (she was very quick to approach me when I stepped off the elevator, but was eager to part company when I engaged her in some basic questions about the intent of the evening and the math program selection process.)

    Your comments are very telling:

    “After an interesting hour or so of discussing these questions, the large pages with our responses were grouped according to question and hung on the walls for a gallery walk/review that all could participate in and the meeting was ended.

    I was quite pleased with the direction that things seemed to be headed, until I had a moment to speak with Regina Botsford, our Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment in Ridgewood.”

    As you found out, the ACTUAL intent of the evening was two-fold:
    1) To make parents feel like they actually have real input into the selection process (when in fact it is just window dressing to a decision already made).
    2) To provide Regina something concrete to point to when she is criticized about her math curriculum decisions.

    Had you not spoken to Regina afterward (and most people DID NOT speak to her) you would leave feeling like you really made a difference.

    However you DID speak to Regina and found out that the evening was just a feel-good sham put on for the benefit of the parents.

  15. 12:10 –
    Re: “It was a very well attended event.”

    I don’t consider 60 – 70 people a good turnout. Even if my estimate is off and you round up to 100 people, it is still a pathetic turnout.

    This place should have been overflowing with parents. But I suspect that half don’t care and the other half know that it would be a waste of time since Regina will do what she wants anyway.

  16. 2:38 –

    Re: “Please tell me it can’t be as 8:11 theorizes, that this is an ideological socio-political agenda on the part of our educators.”

    Sadly it is true.

    Just look to your left at the plaque on the wall as you walk into 49 Cottage Place.

    But in a way, you almost can’t blame these folks. They have been indoctrinated during their education and “ongoing training” which is driven by a socialist socio-political ideology Education cartel.

    Just take a look at the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) where Regina has been a speaker at their conferences. They have a nice liberal socio-political indoctrination program going including lessons to members on how to strong-arm fellow teachers to join. Nice.

  17. Joseph Goebbels once said:

    “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

    Goebbels further wrote:

    “The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

    Keep up the good work, PJ.

  18. I think people often confuse math we use everyday with math that mathematicians do. TERC, however, teaches neither. Much of the stuff children learn in our schools are geared towards math we use everyday (not “Everyday math”) such as finance. We often think that the people who can do math we use everyday best will become mathematicians or scientists. This is a great misconception. The current math curriculum focuses on learning methods in calculus etc… and applying it to a different problem, however, when our kids go on to college and major in math or something, they flounder because they know what to do but they have not been exposed to pure thought like scientists and mathematicians. This is why schools like Bergen Academy, TJHSST, and Phillips Exeter produce a disproportionate amount of math majors at top schools like MIT, Harvard. They embrace a problem solving culture that emphasizes creative and logical thought instead of learning straightforeward methods. Einstein did not learn the theory of relativity, he came up with it. If you consider math and science to be knowledge of methods then any one of us is smarter than Einstein and Newton because we have knowledge of current science whereas during Einsten and Newton’s era these theories haven’t been thought of yet, however, I will be the first one to admit that Einsten and Newton is smarter than me even if I do know a couple of things that they don’t. Science and math at the highest level is not about knowledge, it’s about creativity. I understand the importance of teaching our kids basic arithmetic etc… but simply that will not cure our nation’s math and science woes.

  19. 9:22am

    Not sure what you are talking about, but Bergen Academies is not using reform math, but traditional math.

    And the “finance math” or perhaps old fashioned computation is not being taught either. That is why our kids can’t make change or calculate percent.

    If you are trying to say TERC is higher level stuff, that is hogwash.

  20. the parents that are asking for real math do not discount the need to be creative in thinking. However, 9:22, we recognize that children require the fundamentals from the start of their education. These tools/building blocks will help them to be creative thinkers when their brains are developmentally capable for that… after adolescence (according to brain research and studies). One last thing 9:22, the percentage of Einsteins and Newtons running around today are miniscule. Using these two men to validate the need for our children to discover academia for themselves is 100% nonsense!

  21. To both 10:59 and 12:12 I am not defending TERC methods. AS I said in my post TERC teaches neither creative thought or knowledge. You’re right Bergen Academy is not using reform math, for the regular kids, they use what we use in high schools, however, they have special math team practices (you can go to them for free on Saturdays and Sundays) that emphasize creative and logical thinking. I’m sure many of you have read about the lack of math and science majors in America. Is that to say that the countries that we are competing with are genetically superior to us in math and science? How do any of you know that your child is not gifted in math. Our children do not need to discover academia (until research) but they need to prove and understand where all the formulas they use come from to understand the subject better. Simply finding patterns is not enough, one needs to look into why the patterns are the way they are. The chinese and the russians have outperformed us at the International Math Olympiad because they do not accept defeatism and the idea that my child is not good enough. We need to man up and stop accepting mediocrity and believe in the intellect of our children because if you look at the kinds of students that Russia and China produce, Sputnik Crisis II is right around the corner. Trust me, your children are a lot smarter than you think they are contrary to what those BS studies say. The Chinese and Russians have realized this, we need to as well.

  22. One more thing, do you honestly believe one cannot become better thinkers? An example is chess (creative and logical thought) do you honestly believe Kasparov got to the point he is at simply on innate talent? If so then grandmasters should stop training because it would be useless. Do you agree that through practice one can become better at a game like chess (math is the same thing BTW). Even if your child is not gifted and doesn’t have the potential of an Einstein or a Newton, why are you shortchanging them by not allowing them to develop to their full potential as far as logical and creative reasoning goes. Now it is you people that are sounding like socialists who want to produce equal outcomes. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Compare yourself to your best effort. Ask yourself, have I given my child the opportunity to achieve his greatest potenital in mathematical reasoning and creative thought? If no, then your child deserves better and simply teaching them straightforeward methods and more knowledge is not an excuse.

  23. 257 i am all for thinking but how can you play chess whithout learning the rules first?

  24. I am not saying do not learn the rules. I’m saying learning the rules is not enough. Plus there are better ways than even traditional math to learn the “rules” of math.

  25. 3:17, you are right… it’s called Singapore Math!Believe it or not a great reform math program with proven results. Are you listening Regina and Dan?

  26. I am a foreign language teacher. My discipline has been experiencing the same sort of argument for years; does one focus on spelling, structure and grammar and sacrifice communicative skills or does one do all communication/listening/speaking and pray that they learn the rest from osmosis? Most of us (age 35 and above, I would say) learned using the former methods, rather than the latter (grammar/translation method). What did it produce? Many people who could not speak an intelligible and useful sentence in their foreign language! As a profession, language teachers still have varying viewpoints, but most will agree that you need to reach an equilibrium- point out the structures, spelling and grammar to give them something concrete to hang their hat on. In the meantime, give them tons of comprehensible input (that is to say, speak in the target language as much as is possible in the classroom, expose them to it out of the classroom, if possible) and have them use what they are learning in ways that are relevant to students their age.
    After all is said and done, you hopefully have kids that, for lack of a better term, OWN the language- at least to whatever extent they have been exposed. Will they be able to converse at a high level about abstract things? Not yet. But, can they ask a necessary question, get the appropriate information, follow a conversation, etc? That is the goal, at least until they chose to continue at a higher level (HS and beyond). So, that being said, I understand what the BOE means when they say balanced. Is what they are offering us truly a balance? I cannot be sure until I see the materials. All I know, is my children have math homework that I myself often do not understand.
    Well, that was my 2 cents!

  27. To the recent poster, beginning 9:22.

    You have experienced a core dump. Not only are you all over the map, you are now arguing with yourself.

    “Einstein did not learn the theory of relativity, he came up with it.”

    Actually, Einstein derived the theory of relativity. And he was able to derive it because he had immense knowledge of math and science methods.

    “Science and math at the highest level is not about knowledge, it’s about creativity.”

    Science and math at the highest level is about both knowledge and creativity. It doesn’t matter how creative you are if you have no knowledge.

    “any one of us is smarter than Einstein and Newton because we have knowledge of current science whereas during Einsten and Newton’s era these theories haven’t been thought of yet”

    First of all, Einstein and Newton were not contemporaries. AE would be offended. And what knowledge of current scientific theory do you possess that had not been thought of waaaaaay back in AE’s time? Please share – math is now a group activity.

    “How do any of you know that your child is not gifted in math.”

    Many parents of non-gifted kids, especially those on the board and in the administration do not want any other children to be designated as gifted.

    “do you honestly believe Kasparov got to the point he is at simply on innate talent?”

    Kasparov has been retired for many years. It doesn’t require any innate talent to retire.

    “there are better ways than even traditional math to learn the “rules” of math.”

    Here’s where you really went into a spin. You think that traditional math is a system for doing math. It is not. I don’t have time to explain everything to you, so here’s what you do –

    No more pep talks or parenting advice to fellow bloggers
    Take time to learn about this issue
    Write back when you have a coherent message


  28. Ah, 5:27 you have gotten to the crux of the debate.

    Right now we have programs which do not emphasis the fundamentals. It is out of balance. Which is the problem.

    The BOE and administrators like to portray the opponents of constructivist math as conservative Neanderthals who oppose progressive learning techniques.

    Nothing could be further from the truth. What parents want is a healthy balance with the solid foundation laid down for their children before moving on to more ethereal mathematical concepts.

    This is not an outrageous request. There are math programs like Singapore and Saxon math which do just that.

    If we need to “supplement,” a math program lets do so at a rate of 80% to 20% not as we do now using 20% TERC and Everyday Math and supplementing it 80% of the time with older proven curriculum.

    We have it exactly backwards in this district and that is why parents want it changed.

  29. 4:15 Singapore math is what you would use to help your child learn the “rules”. Again I will say this, Artofproblemsolving is what you would use to help your child learn the “game.” No other math program I’ve enountered besides AOPS stresses creativity, I do not believe Singapore math is any different. Show me any problem in a singapore math textbook or any other math textbook that you propose that asks you to prove something like (x^3 + x) is always divisible by 3. Singapore math is great, but it is not enough. It would serve your child well if after they learn a subject, you supplement them with some proofs in that subject so they understand why not how the subject works.

  30. To 7:55. You hve no idea what I am talking about. Bringing up the fact that Kasparov is retired just shows you simply don’t understand what I’m saying. Yes he is retired but certainly it is not very easy to become World Chess Champion off innate talent is it. And no, many people have knowledge like Einstein and Newton did, but were not able to derive the theory of relativity because they could not reason the same way. The same way a lot of people know the rules of chess but do not have a 2800 rating. Also let me see, just about everyone of Hawking’s theories were not around during Einstein’s time. Newton did not know relativity. Sure I can recite the same few words from the book but then again so could anyone. Knowledge is one part of research, but then again why would anyone need to recite the same facts over and over again. Traditional math teaches you a formula and asks you to plug into it 50 times for homework. It is exactly the same thing as making you recite the rules of chess 50 times, pointless after the first time. You’re better off spending the time you wasted on reciting the other 49 times playing the game itself than mindlessly reciting the rules. Also if you are interested in something you will remember it better, show me how traditional math generates interest in students so that they learn the subject better. Surely I would not be very interested in plugging into the same formula over and over again. Grigory Perelman and Terence Tao are two examples of IMO gold medalists who have went on to win the fields medal. Now name the people that have won the fields medal using your “proven” curriculum. The fact that you admit that traditional math isn’t “doing math” ends this conversation.

  31. 8:21 AM,

    It is obvious to all that you failed English comp. Why should we take anything you write about math seriously?

    Have you ever heard of using more than one paragraph when writing?

    Jame Joyce you are not.

  32. 8:34, what does this have to do with math? By your logic no one that speaks English is good at math so I guess there are no good Russian and Chinese mathematicians. Like you said, many parents don’t like the idea of gifted education. How can you say that if you are branding the BOE (and I’m not defending them) as “socialists” who want to equalize results.

  33. Also sorry from my post in 8:07 it’s supposed to be (x^3 – x) just a typo, but that is besides the point.

  34. 8:21 AM aka 9:07 AM,

    “Like you said, many parents don’t like the idea of gifted education. How can you say that if you are branding the BOE (and I’m not defending them) as “socialists” who want to equalize results.”

    Not only do I not have a clue as to what you are referring to, you must be confusing me with another poster? I never wrote any such things.

  35. Ok, sorry I thought you were 7:55. What I’m saying is knowing math is only the first step and does not take 12 years of education to master. I don’t think whether I write in 1 paragraph or 10 paragraphs have anything to do with this discussion.

  36. “I don’t think whether I write in 1 paragraph or 10 paragraphs have anything to do with this discussion.”

    No, but it does make it easier to read and thus follow your arguments. Not to mention its proper form.

  37. To 9:22…..11:54.

    Hi Alfred, it’s me, 7:55.

    Actually, I understand everything you were talking about. You, on the other hand, did not grasp my post at all. The fact that you would cling to the Kasparov quip, and couldn’t see the sarcasm, indicates that you take yourself too seriously. We could also do without the constant name-dropping. Perelman? Tao? So?

    The point was that you were slobbering all over yourself bombarding us with point after point in your Kerouac style. Take a breath.

    I haven’t read any post that opposes mathematical reasoning or creative thought. Everyone I know believes that one can become better through practice. Everyone I know does want their children to develop to their full potential. Unfortunately, our district has introduced remedial programs that frown on practice, and do not allow kids to reach even half their potential.

    You make the same mistake that many people make. You equate traditional math with a system or style of doing and/or teaching math. This is just flat out wrong.

    People calling for traditional math want the standard algorithms, facts, strategies and methods. They are referring to content. Just like the math panel concluded. Here are a few of your comments:

    “there are better ways than even traditional math to learn the “rules” of math.”

    Traditional math is not a way to learn rules.

    “Traditional math teaches you a formula and asks you to plug into it 50 times for homework.”

    Math does not teach itself. BTW, not only is this a gross exaggeration, but if teachers have taught like this, then do a better job of training them.

    “mindlessly reciting the rules” more exaggeration.

    “show me how traditional math generates interest in students so that they learn the subject better”

    Math does not sell itself, put a good text in the hands of a good teacher and kids will learn the subject better.

    “Grigory Perelman and Terence Tao are two examples of IMO gold medalists who have went on to win the fields medal. Now name the people that have won the fields medal using your “proven” curriculum.”

    I’m sure these guys learned their multiplication tables, and I doubt they use the lattice method. In fact, I’ll bet every medal winner had learned traditional math. Do you know of any exceptions?

    “We need to man up and stop accepting mediocrity and believe in the intellect of our children”

    You are absolutely correct!

  38. “We need to man up and stop accepting mediocrity and believe in the intellect of our children”

    Well, that’s pretty sexist…
    Wouldn’t pass muster on Sexual Alladay, now would it?

  39. 3:38 you are right on most points. I am not opposed to learning algorithms etc… but I am saying learning algorithms is not enough if you can’t prove why the algorithms work. Now as an example, the problem I posted above, is just one case of the fact that the product of n consecutive numbers is always divisible by. This is because multiples of n are distributed in increments of n. (eg for 3’s, it would be 3,6,9,…) thus the product of 3 consecutive numbers ((x^3 – x) = (x-1)x(x+1)) spans over a multiple of 3. The point isn’t whether you are able to solve this problem or not, rather it is to think about it and gain insight through thinking. In fact, most math contestants are lucky to get even 1 problem right on the IMO. Doesn’t solving a problem like this one help one understand divisibility and multiples of a number much better than what is taught in Singapore math? This is not out of the reach of the common person. Your child can understand what I just explained, man up and do something about it.

    If you still aren’t convinced, here are some of what AOPSers have gotten on their SAT’s. The majority of them took it in 7th or 8th grade. Your child can do this too, you just have to believe in them.


  40. Transcript of Op/Ed piece by Gavin Cunningham in the Friday, October 31 edition of The Ridgewood News:

    As many of your readers are aware, the Ridgewood Public School District has made a committment to select an elementary school textbook or program for use in all schools, and to plan a professional development and implementation rollout to begin in the 2009-2010 school year. Along these lines, I attended a Ridgewood District Math Planning Team meeting on Monday night and participated in one of the many small group discussions facilitated by a member of the District administration. My comments to the facilitator and to the other district parents in my group reflected my disappointment with the math programs currently in use at my son’s elementary school (Travell) and at the middle school he will eventually attend (Benjamin Franklin).

    Some of the district personnel I spoke to on Monday may have recalled my comments at the public microphone during the ‘kickoff’ Math Night in January. That evening, I expressed my frustration with the fact that none of the valid criticisms of the district’s K-8 math instructional program being offered in earnest by district parents and village taxpayers were reflected in any real way in the public remarks of the assembled Board trustees, district administrators, and school principals. I further explained that I was beginning to question the wisdom of my decision to purchase a home in Ridgewood and send my two sons and one daughter to the public schools here. This despite the fact that, as a graduate of Hawes Elementary, (then) Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, and Ridgewood High School, I am well aware of the excellent reputation the village holds in public education generally. Commenting on what I considered to be a mere “math appreciation” curriculum in place in Travell and BF middle school, I expressed my concern that by the time my children reach seventh or eighth grade, the inherent weaknesses of these math programs will have deprived them of a real chance to pursue a rewarding science, technology, enginering and mathematics (STEM) career. Having myself earned a Engineering degree at Pennsylvania State University, held an engineering design position for four years with an aerospace engineering firm in New Jersey, attended law school at night in Newark, and finally begun a career as a patent attorney in the tri-state area, I felt confident my opinion would hold at least some weight in the minds of those present.

    Since that time, much has transpired, both locally and nationally, some of which (including the results of the recent Board of Ed elections) may indicate a certain level of satisfaction with the status quo, but most of which has reflected a wholesale rejection of constructivist approaches to elementary math instruction. In particular, the Presidential Math panel, in its recently released final report, not only emphasized math facts automaticity and subject matter mastery as two critical goals for America’s K-8 math instructional programs, but further singled out the wide spiraling approach employed by Everyday Math (Willard/Somerville) and like curricula, such as TERC/Investigation (Orchard/Travell), as being particularly incompatible with such goals. In light of these developments, I have become increasingly concerned with the fact that the Ridgewood district is actively considering standardizing on a constructivist-type curricula for K-8 mathematics instruction.

    One gentleman (a district parent) in my small group at the Math Planning Team meeting expressed general satisfaction with his childrens’ collective experience with Everyday Math in his local grammar school, as well as with another constructivist-type mathematics curriculum (Connected Math Project II or CMP II) that is beginning to predominate in the Benjamin Franklin and George Washington middle schools. His fear was a return to what he described as “rote learning” in our schools, which he believes would detract from the goal of encouraging our children to think creatively. I have heard this argument repeatedly, and have no true quarrel with it. Unfortunately, the term “rote” is usually delivered as a means of squashing debate. In other words, and in my experience, those who wield the term “rote” seem to think that if they can somehow get that label to stick, there will be no need to come forward with any specific information or analysis to prove that the detractors of constructivist math programs are espousing a return to the ‘bad old days’ of boring drills and mindless memorization.

    That being said, I have to admit that, at least as of Monday night, I couldn’t point to a valid option in terms of a full-featured math curriculum suitable for purchase by the district that skeptics like the aforementioned gentleman could easily support. For example, and regrettably, I have concluded that the domestically-distributed curriculum developed by the educational ministry of Singapore (Singapore Math), and which that county has used to go from “worst” in the 1970’s in the Far East (including a rock-bottom $300 per capita income) to “first” in recent student math performance rankings (as well as handsome economic gains), is still basically a “foreign flag” curriculum that is unlikely to be attractive to the administrators of a top U.S. public school district like Ridgewood.

    Since then, and with some digging, I learned of a new alternative elementary mathematics program being developed for the U.S. market based on the corresponding elementary school program in Singapore. A division of the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Great Source) is currently working with Marshall Cavendish to offer what appears to be a comprehensive curriculum called “Math in Focus” that will be available for use in U.S. classrooms from Kindergarten through fifth grade beginning in the Fall of 2009. Based on the information I have seen so far, the program will be rich in math content. (This is an area in which constructivist-type math programs have come under heavy fire.)

    Descriptions of the in-development Math in Focus curriculum state that it will use a problem-based approach to achieve greater depth of instruction and improved mastery of basic math concepts. Similar to Everyday Math, Math in Focus will start with concrete examples and problems, and move on to pictorial representations before shifting to powerful abstract concepts and techniques.

    Based on my background understanding of the Singapore Math program, once the abstract concepts and techniques are mastered, there will be little to no further use of concrete and pictorial techniques. (In my view, this is a sensible approach, akin to removing the training wheels from a child’s bicycle once they have shown that they are capable of riding freely.) Provided Math in Focus stays true to the mission of Singapore Math, any student requiring intervention to maintain grade-level achievement will receive supplemental instruction during fourth and fifth grades, so that by sixth grade, each and every elementary school student will be prepared to transition into higher level math subjects with relative ease.

    Math in Focus is already attracting attention in major school districts. An organization called Columbia Parents for Real Math created a Petition to the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Phyillis Chase entitled “Math Excellence in Columbia Missouri Public Schools”. The Petition, written Ms. Michelle Pruitt, has attracted a total of 647 signatories. Ms. Pruitt has apparently accused the Columbia Public Schools administration of violating district policy because its Elementary Mathematics Program Evaluation Committee is presently considering only two programs, namely, Everyday Math and Investigations (second edition). In a June 1, 2008 letter to the Editor of the Columbia Tribune, the Committee denied the charge, claiming that they are actively considering “[a] third program called Math in Focus – the U.S. version of Singapore Math.” Interesting.

    Anyone with a stake in the current math debate should take the time, as I am doing, to explore whether Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s new Math in Focus program will meet our needs here in Ridgewood. For those of us, like me, who do not favor adopting either of Everyday Math or Investigations, a lot will depend on whether the final product comes through on its promise to employ rich math content to deliver both depth of instruction and mastery of basic math concepts. In the meantime, the publisher is offering to bring an onsite workshop to any interested school or district. The cost (about $4,500 for up to 60 participants) appears reasonable, particularly given the importance of the issue.

    I urge the Ridgewood district to follow the lead of the Columbia Missouri public schools in actively (and publicly) considering Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Math in Focus program for purposes of a district-wide rollout in Fall 2009.

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