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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Guest Editorial: A Victory in the Long War Over Seattle Math Education

Posted by on Wed, Jun 18, 2014 at 6:00 AM

MATH IS HARD But Seattles math wars are harder.
  • AlenKadr/Shutterstock
  • MATH IS HARD But Seattle math wars are harder.

In a major victory for Seattle students, the district’s school board voted earlier this month to adopt a world-class elementary school math curriculum, Math in Focus. Replacing the failing Everyday Math, which is based on group work and self-discovery, Math in Focus is the Americanized version of the celebrated Singapore math approach, which has proven itself both internationally and regionally. Poor math curriculum has crippled the aspirations of a generation of Seattle students, and the acquisition of Math in Focus will enable current and future students to have a future in an increasingly technical society.

The decision to adopt Math in Focus was not without some controversy, and the battle for better math in Seattle (and around the country) reveals weaknesses in the education “industry,” the negative impacts of foundations and moneyed interests, and the often inadequate coverage by mainline media.

American education has always been plagued by fads. Be it the "new math," whole-language reading, the "open classroom," small high schools, and most recently, Common Core standards. The education industry and particularly colleges of education have generally not used scientific methods of empirical testing and rigorous statistical evaluation in their "research," a situation noted in a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences. During the mid-1990s, a new fad hit math education: discovery or constructivist math instruction. In this approach, teaching of proven algorithms and practice to mastery were downplayed, while group interactions, use of calculators, and student “discovery” of their own algorithms were stressed. Supposedly, this alternative approach would lead to "deeper understanding" of mathematics; unfortunately, the opposite occurred.

In Seattle, the district adopted a series of discovery math texts as well as the pedagogy associated with them. In this selection, the UW College of Education was both a cheer leader and an active partner, garnering grants from local foundations. At the elementary school level, such discovery textbooks included TERC and Everyday Math, the latter being acquired by Seattle in 2007, while in middle school, the Connected Math Program (CMP) was adopted. Seattle was not alone in this shift, with many Washington school districts doing the same.

It was not long before the damaging effects of the new curricula became evident.

Students, with rapidly declining math skills, had increasing difficulty moving into more challenging high school math classes, and colleges around the state noted huge increases in the need for remediation of incoming students. College faculty, such as myself, had to "dumb down" our classes as the mathematical and analytical skills of incoming students declined. Parents could not make sense of their children’s homework and employers began complaining about the inability of new employees to do basic calculations. Local math tutoring companies flourished as desperate parents tried to salvage their children's future. And language-heavy discovery math books proved to be a burden for students with poor English skills.

In response to these problems a variety of local math advocacy groups formed, such as Wheresthemath and the Seattle Math Coalition, and improved math education became a hot issue in local school board races. Major districts around the state, including Bellevue, North Shore, and Shoreline, concerned about declining student math skills, dropped Everyday Math and its ilk, moving to more traditional texts that stressed direct instruction of proven algorithms and practice to mastery. Seattle lagged in this transition for several reasons, including the influence of the UW College of Education; the naive support of the Seattle Times for discovery math; the role of rich individuals, several from high-tech industries; and foundations who bought the discovery mantra of “understanding mathematics” without realizing they were undermining their own interests in a mathematically literate population. The bloated Seattle School District bureaucracy included curriculum "specialists"—most without any mathematical and technical backgrounds—who were active supporters of discovery mathematics, partly out of ignorance and partly due to the UW College of Education’s role as cheerleader for that approach.

But slowly, and opposed by the Seattle Times, the Seattle School Board evolved, with problematic school board members being replaced with individuals who both cared about math education and were willing to spend the time to truly understand the situation: Sharon Peaslee, Marty McClaren, Betty Patu, and Sue Peters. Under pressure from a new school board majority, the district’s administration finally moved for the evaluation and adoption of a new elementary math curriculum. But, in doing so it became clear that district curriculum bureaucrats still had a bias towards discovery math, selecting like-minded individuals for a curriculum advisory committee. This necessitated an intervention by the board for the inclusion of a few individuals with broader views. Furthermore, the process was weakened by the committee’s inadequate public outreach, its dismissal of input from the public, and a lack of fidelity to the criteria defined by the school board. The advisory committee provided three finalists to the school board—enVision, Go Math, and Math in Focus—with enVision being their primary choice.

Earlier this month, the school board, based on considerable research and public input, decided on Math in Focus. Not only is this curriculum used in several countries whose students are world leaders in international math tests (like Singapore), but evaluations of the curriculum in Seattle Schools (like Schmitz Park Elementary) produced extraordinarily positive results.

But now the disturbing part. Elements of the Seattle School District administration attempted a rear-guard action, exaggerating the costs of Math in Focus (repeated by the Seattle Times in their story last week) and beginning to organize an illicit group waiver. Fortunately, Superintendent Jose Banda would have nothing of this and stated clearly that all Seattle elementary schools will adopt Math in Focus this fall.

And thus, after more than a decade of using a failing math curriculum in its elementary schools, the Seattle School District will adopt one of the best. But the struggle for a better math education for all Seattle students is not over. Poor middle school math books must be replaced, followed by removing the mediocre “Discovering Math” curriculum in high school. More teachers, particularly at the elementary school level, must possess stronger math backgrounds. Colleges of Education, like the UW, must inform their instruction and advocacy by information based on empirical demonstration of improved outcomes, rather than the latest education fad or their hope for social engineering. But today, we can celebrate a major advance, and Seattle’s children and society in general are far better for it.

When he's not obsessing over math curricula, Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, teaches weather analysis and forecasting, acts as his department's undergraduate adviser, and does research on numerical weather prediction, terrain effects on weather, and regional climate prediction.


Comments (55) RSS

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Hey Dr. Mass, thanks for all of your hard work on this issue!

One other thing to add to your final paragraph: if we are to recruit teachers with scientific and mathematical backgrounds, we need to stop making the profession of teaching so terrible in the first place. Wages need to go up and we need to stop blaming teachers for the ills of society. Why become a teacher when you can make twice as much and skip the political hassle working elsewhere?
Posted by Solk512 on June 18, 2014 at 6:33 AM · Report this
The very best math textbook I ever used was a 9th grade geometry book from 1984. It was 1997, I was in 7th grade, and I thought it was ridiculous that our advanced math class had to use such old textbooks that were falling apart. But they were PURE MATH. No photos. Minimal text. No bullshit blurb text. ZERO abstraction or story problems. Just lots and lots of geometry proofs and equations. (Anyone seen the Senna documentary, where he says "it was pure driving, pure racing." That's how I felt about my 1984 geometry book. It was pure proofing, pure math.)

By the time I got to calculus and college (1999-2006), all my math textbooks were brand shiny new, completely overloaded with text and photos and garbage, and I realized just how great that old geometry book was.
Posted by I feel for kids today dealing with story problems on June 18, 2014 at 6:41 AM · Report this
No more math for idiots. the dumbing down of education has gone on for too long.
Posted by A member of the Tim Hortons crowd on June 18, 2014 at 7:06 AM · Report this
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3/4 - cool responses, now available in both hateful and racially hateful
Posted by UberAlles on June 18, 2014 at 7:34 AM · Report this
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TheMisanthrope 8
As somebody who didn't learn basic math via "discovery" methods, but through a variety of different displays, most of the methods outlined (what the FUCK is that lattice method?!) in that video are ways I do math in my head, without a calculator, a pen, or paper. These techniques are worth knowing, but not at the sacrifice of teaching algorithms. Both should be taught in tandem because one is just a literalization of the other.

Though, I find it baffling that long division and multiplication are 4th and 5th grade concepts now.

P.S. I finished college-level Calc 2 in high school, so I'm not a math moron either.
Posted by TheMisanthrope on June 18, 2014 at 8:12 AM · Report this
Kids should learn math like I did, by reading baseball box scores.
Posted by DOUG. on June 18, 2014 at 8:17 AM · Report this
Reading this makes me so thankful that my childhood school district never signed on to this nonsense. Telling kids to figure out a math problem with no guidance, without giving them any of the needed information and tools, and then not caring whether they actually get the right answer or not is a great recipe for making them unemployable and financially illiterate. Coming up with new algorithms is a task for PhDs who have fully mastered the known corpus, not for children who barely understand how to add.

I'd be interested to know more about why some people remain so attached to Discovery Math despite the overwhelming evidence that it doesn't work. Is it because they're the same people who pushed to adopt it in the first place and they can't bear the humiliation of having been wrong, or are they just hopelessly caught up in a hippy-dippy view of the liberating power of creativity and the stifling oppression of rigorously pursuing the one correct answer?
Posted by Always east coaster on June 18, 2014 at 8:31 AM · Report this
Cato the Younger Younger 11
Math sucks and is hard for many people. "Dumbing" math down was a stupid idea: the solution it to train qualified teachers to teach math in a variety of ways to reach the most students as possible AND bring them to the same level of competence without lowering standards.

That said, Cliff's slight slam to the whole language approach to reading kinda pissed me off. When I was in elementary school in the late 70's early 80's we used the whole language approach and it worked pretty well. Most teachers liked it and would do some "on the side" supplements to the program. But that's the point isn't it? We don't let teachers modify a broad curriculum to allow for the normal variations of teaching that students require. Now days it's all about the test scores.
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on June 18, 2014 at 8:46 AM · Report this
Thanks for the article Professor Mass and I couldn't agree more.

Unfortunately, this decision came too late for my children. I spent years taking my elementary aged child to Kumon when he should have been playing after school. Middle school texts remain difficult and questions are difficult to understand for student, parents and teachers. Some principals allowed Discover Math to be "supplemented" and these schools allowed a complete diversion from EDM. This was the case for my 2nd child and he flourished; no need to go to Kumon on a weekly basis and receive silly plastic toys and licorice sticks that filled my children's teeth with sugar- you know, positive reinforcement and all.

Discovery math does not give quick recall skills that are needed in higher grades. High school students do not know long division, either.

The school district tried to do an end-run around the board's decision, and tried to trump their legal authority. The culture of lawlessness in Seattle Public Schools is nothing new and this episode put a spot light on the district's behaviors.

Kudos to the board for time spent researching this issue. I can't recall a board that spent this much time researching, reading vendor reports etc.
Posted by Kumon Driver and Bald Tires on June 18, 2014 at 8:54 AM · Report this
This is fantastic news.
Hopefully the new curriculum will be given a chance to succeed.
Posted by dirge on June 18, 2014 at 9:03 AM · Report this
@8, I really don't think a racist out of the Tim Horton crowd has much of a valid opinion on the subject of education, considering they never got one themselves.
Posted by GermanSausage on June 18, 2014 at 9:15 AM · Report this
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Supreme Ruler Of The Universe 18
I was among the first classes to start using the New Math during the 1960s. I was fascinated by it all, Venn diagrams and imaginary numbers.

But it wasn't until I started nosing into the mathematics of physics -- specifically quantum mechanics, where these mathematical structures make their real appearance -- that it started to make sense. No, not the math, but the reasons why they were teaching it to us.

New Math was not an education was artificial selection. The Establishment needed to find out which kids could eventually build them bombs...or particle weapons. Everyone else would fall by the wayside like unrequited sperm.

Maybe Common Core is the opposite. Like so many other things today, it is designed to erode, not supply, power to the institutions.
Posted by Supreme Ruler Of The Universe on June 18, 2014 at 9:54 AM · Report this
I just want to chime in about how refreshing it is to read an article that is both masterfully articulate AND objectively concise. It is clearly an opinion piece, with a stated bias... but instead of trying to hide behind false attempts at neutrality or shying away from potential counterarguments, Dr. Mass makes a clear position statement, defends said statement with verifiable evidence, states a potential counter argument and then addresses said counter directly with further evidence! This is an exceptionally refreshing article and I am thrilled to see it on the SLOG!
Posted by SimplyNotClever on June 18, 2014 at 10:07 AM · Report this
The discovery math curriculum has been a nightmare for our family for many years now. My 7th grader is told by her teacher (a discovery zealot) that math is not about getting the right answers, it's about asking questions. I could tear my hair out!

While this change is too late for my middle schoolers, I am very thankful for the next generation! This experience has helped show my kids that elections do have consequences: we worked so hard to get new school board members elected because the Seattle School District does not listen to parents, and feels no accountability to the community it's supposed to serve.

Thank you so much, Dr. Mass, for your advocacy on this issue!
Posted by A Mom on June 18, 2014 at 10:57 AM · Report this
The first time I heard of TERC (one of the purest "constructivist" math texts) was my son's 1st grade teacher, who said "I love TERC!" At that time, I had no knowledge about math texts. For some reason that comment stuck with me. I guess it intrigued me.

Here is my best guess at why so many teachers love TERC and constructivist curricula: These materials - especially TERC -- do not remind them of their own insecurities around math. Research has shown again and again that most elementary school teachers are lack confidence in math, many to the point of being "math phobic."

I believe the theory behind constructivist curriculum is this:
1. Most elementary school teachers are poorly prepared to teach math.
2. Constructivist approach is "teacher proof:" Provided the constructivist approach is used, the children can learn math even if their classroom teacher has a low achievement level in math.

The constructivist approach, in which the teacher is the "guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage" (the latter a reference to the diametrically opposed direct instruction approach), does not depend on teacher knowledge or skill, since the kids "discover" the math concepts on their own. The constructivist teacher's job is merely to set up the circumstances under which students are likely to successfully discover valid mathematical concepts. The teacher does not themselves need to "know the math," they only need to know what conditions to set up, and the curriculum provides the instructions to teacher on what is entailed.

So, the constructivist curriculum, in theory, allows a math-weak teacher to conduct math classes, without their own insecurities in math being roused.

I think this theory would be fabulous, if it worked, since the current reality is that most of our elem. teachers are math illiterate or nearly so.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence of success, and tons of evidence that the theory is a failure.

My son's 1st grade teacher was a techno-phobe, and very likely also a math-phobe, though I don't know for certain.

I think I understand now, six years later, why she - and so many teachers - love TERC and other such curricula, and seem to have a religious belief in the efficacy of the constructivist approach.

signed, A quantitative researcher, math tutor, and member Seattle Math Coalition
Posted by JNE on June 18, 2014 at 11:00 AM · Report this
Poor math curriculum has crippled the aspirations of a generation of Seattle students...

Holy Hyperbole, Batman!

No single way of teaching math is going to work for all kids because one thing science has clearly demonstrated is that different kids learn different things in different ways at different times. As long as kids are grouped by age and forced to (temporarily) memorize types of math they'll never use in their life, the larger problems will remain.
Posted by LJM on June 18, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Report this
keshmeshi 23

I learned long division and more complex multiplication (vs. multiplication tables) in fourth and fifth grade. What, in your view, should fourth- and fifth-graders be learning?
Posted by keshmeshi on June 18, 2014 at 11:15 AM · Report this
Parents who are pulling their hair out: MIF will not by itself lead to better outcomes for our kids. We need the teachers to actually learn more math. So now what is imperative is that the school district establish a high quality professional development program. The program must teach math content (like how to add two fractions of dissimilar denominators, and the conceptual reasons why the procedures work). If the professional development is not designed for the core purpose of raising the level of math achievement of our teaching core, then we will not see any improvement in math scores.

So here is how parents can help now:

1. Write to your k-5 principal, and let them know how happy you are about the new adoption, and that your are looking forward to seeing it implemented.

2. Write to your middle school principal, and tell them you hope that CMP is soon replaced with the grades 6-8 of Math in Focus or with JUMP, and that s/he will support that adoption when the 6-8 adoption process is underway

3. Write to the board, and tell them how important it is that the professional development program emphasizes the teaching of MATH CONTENT, rather than "pedagogy" and rather than how to access the bells and whistles of MIF. The PD needs to be designed to RAISE THE MATH ACHIEVEMENT of our teaching corps.

4. Tell the board that you want the team of district math coaches, and one lead math teacher from each K-5/K-8 school building to take 10 to 15 days of training from Richard Bisk (or from some other expert in teaching math content to teachers). Dr. Bisk has evidence that his 15-day program is sufficient to raise the level of math achievement of even math phobic teachers to such a level that they can become effective teachers of math. My perception is that our district's math coaching core is pro-constructivist and anti-direct instruction. These coaches are supposed to work with classroom teachers to help them become better math teachers. If we get at least these people to take the courses that raises their math content knowledge to the level of at least pre-algebra, then they might be more "constructive," and help to cause a better more effective implementation of Math In Focus, with results that will show up in student test scores

5. Tell the Board that - unless the math coaches are willing to take a course similar to Dr. Bisk's -- you want the math coaches replaced with people that can score at least at the Algebra level on the COMPASS test. The COMPASS test is the placement test for community college courses. All new entrants to the state's community colleges must take this test. You could even suggest that the Board write a policy that sets reasonable minimum qualifications for math coaches.
Posted by JNE on June 18, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this
@21 Maybe if we made grade school teaching a highly desirable profession, instead of making teachers the enemy, we could attract highly qualified candidates who would otherwise pursue more lucrative careers.
Posted by Otherwise we have to work with what we got on June 18, 2014 at 11:38 AM · Report this
@22: I think Ms. Moreaux's classroom results provide strong evidence that you are incorrect. Her results are shown graphically in a new york times article about JUMP math.

enter "a better way to teach math nyt" to find the article.

JUMP is a direct instruction program. The teacher guides are the "heart of the program" and are designed to teach the teacher the math content that they need to have mastered in order to be successful as direct instruction teachers.

As a math tutor, this is my favorite curriculum to teach out of.
Posted by joan_ne on June 18, 2014 at 11:40 AM · Report this
@26, I would never argue that there aren't better ways to teach math. And JUMP seems like a much, much better way. (Thanks for pointing it out, btw.)

My point is that, while JUMP will increase the numbers of young kids who do well in math, there will always be a significant number of kids with no learning disorders whatsoever, who just won't get it until later, because different kids learn different things in different ways at different times.

JUMP is a fantastic thing, obviously, but as long as we have a system that says, "Kids aged X years should be able to do X," we're doing a disservice to the many kids who can't do X right then, but have no trouble a year or two (or three or four) later.

And then, when they get into high school, we tell them that they have to study the kinds of maths that most of them will never use and have no interest in, creating a false sense of lower intelligence and a life-long resentment for the wonderful subject of math.

That said, it looks like JUMP is something that should be in every elementary school in the country.

Posted by LJM on June 18, 2014 at 12:03 PM · Report this

I have a training and experience in quantitative basic research, and in math tutoring elementary through calculus.

You make this assertion:

"My point is that, while JUMP will increase the numbers of young kids who do well in math, there will always be a significant number of kids with no learning disorders whatsoever, who just won't get it until later, because different kids learn different things in different ways at different times."

Your assertion is a testable hypothesis. If it hasn't been tested and verified, then please stop making this assertion. This is not helpful, and from my perspective, not believable in the least. If this has been tested and verified, then please share the peer-reviewed citations that provide solid evidence.

I doubt very much any exists. I am open to be persuaded otherwise, if high quality research exists in accordance. If you haven't got any research to back this up, then please stop making such statements as though they are fact. "Significant:' is a technical, statistical, scientific term. Show me some data from a randomized controlled design, that has statistical significance of a least 95 percent, or stop making stuff up!
Posted by joan_ne on June 18, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 29
Cliff Mass, Math in Focus, Singapore math = Pure Good, All Knowing, Always Correct, Praise Jesus!

Everyday Math, group work, self discovery, new math, UW College of Education = Pure Evil, Pure Ignorance. End of discussion.

What a lot of overheated rhetoric. I've never heard a mansplanation delivered by a more hysterical drama queen than Cliff Mass's screed here.

I think, in spite of Cliff's Manichean worldview and near-libelous accusaations of malfeasance and anti-math conspiracies, he's mostly right, on balance. But it's a lot more complex and a lot closer a contest than he makes it out to be.

If you really think we have a generation of math illiterates and the STEM workers of yore are so much better than the kids today, then riddle me this: how come the kids of today can crack circles around every bit of software security Baby Boomer and Gen X engineers can design? That's a real world battle royale if there ever was one, and the best no-bullshit, bottom line test of generational math, engineering and computer talent. The flood of stolen credit cards and stolen money and stolen secrets is the cage match that is deciding once and for all who is the best. And the old guard is losing.

So yeah, a curriculum should be mostly tilted in the direction rigorous math, classic algorithms, and so on. Mostly. But save the hysterics, Cliff "Drama Queen" Mass.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on June 18, 2014 at 1:27 PM · Report this
No need to yell. When I say "significant," I'm not using the term in a scientific way, it's true. But we know for a fact that lots and lots of kids aren't served by the traditional educational structure, that every year millions of kids hate school and hate the things school requires of them. In a non-scientific way, that seems "significant" to me.

I honestly don't know if it's been tested and verified, but it's either true that different kids learn things in different ways at different times in their lives, or it's true that all kids learn things in the same ways at the same times in their lives. You're not actually asserting that the latter is true, are you?

If there's evidence that the latter is true, I'm open to rethinking my position. However, in my years of teaching, I've experienced too much variety in the kids I've worked with to have come to that conclusion on my own. Maybe all my students were anomalies and, in fact, all kids are able to learn the same things at the same times in their lives, but I'm very skeptical of the claim.

Posted by LJM on June 18, 2014 at 1:36 PM · Report this
MarkyMark 31
But isn't math education supposed to be all about feeling your feelings, creating group consensus, and celebrating diversity? What other skills could you possibly need to prepare you for life?
Posted by MarkyMark on June 18, 2014 at 2:14 PM · Report this
Sorry, that last post was for @28.
Posted by LJM on June 18, 2014 at 2:20 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 33

A very small number of elite hackers is not indicative of a trend. Most American kids are way behind in math compared to our first world peers.


You're making a good argument for why standardized testing is garbage, but I'm not seeing that as a good argument for separating out kids according to aptitude. I wish kids could be separated out in that way, but in actual practice you'd see even more poor kids getting shunted into remedial classes while the rich kids surge ahead. Our system has enough of that crap as it is.

Racist/classist snarking aside, "Everyday" Math strikes me as an attempt to bring all the kids down to the lowest common denominator level, which fucks over the vast majority of kids who do okay in a rigorous math program.

As always, the solution is smaller class sizes so struggling kids can get personal attention from teachers and aides. The solution isn't lowering standards, dumbing down curriculum, or imposing standardized tests.
Posted by keshmeshi on June 18, 2014 at 2:22 PM · Report this
I wish kids could be separated out in that way, but in actual practice you'd see even more poor kids getting shunted into remedial classes while the rich kids surge ahead. Our system has enough of that crap as it is.

That's an excellent point. I don't think it's necessarily the case in all schools, but for those with lots of kids at both ends of the class spectrum, it would have to be taken into consideration. It also depends on what the kids are required to be doing. If we were ever to have a big enough revolution in education that aptitude trumped date of birth in grouping kids, I think what and when we teach, and what is and isn't compulsory would have to evolve just as much, with just as much flexibility.

Then again, I'm all for lowering standards in situations where it helps kids learn the things they need to learn to get by in the world. A teen who can't really read shouldn't be forced to take chemistry if they'd rather use their time to learn how to read. A teen who can't turn fractions into percentages shouldn't be forced to read Moby Dick if they'd rather use their time to learn how to do basic math.

Only individualized flexibility is going to give the most kids the best education available.
Posted by LJM on June 18, 2014 at 2:52 PM · Report this
@26,28 Sing it.
Posted by dirge on June 18, 2014 at 3:05 PM · Report this
LIM@30: Have you taught math in your years of teaching? If so, what grades and what curricula? When did you start teaching? Did your teacher prep program promote the constructivist philosophy?

I suspect that you never taught out of a traditional or balanced math curriculum and/or you are getting kids that have such disparate levels of knowledge coming into your classroom (due to poor prior instruction) that you have to do considerable remedial work before you can teach the grade level content and/or you are expected to diversify instruction due to having multiple instructional levels in your classrooms. (I trust you are math confident and have mastery at least through algebra, unless you say otherwise).

I am interested to know if any of my suspicions are correct.
Posted by joan_ne on June 18, 2014 at 3:35 PM · Report this
Everyday Math was a disaster for my kids...thank god for the School Board. I have been tutoring them with singapore math last year and the results were amazingly good..
Posted by John Friedman on June 18, 2014 at 4:23 PM · Report this
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn 38

Standardized tests are garbage but you trust the standardized tests that say the US is behind other countries? How convenient to trust testing when it serves your argument.

Even if the tests are reliable, other countries only test their best students. The US tests every kid. Over and over and over.

The hackers are a small elite subset? But the engineers building the defenses are not a small group? Not elite? They're a random sample of the whole US population? No.

Both groups are the best of the best, obviously. And the hacking/cracking contest is not a test and not a simulation. It's the real world and it speaks volumes of the supposed superiority of the older generation.
Posted by Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn on June 18, 2014 at 4:36 PM · Report this
Vi Hart for President of Math! Education! For Life! Anyone that can explain addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, exponents, roots, and logarithms in less than 10 minutes ought to be President of Math! Education! For Life!

here's the proof:
Posted by mtiffany71 on June 18, 2014 at 5:33 PM · Report this
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As a math educator the past 15+ years and including 4 years spent using the dicovering math series in high school classrooms, I think there are some misconceptions on this forum about that particular curriculum vs project based learning.
The discovering math series is not about children creating new algorithms, it's focus is on providing a learning environment that fosters discovery in relationships of ideas. In other words, instead of just telling kids the right-isosceles and 30-60-90 sidelength relationships, you provide an opportunity for them to discover the patterns themselves. This promotes a deeper understanding of the content that lasts much longer than direct instruction.
In project based learning algorithms are created by the student in order to solve or aid in the solution of a larger problem.
This type of teaching is much more difficult and requires a truly talented instructor in order to make positive gains.
I have many students in both camps, as well as others, and the reason our students are weak at math(in my humble opinion), is because we don't require enough homework or mastery of content. What we really need is more time spent on math both in the classroom and out.
Posted by Terrybtutoring on June 18, 2014 at 8:09 PM · Report this
When I saw the video from Wheresthemath, the "Lattice method" confused me a bit. That's on purpose, the presenter wants to push the unfamiliarity of the thing.

When I saw the presenter work through the "standard algorithm" and half-remember to carry the one but not really explain why, I realized I was not watching an educator per se.

So I wrote down the lattice example in the video. After contemplating a bit, I wrote down two twelve digit numbers horizontally and vertically on some graph paper, and ran through it mechanically.

It worked on the first try.

Try that in "standard algorithm." Remember to carry the sixes!
Posted by saccade on June 18, 2014 at 11:55 PM · Report this

As long as kids are grouped by age and forced to (temporarily) memorize types of math they'll never use in their life, the larger problems will remain.

And yet we hear so very little about the larger problems caused by forcing students to learn things they will never use in their life in the fields of of literary analysis, or historical inquiry, or foreign language expression, or physical education, or economics, or medicine, or sociology, music theory, or...

Well, you get the picture, no?

Why do we single out math as a uniquely "impractical" subject?
Posted by robotslave on June 19, 2014 at 1:29 AM · Report this
@29 Cliff Mass isn't the one coming across as the drama queen here. Sorry you don't like it when professionals get passionate about the things they spend their lives researching, but you should get over it.
Posted by Solk512 on June 19, 2014 at 8:17 AM · Report this
@29: I don't know if you've experienced the impact of the discovery approach day after day for years as we have in our household-- the intentional confusion, the lack of clarity and guidelines, the obscurity of it. Approaches so ridiculous they would be laughable if they weren't denying my kids a real math education. Sheer frustration has led to tears on many occasions-- for kids and parents! I'm no math slouch, but many times found it just impossible to help my kids with homework. I don't believe Cliff Mass is using hyperbole or being a "drama queen' here. It feels great to read something that validates our experience!
Posted by A Mom on June 19, 2014 at 9:25 AM · Report this
@44, I don't mind professionals getting "passionate about the things they spend their lives researching," but I do mind people who act unprofessionally in their passion. It is totally possible to have a discussion on this topic without resorting to insulting and demeaning language and attitudes.

Mr. Mass has taken a difficult and complicated issue and turned it into an ideological crusade. He portrays those who have different beliefs as stupid, ill-informed and self-serving, when the facts and research are far less clear-cut than he seems to so ardently believe and represent. His strident approach has helped to feed a polarized political climate around this issue, which has caused far more harm than good.

Posted by RationalCenter on June 19, 2014 at 11:59 AM · Report this
47 Comment Pulled (Trolling) Comment Policy
@46 If by "self-serving" you mean "deals directly with the results of a shitty math curriculum" then yes, spot on. Brilliant, you broke the code! Of course, you can't mention a single thing Dr. Mass has done that was actually "unprofessional". It's not demeaning to say "your method sucks and here's the data that supports my claim". It's not "ideology" to say, "years of testing has shown this curriculum is weak", unless you consider "measurement of relevant data" to be an ideology.

Here's what folks like you just don't understand. When you have data in hand showing that a particular curriculum doesn't work as well as another, you don't get to be upset over that. You don't get to be insulted when that's thrown in your face and you have nothing to back it up except baseless complaints about your hurt feelings. You don't get to police the debate with shitty tone arguments. Oh no, he "ardently believes" and "represents" his well supported views, the world must be coming to an end! And you certainly don't get to claim that "things are SOOO complicated" without backing that claim up, and directly addressing the evidence and supported arguments by Dr. Mass.

That's how adults in the real world get shit done.
Posted by Solk512 on June 19, 2014 at 2:05 PM · Report this
@ 48, it's not unprofessional to say "your method sucks and here's the data that supports my claim." Dr. Mass can present his data and his opinion about what works with as much enthusiasm as he wishes. I respect passion in one's beliefs.

However, that passion does not give you license to be disrepectful and demeaning to those disagree with you, particularly when those people have reasonable evidence of their own. We can quite reasonably get upset when Dr. Mass claims that his favored curriculum works better than another, when we have our own data that contradicts his claim. We also can get even more reasonably upset when he claims his favored curriculum is better, and we only support it because we're caught up in a fad, or don't use real "research" (he's quite liberal with the use of the ironic quotation marks), or because we're bureaucrats, or some other perjorative description. These examples from this article are some of the tamer examples of his dismissive attitude towards those who disagree with him.

He simply refuses to acknowledge the existence of data that contradicts his claims, and instead attacks the individuals who oppose his views. *That* is unprofessional, and that's the kind of shit that adults don't do.
Posted by RationalCenter on June 20, 2014 at 8:43 AM · Report this
@49 Then where is your evidence? Your data? Your specific criticisms of Dr. Mass's work and the work of those who support them? You keep going on and on and on about how hurt your feelings are when you won't even discuss your data, your methodology, your research or anything of the sort.

I don't expect you to hash out every last detail but a link would be great! Some references or something! Your complaints contain nothing specific and nothing measurable. It doesn't matter if Dr. Mass is a complete asshole that swears at small children and shits on his neighbor's lawn (he doesn't do either obviously) so long his data is good, his methods are honest and it stands up to scrutiny.

So instead of tone arguments and your hurt feelings, provide that scrutiny. Even if he is a big ol' unprofessional meanie, it doesn't make him wrong.
Posted by Solk512 on June 20, 2014 at 1:06 PM · Report this
@49: I'm unclear on where Mass was disrespectful or demeaning to anyone.
Posted by clashfan on June 20, 2014 at 8:25 PM · Report this
I've been following Cliff Mass's occasional rants on this for years - I'm so glad to hear that his activism has paid off. He should totally be a character in a Marvel sub-universe. One person really can make a difference.
Posted by malwae on June 21, 2014 at 1:42 AM · Report this
@ 50, you're missing my point. My comment was not on the validity of Dr. Mass' point or the validity of his opponents. That's easily checked with a basic Google search and a look at the What Works Clearinghouse website, which will show you that some of the curricula that Mass describes as "terrible" do in fact have valid research indicating the opposite. My comment refers to his use of terms such as "bureacrat" and "ideologue" (his term for Dr. Enfield in one of his blog postings) to categorize his opponents, rather than acknowledge that they are professionals with a different, evidence- based opinion. His comment in this article that most math curriculum specialists don't have a background in math is flatly not true. It may be true in Seattle, but those in most districts have degrees in mathematics.

This doesn't have to be a "war," and it doesn't help work toward a better solution when we use partisan language and attitudes. Civility is just as important a skill as mathematics, and we should be doing a better job of modeling it.
Posted by RationalCenter on June 21, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
@29 Fuck you. My kid was tortured by Connected Mathematics in middle school here in Seattle, as have many many others. What useless crap. It actually inhibited learning math AND English, because the way it is put together intentionally works against clarity of communication. And it you don't get it in a class with 30 students, there is simply no way to work more on your own, because the books are not intended as references for any part of the contents. If you can't say you have a kid with difficulties in math who thrived under this curriculum, then you don't know shit.

What I loved was the instruction I found online in the handbook for teachers from the makers of Connected Mathematics on how to work against parents who complained, because the parents would complain and, of course, must be wrong.
Posted by cracked on June 21, 2014 at 5:53 PM · Report this
@41 How can a student do more homework practice when the curriculum doesn't provide examples of how to solve the problems? How can you grade on whether they can kick the ball at the end of a specific period of practice, when you are hiding the ball much of the time? In a public school setting this method only works for kids who would do well in math no matter what the curriculum. Since public school teachers DO NOT have extra time to give individual kids every day, the curriculum must have a degree of clarity and self-containment that a student who really wants to try can continue to work on it outside the classroom.
Posted by cracked on June 21, 2014 at 6:01 PM · Report this

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