Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Math Wars: I Guess It's Not Over

Many of you may be aware of the advocacy work of UW Professor Cliff Mass who has worked tirelessly to try to get the powers that be and the public to understand the effects of discovery math (and, as UW professors are some of the end users of the students of SPS, he does have an interest). It appears that even though the vote has gone through for the math curriculum SPS will be using, he is continuing the fight and put out a bit of a smackdown to the UW School of Education which has been waging its own battle. (And Dan D., if you printed this elsewhere, I may have missed it; my apologies.)

Here's a link to the UW School of Education Research page (it has links to the right on Where's the Math). It is headed by Pat Wasley whom I have heard speak several times. Here is her letter to her colleagues on the subject of math education. I have to say I don't agree with many of her views on education so I would tend to side with Professor Mass on this point.

Professor Mass had an interview with Real Change (a newpage written and distributed by the homeless - it's pretty good) about math. Here's an e-mail he sent about feedback on it. It's long so I have highlighted key areas.

 Since my comments to "Real Change" initiated an extended
conversation on math education, perhaps it is appropriate for me to
provide you with my views directly. To put it succinctly, I believe
K-12 math education in our state is in a bad place and a number of UW
faculty involved in math education (that is educating future teachers)
have greatly contributed to the situation. To put it bluntly, some of
us here at the UW are a major part of the problem.

The first question: is there a major problem? I think the answer
is certainly yes. During my career here the math capabilities of
students have progressively declined and hundreds of you have noted
the same thing (last year I circulated a petition on this
the end I had hundreds of faculty signatories). I give a math exam to
students taking atmos 101: most can't do basic math (e.g., fractions,
algebra). Math remediation rates are stunningly high at colleges
around the state and the gross income of tutoring services has
increased over 350% during the last 10 years. Increasingly UW students
wanting to major in atmospheric sciences are dropping the major due to
math issues. I could provide a dozen other examples-- and the
problems are not limited to our state. Many of you have written to me
with similar observations. This is also a national problem. And a
real one.

Virginia Warfield (who wrote to you criticizing my comments) and I
have very different views on the origins of this decline in math
skills. I believe one major causal factor is the ascendency of
"discovery math" -- the theory that students need to "discover" math
concepts for them to internalize them, with lots of calculator use
("technology" in eduspeak), manipulatives, group work, and
talking/writing, rather than calculations. Mastering key skills is
tertiary (often called "drill and kill" in eduspeak). Another issue
is the poor quality of the math textbooks adopted during the past
decade or so (e.g., IMP , Terc, Everyday Math, CMP, and the
Discovering Math series). Some of the worst text books have been
"integrated", whereby the subjects are intermixed and spiralled in a
way that insures superficial learning at best. Many of these math
books have little in the way of equations or what one would call real
math. And they are poorly written and organized. In contrast to what
Virginia claims, there is virtually no competent research to support
the discovery approach. In fact, the National Academy found that
supposed "research" was weak and poorly controlled. In contrast,
there is solid research showing the superiority of the example-based
instruction where teachers show students the proper steps to solve
problems (often derided as "traditional" by the education
cognoscenti). And current math education approaches are hurting
minorities and the underprivileged the most, since they can't afford
expensive remediation and often don't have parents with strong math
skills. Now don't get me wrong, there are other contributors of
course--like the poor math backgrounds of many teachers, weakening of
families, etc-- but poor textbooks and a failed approach to teaching
math deserves much of the blame.

I should note that my understanding of the problem began with my
own children, who had discovery/integrated texts and who were learning
little math in school (when my middle school son could not handle
simple fractions I knew I had problems). Intensive parental tutoring
and Kumon salvaged my children, but it got me worried. About this
time I got involved with a group called (a
state-wide group of parents, teachers and others concerned about math
education--the majority of us use math in our careers).

The K-12 math education community in our state is still
dominated by discovery advocates. They have somehow entrained a
mistaken belief that social justice requires the discovery approach
(as if the underprivileged can't learn the real stuff). The math
education old boy/girl network in our state (e.g., UW School of
Education math education "specialists", some math education types in
the math department) are clearly threatened by the criticism of the
discovery paradigm and current education policies. But the truth is
that their policies are failing. State legislators had enough with
the weak "discovery" math standards of our state and recently improved
them and dropped the poorly conceived and extraordinarily expensive
WASL exam.

Unfortunately, UW faculty involved in K-12 education are
working hard to prevent change and keep their approach in play.
Several UW faculty have grants to foster discovery math education in
our public schools. One member of the education group in the math
department set up a phony web site ( to confuse
individuals intending to view the site (he even used
a university account to set it up!). At a recent Seattle School
Board meeting a UW math education faculty membeer spoke in favor of
adopting the poor Discovery Math series. The School of Education was
so threatened by the criticism of their math education approach that
they published, at university expense, a defensive brochure that they
distributed to state legislators (an online version found at You have to read
this official School of Education document to believe it...they make
fun of the group in their chapter headings, suggest
that architects don't really need to know how to do calculations, and
other startling revelations. Members of the state legislature were so
concerned about UW Education lobbying the legislature with this
brochure that they initiated an ethics violation investigation.
Members of the UW K-12 Math Education enterprise regularly write
editorials and op-ed pieces supporting the status quo. I can give a
dozen other examples of the promotion efforts of the UW K-12 math
education establishment. They are formidable and entrenched.

In short, there is a real tension between UW faculty in
technical subjects who experience first hand the disastrous math
background of incoming undergrads, and those teaching future K-12 math
educators who are following a paradigm that is failing our students.
The future teachers, principals, and administrators trained here in
the UW leave convinced that discovery approaches and other current
educational fads are the future. And it is hard to reprogram them.
The problem, I am afraid to say, is to a considerable degrees ours.
Parents, the state legislators, and others are increasingly
understanding the problem. Are we going to remain part of the problem
or the solution? It is not a little ironic that one part of the UW is
undermining math and science education, while the other is attempting
to train the technical and scientific leaders of the future.

This is not an insolvable problem. There are strong, effective
alternatives to the terrible discovery and integrated math texts.
Books that provide the basic skills, give students lots of practice,
challenge to think creatively about the application of math, and
provides instruction that effectively develops mathematical
understanding . Some school districts like Shoreline are making the
switch. We can insure our K-12 teachers have a sufficiently strong
math background to educate our children. The educational
establishment can allow their curriculum and approaches to be guided
by competent research and empirical information. We can turn this
around relatively quickly I suspect. But the UW K-12 education
establishment will have to change to do so.

..cliff mass, atmospheric sciences

(Professor Mass did give me permission to print this e-mail. He also
mentioned that the use of public funds to print the UW Education Department's brochure
to legislators in being investigated.)


Beth said...

Perhaps it's because we aren't seeing the article in it's entirety, but Dr. Mass doesn't say what curriculum he would like to see. Do you know if he has any recommendations?
What is Shoreline (who recently gave up the discovering series)using for Elem., MS, and HS?

Deidre F. said...

Shoreline never used Discovering, the used CMP just like Seattle did. Like Seattle, they decided to replace CMP with new math materials that better matched the new state standards. Their Math Adoption Committee came up with three finalists, one of which was Discovering. But they ruled Discovering out pretty early on, and eventually adopted Prentice Hall, the most traditional of the bunch.

Deidre F. said...

My apology, prior to adopting Prentice Hall Shoreline was using INT I, II and III for high school math, just like Seattle.

They were using CMP3 for MS. I think they are still using that.

Not sure what they use for EM

Dorothy said...

I didn't see a link to on the UW Ed page. The link I found was to an article that misrepresents old fashioned math as irrelevant drill and kill.

"One member of the education group in the math department set up a phony web site ( to confuse individuals intending to view the site (he even used a university account to set it up!)"

We've discussed the brochure before on this very blog. Dan even got an architect to comment on it. It's quite a piece of work, as I recall. Had this circular argument that students can't learn math the regular way, and that they can't get good math students in the education program because all the students who understand math take more lucrative career paths. I couldn't find the old thread.

Dorothy said...

Found the old discussion

Charlie Mas said...

I read some of the material on the UW Math Education web site, but it was all of a single nature. It reminded me of the bar in the movie The Blues Brothers where they have both kinds of music: Country and Western. They pretend to show respect for both types of pedagogy, and suggest that both are effective, but then they make it very clear that they don't really believe that. It's very clear that they really only like the inquiry-based pedagogy and believe that it alone can bring students to the desired outcome.

After reading for a while the smarmy and clumsy attempt at deception was more than I could bear.

Bird said...

A lot of the content on the UW site is about how we need to end the "math wars" because the "divisive" and "angry" rhetoric is unproductive.

This is a decidedly uncompelling argument. When it shows up again and again in statements made by the defenders of discovery math, I begin to think that they can't provide a strong defense against their critics.

Fundamentally, I suppose it's a reflection of the position held by discovery math defenders. They are currently in the position of power. and so their main interest is to see heated crticism end.

It's silly to call for an "end to the math wars", however. It's not going to sway anyone on the issue. Angry criticism won't abate as long as parents feel like their kids aren't getting a adequate preparation in math. If they want an end to the "war", they need to address the fundamental problems that are apparent to the end consumers of their efforts and to stop framing it all as some sort of misunderstanding.

I'm also amused by the discovery defenders argument that math education has always been problematic -- that kids have always had trouble with math. This is true to some extent, but there clearly has been a fundamental change with the new texts and methods.

My parents generally weren't aware of what was going on in my classes, never helped me with my homework and never gave my math education a second thought. My math education was fine, and I was able to succeed in college and take up a technical profession.

I also had a high school math teacher who was grossly unprepared to teach algebra and geometry, but it mattered little because the text we used back then was straight forward and clear. I just read the books, did the problems and learned my math.

In contrast, I feel like I have to watch my kids' math education closely and be ready to supplement as necessary. Quite honestly, I resent this.

It seems I'm not the only parent in this position. Something has changed for the worse.

I wonder what it would take, at the very least, to let parents and students choose their own pedagogy at least in high school. I wonder how many would choose the discovery texts.

dan dempsey said...

OH WOW .... What more can I say other than this just gets more ridiculous with each passing day.

Here is an edited version of a note I sent to Mary Bass that also included a longer detailed letter and spreadsheet.

Background: David Orbits constructed an amazingly easy to understand graph of Seattle Elementary school 4th grade WASL pass rates (5 year averages) for White Students and low income students along with scores for Black students at about 20 elementary schools.

Here are some of Dave's observations:
#1 ... 12 of 34 Elementary schools with sizable White populations have less than 10 low income 4th grade students.
#2 ... 30 of 34 schools with sizable White populations have almost no Black students
#3 ... 16 of 21 schools with sizable Black populations have almost no White students.
The elementary schools with the lowest 5 year averages for Black students were Rainier View, Emerson, Cooper, Wing Luke, Roxhill, Dearborn Park.
Stevens had an absolutely enormous White - Black achievement gap:
White = 81% ;; Black = 28%
Dear Director Mary Bass,

What can be done about this ongoing problem?
The District just flat out refuses to do what is known to work and the unbelievably bad results just got worse in the first year of Everyday Math use.

On 7-01-2009 I gave you a graph of 5 year averages of the performance of White and Low Income students. It included some shockingly low WASL Math scores for Black students at several elementary schools.

Results for Black students from these schools were among the worst
Emerson : Cooper : Wing Luke : Roxhill : Dearborn Park : Stevens

Unfortunately the Everyday Math adoption brought no improvement to this group as WASL Math 2008 pass rates for Black Students fell from their already unacceptably low rates in 2007.

None of the grade level averages for this group of schools showed improving scores for Black Students.
Here are the changes for year one of Everyday mathematics:
Grade 3 = -7.6 ; Grade 4 = -9.5 ; Grade 5 = -0.28

2008 pass rates for the average Black Students in these schools
Grade 3 = 42.8 ; Grade 4 = 15.36 ; Grade 5 = 28.97

White pass rates for SPS district 2008
Grade 3 = 86.9 ; Grade 4 = 73.9 ; Grade 5 = 81.3

Huge gaps for District white average minus 6 school Black averaged results:
Grade 3 = 44.1 ; Grade 4 = 58.54 ; Grade 5 = 52.33

My Math Update includes material unmentioned in the Central Administration's math update on 7-01-2009, which I found incomplete.

I've attempted to better inform you by including a letter and a spreadsheet both are attached.

When it comes to math decision making at the district administrative level, I hear the word accountability used a lot but have yet to find much of it. I found it particularly disturbing that in the 7-01-09 Math Update several important facts were omitted.


dan dempsey said...


#1 ... On March 13, 2008 the National Math Advisory Panel's final report "Foundations for Success" was released. This report is ignored by the school district. It was not used by the High School math adoption committee. It has had no impact on the district's definition of math nor how the district believes that math is learned.

#2 ... The math update failed to mention the Colossal Math Failure at Cleveland High School in which all of what the Central Administration believes to be best math practices were in use. It is hard to fix a problem when it is ignored. The High School plan for next year bears a lot of resemblance to what was practiced at Cleveland from 2006-2009.

#3 ... The largest ethnic minority achievement math gap is that of Black Students. The source of students difficulty can be traced to k-4 math. The district continues to ignore Project Follow Through's wisdom preferring the SPS defective definition of math and defective belief in how math is learned.
No Gaps were given on 7-01-09; but they are as follows:

2008 Black - White achievement
District Gaps in Math 2008
......Gap .... 6 low performing .............schools gap with ............district white average
3rd ... 46 .. ... 44.1
4th ... 46.3 .... 58.54
5th ... 42.8 .... 52.33
6th ... 50.3
7th ... 48.6
8th ... 47
10th .. 52.3

#4 ... The only results the public has been given are WASL math results. The PSAT test results were never disclosed to the public. The WASL is not much of a math test. It would have been nice to have a public release of PSAT results.

#5 ... There was a good solution available when Everyday Math was chosen on May 30, 2007 but a Quality Curriculum Choice was not made. Now instead of the kind of extremely positive results from the four early adopting districts (1998-2002) of Sacramento, Azuza, Baldwin Park, and Bassett that were attained with low implementation costs, Seattle has ongoing discrimination of disadvantaged learners in math at great financial expense. The same type of direction and related expenses that produced the extremely poor results at Cleveland are now widespread in SPS k-12 math.

#6 ... Preliminary State grade 10 WASL math pass rates indicate the largest decline ever for grade 10 math as the passing rate was reported at 45.26% a drop of over 4 points from last year.

It is extremely unfortunate that a majority of School Directors give so little attention to a proven record of positive results when making instructional materials decisions. The ongoing disregard for NMAP, in my opinion, is Mathematics malpractice.

Failure to heed Project Follow Through and NMAP recommendations contributes to the SPS's ongoing overt discrimination of disadvantaged learners in mathematics.

Thank you for your efforts. It appears that a broader effort from the community will be necessary to stop the SPS discriminatory practices toward educationally disadvantaged learners in mathematics, as thus far even after a decade of worsening results there is no change in SPS math direction.


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

Marty, Da-Zanne, & Cliff's legal action against the SPS needs your financial support. HERE.

dan dempsey said...

The UW and Ms. de la Fuente have been peddling the easily disproved nonsense that the instructional materials are of secondary importance. They say that it is the collaboration among the teachers and the professional development that is important. Along with seemingly every other expensive to deliver option that is what is needed.

At Cleveland from 2006 - 2009 all that was done under the UW's guidance with N.S.F. funding and from WASL 2007 and WASL 2008 the result was catastrophic failure.

At the time of the ill fated Everyday math adoption that did not follow the prescribed district procedure for an adoption as CAO Santorno intervened, results from California were known.

Four early adopting districts Sacramento, Azuza, Baldwin Park, and Bassett all with high poverty and significant ELL populations showed tremendous gains from (1998-2002) as they abandoned reform math. In addition these adoptions were relatively cheap. There was little if any of the large expenditures so common in Reform Math adoptions.

As a member of PD^3 in 2006-2007 I watched the videos from the project schools Cleveland and Garfield. I was the heretic among the Kool-aid drinkers. I did not believe there was much learning taking place as I watched the monthly videos of discovery/inquiry classrooms. I once wrote an email to a fellow PD^3 participant and the reply said do not contact me again with your views. At the time I believed that the WASL Math scores (which is still not much of a math test) would show the majority of PD^3 participants as believers in an illusion. As Director DeBell recently stated: this is a failed experiment being carried and kept alive by those who wish it would work.

dan dempsey said...

Melissa said:
It appears that even though the vote has gone through for the math curriculum SPS will be using, he is continuing the fight and put out a bit of a smackdown to the UW School of Education

Those of us supporting legal action are inspired by the mono-rail failure... it passed and land was purchased. Eventually land was sold.

"Discovering Math" textbooks will be used in 2009-2010. Then when the discriminatory practices and resultant harm to the students is exposed, the books can be sold to the Northwest Textbook depository. "Explicit Instruction" is required.

Had Director Sundquist actually read the 120 pages of NMAP's "Foundations for Success" instead of just parroting back two quotations from an Admin PowerPoint, this entire fiasco could have been avoided.

Remember the definitive document at this point in time is NMAP is was released on March 13, 2008 and the high school adoption committees did not use it. It appears that the four directors who voted for the Discovering Math materials also failed to read it.

There is essentially no concern whatsoever at the Administrative level in this district for what works for educationally disadvantaged learners or any student struggling to learn math.

So now the public needs to raise around $5000 to put this straight because four directors each refused to read and apply the lessons from the definitive document.

This is a true testament to the Superintendent's ability to run roughshod over the public.

Had enough yet? Please make a donation .... pay pal accepted.

dan dempsey said...

Patricia A. Wasley needs to be aware that the UW CoE is extremely counter productive. They were sponsors of what took place at Cleveland.

PD^3 was a collaboration of UW math, UW CoE, and the Seattle Schools math admin. These folks have now clearly demonstrated they can spend lots of money but have no idea of what they are doing.

Look at Cleveland Math scores for 2007 and 2008 math. HERE. Then select for Black Students. Then select for Limited English students.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. The UW runs away from relevant data preferring to Philosophize.

dan dempsey said...

Beth and Deidre F.,

There is still some confusion in what you say. The facts at the middle level: Connected Math Project materials were used by about 65% of middle schools (Thanks to Dr. Bergeson's thoughts on WASL aligned materials) that would be CMP and CMP2.

When speaking of int I, int II, int III, that can mean almost anything. For Shoreline I believe it was Core-Plus just like Bellevue. (someone correct me if I am wrong on this).
Seattle originally adopted an integrated series in 1992 from McDougal Littel. San Diego adopted same in 1995. San Diego replaced it with "Discovering Math" three years ago and is now dumping it to go to Prentice-Hall.

For elementary school 90% of the state uses some flavor of reform math. From 2003-2007 NAEP math for WA had among the largest negative changes in the nation in regard to math gaps for Black, Hispanic, and Low Income students at both the 4th and 8th grade level.

It is just hard to do much worse than WA State when it comes to math.

I wonder if UW CoE will ever come into contact with reality?

The State at this time recommends only Holt for High School, they did not have enough funding to adequately review Prentice Hall.

At this time there are no Refrom Materials recommended for middle or high school use by OSPI.

Key Curriculum Press filed legal action in Thurston County Superior Court on June 2 against OSPI for removal of the "Discovering Math Series" from the recommended list.

dan dempsey said...

Dean Wasley is totally wrong with her own math. Her "Research that Matters 2006" intro on the achievement gap states:
"Minority parents’ expectations are high, but too often, their children’s performances are low. Seattle Public School statistics show that the percentage of children of color who enter high school will increase 10 percent each year over the next century. What percentage will give up and quit? The drop-out rate is a constant worry."
My worry is that Dean Wasley and anyone who proof read this is clueless about exponential functions. Really a ten percent annual increase over the next century. Any clue how compound interest works? Apparently not.

2006 children of color ... guess that means non-Caucasian students.
October 2006 = 57.6%
with Dean Wasley's 10 % annual growth rate ......
57.6% = 2006
63.3% = 2007
69.6% = 2008
76.6% = 2009
84.3% = 2010
92.7% = 2011
102% = 2012
112% = 2013
123% = 2014

So much for the plan for an entire century as in six years the White population has vanished from Seattle.

The really disappointing part about this is I brought this to the attention of Dean Wasley and Pres. Emmert 2 years ago. I guess it is just to difficult to correct mistakes. Apparently lack of number sense is no big deal when talking about "Research that Matters".
Fellow Math panelist UW Dr. Elham Kazemi told me that they definitely got the message. So they got the message but did nothing. Sounds like typical Administrative math responses everywhere in Seattle.

Like I said: these folks are big on Philosophizing and don't give a hoot about data or actual calculations.

dan dempsey said...

Dean Wasley said:
Although their numbers are showing improvement, non-Asian minorities typically score 20 or more points lower than their white counterparts on Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests.

Showing improvement ???... wow what version of the last decade is Dean Wasley using. Clearly she is not talking about Seattle with that statement. In 2008 Everyday math expanded the achievement gaps for every minority in comparison with 2006 data. For over a decade I found pretty much constantly widening Gaps in Math for the SPS. WA is horrible for NAEP math gap expansion from 2003 to 2007. this situation may have been better at one time perhaps that is what Dean Wasley referred to in this 2006 statement.

In Seattle for Black students make that score 40 or more points lower than their white counterparts.

At one time the gap was not that great but over the years with UW help that is what we now have. But at Cleveland 2008 with N.S.F. & UW assistance we find a Black pass rate of 6.3%
and SPS White Tenth graders pass at 68.3%.

That GAP is exactly 62 points lower,
take a bow UW CoE,
Dr King of UW Math the PD^3 director take a bow.
SPS math Central Admin take a bow.

I can find no other school in the state with a gap even close to a 62 point gap between the district's white students average and an ethnic minority at a school.

dan dempsey said...

Wow this lady is so full of malarkey... this is like late night TV ads ... there's more...

The College’s "action research" teams are on the ground, in the field. They’re in high school math classes, facilitating discussions and videotaping teachers as they lead students who’ve received D’s and F’s toward high-level problem-solving.

She must be talking about the stuff that laid the foundation for the Cleveland disaster.... Do you think these folks will ever wake up or take any responsibility?

Please read the rest of her nonsense yourself:
HERE. This lady just wears me out.

Another apparently clueless person of European descent who does not understand the problem or mathematics. God Save Us.

dan dempsey said...

Done with Dean Wasley now on to Dr. Ilana Horne's Fairy-tales.

At the UW it is quite clear that in Math Education the "Spinning of anecdotal illusions" is more important than data.

Consider this: from Ilana Horne ....
"Under a National Science Foundation grant to the UW Department of Mathematics, the university team worked with the high school teachers on revamping the math program, adapting a new interactive curriculum focused on problem-solving, and changing their methods of teaching." ......

"She estimated only 20 percent of students in introductory math classes were engaged participants under the old model. After a year of intense change in her classroom, she estimated at least 90 percent of students were participating."...

Does participating = Learning the necessary material to be mathematically proficient?

How wonderful you can read it all and find not a shred of data. The academic magnet school is Garfield. PD^3 N.S.F. and UW help flowed into these two schools for three years from 2006 - 2009. Check the scores for 2008 when 10th grade students had the full two years of this "Wonderful??" program.

Garfield Black students
2006 28.10%
2007 30.10%
2008 22.50%

Cleveland Black students
2006 8.50%
2007 11.10%
2008 6.30%

Limited English Garfield
2006 11.10%
2007 5.00%
2008 0.00%

Limited English Cleveland
2006 18.80%
2007 15.40%
2008 4.80%

My point is that Make-Believe-Perceptions are sold by the UW without supporting data.

It is time to realize that the incredible math failure of the Seattle Schools is their failure to teach the arithmetic needed to really understand the structure of rational numbers and compute with fractions, decimals, and percents. This knowledge and these skills are required preparation for those wishing to be proficient in "Authentic Algebra". This is the BIG BIG Message from NMAP that the Seattle Schools refuse to acknowledge and act upon.
This is precisely why the SPS high school math adoption decision belongs in Superior Court and needs to be reversed.

How much of this UW baloney will people continue to believe?

Limited English Students passed the 10th grade Math WASL district wide at a 19.5% rate .... but
at Garfield 0.00% and
at Cleveland 4.8%
Great Job UW take a bow.

This sham is well beyond outrageous.

seattle parent said...

7/8/09 7:58 PM
Dan writes:
"This lady just wears me out.
Another apparently clueless person of European descent who does not understand the problem or mathematics. God Save Us."

OK--- after 10 very long posts by the same person this is really getting too much! How does all of his "data" prove his final condescending conclusion that ladies of European descent have no clue about math?

Come on, give us all a break! Since when is it open season to kick all European females in the face? Let's show some respect towards all cultures, all sexes, all religions and all points of views. Some of the best math teachers I've seen are female!

uxolo said...

Math textbook production, and the training required to make use of a bad textbook series is what keeps College of Ed professors employed. Without a failing school system, what would all these people do? Dan's point is that the Dean of the College of Ed has gone to remarkable lengths to try to get a foot in the door of the Seattle Public Schools. And it is not a matter of affecting only future teachers; it is a matter of life and death when it comes to destroying young people's chance at their future (in this case, in anything requiring math competency.) Kids drop out of school when they think they are failures - they don't attribute the failure to the awful instruction.

dan dempsey said...

Seattle Parent,

Sorry for what appeared to be a snarky response. Some of my best students have been females of European descent. Look up Dr. Helen Burn on rate my professor at Highline C.C.

I too have the utmost respect for Women of European descent. The comment was meant in direct response to Dean Wasley's statement about ....
"The challenges to our teachers — more than 90 percent of them of European descent — are staggering, and so are the pressures. As the demographics of our schools continue to change, can our schools meet the ever-higher expectations for achievement for all students?

My apologies if you thought I meant something else.

dan dempsey said...

Another paragraph from Ilana Horn:
""There is this mythology in America of the lone super-star hero teacher, the Jaime Escalante," says Horn, referring to the Los Angeles math teacher made famous in the movie Stand and Deliver. "But you can't do it alone. A single teacher cannot close the achievement gap."

Point #1 ... Jaime Escalante was at Garfield High in East LA for 7 years before any kid passed AP Calc. During those seven years he recruited teachers for Garfield and for the feeder Junior High Schools. He made contacts with Dr. Wayne Bishop at Cal State LA to begin organizing summer programs to support Garfield kids. Let us skip the myths and recall the facts.

#2 ... When I came to the SPS the math program manager and head math coach thought themselves the possessors of a wisdom for teaching kids that surpassed the "Stand and Deliver" mode. You guessed it ... working in Discovery/Inquiry groups.

#3 ... So far the UW and the SPS Discovery/Inquiry crowd have demonstrated how a group can expand the achievement gap with great consistency over an entire decade.

#4 ... If the plan is to close the achievement gap, I'll settle for NMAP recommendations ... "Explicit Instruction" using example based instruction .... rather than just hoping the gap magically narrows.

#5 ... So far we still have an ongoing Math disaster as the Math leadership in the SPS continues to follow the Fairy-Tale plan and is unable to organize a structured plan that actually works. Until NMAP is read and something learned the disaster continues.

#6 ... This is the No Vendor Left Behind plan ... more coaches ... more professional development ... when you buy an expensive defective curriculum it entitles you to buy gobs of stuff in an attempt to make it work.

Dorothy said...

Dan's got a stronger stomach than I do, willing to reread that 2007 brochure. I found it appalling and I hadn't even found the arithmetic error. The tone of don't-blame-us and at the same time we-know-better in such a biased fluff piece. Seriously, anyone who hasn't read this and wants to understand the math wars, put on your critical thinking caps and go for it. I suggest you download the PDF so you can see exactly how the brochure was laid out. Then imagine it printed up in nice sturdy paper. Find a friend who knows something about printing and estimate how much a full color brochure of that size cost to print.

The most telling thing that Cliff or others can ask Dr Warfield is this: The brochure is now two years old and therefore your teachers and philosophy have had two more years to demonstrate success. Where is it? Clearly any educational institution of such high regard as UW would want to produce a high quality study, well designed study, along with the implementation. For sure, because it's those peer-reviewed studies that get published and get professors tenure and get the school in the news. Therefore, where's the study?

If they've spent all this time, all this money, all this effort to revamp and improve mathematics without -- at the same time -- thinking about how to perform a well crafted study to evaluate results in a scientific manner? Well then. That tells us something, doesn't it?

MathTeacher42 said...

At this stage of the game, with 4 years in local high schools under my belt, a few of the sets of problems I see:

1. the reform crowd tried, (which is laudable) they FAILED, (which is o.k. - they tried something and it did NOT work) BUT now they dig in their heels.

2. the reform crowd has infested the decision making bodies so that those who aren't singing from their reform hymnals are chucked outta the church of reform. (I choose all those words carefully.)

3. the reform crowd, from a Socio - Economic Status perspective, they have little in the way of REAL understanding of what life is like for the bottom 80 and 90% - life is NOT seasame street, regardless of how happy and upbeat and postive and kumbaya you're fantasy world is. I'm not going to spend time in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, AGAIN, to find the tables detailing how about 180/205 million of us live on money income belowe 75 grand a year, or 160/205 million live on less than 50 grand - and, by the way - the lower you go, how safe is the neighborhood you live in? how many spend 5 or 15 years at the same job? how many have GOOD health insurance through work? how many have access to the resources for retraining? how many are going to have a retirement of ... $670 a month to live on after working for 40 years as a waitress?

The reform crowd isn't rich like gates or paris hilton or trump, BUT, they're relatively affluent and they're CLUELESSLY affluent - hence the fight to keep their jobs and their relative affluence, and hence the endlessly clueless policies that are of little to no use for those of us on the front lines actually working.

When the epitome of war mongering arm chair warrior incompetent management, Robert McNamara, croaked this week - I was reminded of how deep is the history, in the U.S., of management being completely divorced from the realities of those actually doing the job.

Bob Murphy

dan dempsey said...

Mr. Murphy,

In the excellent Sony Classic film "The Fog of War". Robert McNamara explained his failures. Yup he called them failures.

I am now waiting for "The Fog of Math Ed"


dan dempsey said...

More on The Fog of War
from Wikipedia .

"In a 2004 appearance at U.C. Berkeley, Errol Morris said his inspiration for the documentary derived from McNamara's book (with James G. Blight), Wilson's Ghost: Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Killing, and Catastrophe in the 21st Century (2001).[2] ......
The two-hour documentary comprises eleven lessons from In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam (1995)."

We now need:
In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Seattle's UW inspired Reform Math 1997-2008


Reducing the Risk of Conflict, Innumeracy, and Catastrophe in 21st Century Math through the Intelligent Application of Relevant Data

Where is Errol Morris today?
It seems we need him.

The Good News is Dr. Ilana Horn has left the UW for a career upgrade.

I am sure that she can be replaced with an equally adroit spinner of yarns.

Noun - Singular = yarn

plural yarns

1. (uncountable) A twisted strand of fiber used for knitting or weaving.
2. (nautical) Bundles of fibers twisted together, and which in turn are twisted in bundles to form strands, which in their turn are twisted or plaited to form rope.
3. (countable) A story, a tale, especially one that is incredible.

* (story or tale): story, tale

That is what we have from UW Math Ed... No Data BUT incredible story after incredible story.

These folks true calling appears to be creative fiction. Too many applicants for those "English Department" positions I suppose.

Carolyn said...

I've taught 'problem-based learning' to university students. It really does not work well for math. Why in the world would we expect children to 'discover' mathematical principals that it took mathematicians YEARS to work out?

It's important to learn (and memorize) mathematical concepts, then apply them to simple problems (a.k.a. "drill and kill"), following up with real-life applications to fix ideas.

Why the fear of memorization? I am convinced that the people who are most strongly behind "discovering" math have math phobias. We are setting up a system where the only students who will really learn math will be those with parents who can either teach math themselves or who can afford outside tutors.

It's wrong.

BTW, hubby is an architect who uses basic math nearly every day in his job. I tend toward equations. Who knows where either of us would be now without a quality basic math education.

dan dempsey said...

Thoughts from Mike...

It's telling that Warfield
chooses to demean Cliff Mass’s credibility instead of addressing his allegations on their merits.

Some could logically infer this to be indicative of philosophical & evidentiary bankruptcy in her position.

Dr. Warfield's reply is the equivalent of Nanny Nanny Boo Boo! I can't hear you! You can't talk to me like that!

Since she cannot counter with substantiated facts of her own, acceptance of her recommendations hinge on continued belief in fairy-tales.

Unfortunately there maybe more school directors like the Seattle Four who prefer belief in fairy-tales to addressing reality.

Dorothy said...

Dan, I am confused. Who is Mike? And we don't have Warfield's reply to Cliff posted here. (The link is to the intro to the Brochure, written in 2007) I have read one though, something she posted to the UW faculty list where Cliff's letter appeared. But I don't know if it is kosher to copy it here. She makes it clear in her note that she considers herself a researcher and she considers academic skepticism appropriate. (She also makes a dig at teachers.)

oh what the heck. Read it for yourself. Admins can delete this if you want. I am not a UW faculty, a friend who is sent me the discussion. I won't say who.
Date: Sat, 4 Jul 2009 00:37:23 -0700
From: Ginger Warfield
Subject: Comments by Cliff Mass

If a mathematics education researcher were to dismiss the last half century of research in atmospheric sciences on the basis that its conclusions did not agree with the conclusions he had reached from having experienced a great deal of weather, heard several weather forecasters who were only marginally competent, and found a collection of people who agreed vociferously with his views, I trust that this community would exercise a degree of academic skepticism that is also appropriate here.
Ginger (occasionally known as Virginia) Warfield

I read this as she is stating that the last half century of math education research supports her position. I would like it if she could point us to the published peer-reviewed research so we can see it for ourselves.

Sahila said...

Vedic math has been around for 2,000+ years.... 16 basic formula (sutras) open the doors to all higher math, and youngsters from around 6-8 are capable of understanding, learning and manipulating those formula....

Wonder what benefits (math and otherwise) looking past western civilisation would bring our kids...

dan dempsey said...


Mike and I have seen some of the communications that are not yet public.
If the last half century of weather science had produced anything like the botched math mess created by Warfield and the US crew of delusional Math Ed professionals, I am sure Professor Mass would welcome comments from all. But that has not happened nor will it, because weather science is science. Results are important. There is international cooperation in an effort to make and sustain progress. Weather science is pretty much the exact opposite of what Dr. Warfield and her associates in math destruction do at UW.

Grade 10 WASL 2008 Math 49.6%
preliminary 2009 result 45.26%

No wonder UW math ed has an aversion to data it usually confirms that they are selling us snake oil.

After the Cleveland disaster what credibility Dr. King may have had is gone. Key Curriculum Press is naming Dr King as an expert in determining mathematical soundness in their law suit against OSPI in Thurston County Superior court. Let me see do I think Dr King knows what he is talking about or will I go with the opposing view of the Johns Hopkins University Math Department head, who is currently on the feedback group for the National Common math standards.

Dr King finds Discovering Math sound. My guess is he found the Cleveland program sound also as he created it and directed it.

As long as Cliff Mass stays away from predicting 110 degree weather in Seattle for Christmas 2009 and heavy snow for August 1. He should be OK in his Warfield showdown, unless of course the Four Seattle School directors have votes.

WenG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenG said...

@Dan, everyone: New math adoptions for Northshore. Math Expressions for K-5, and Prentice-Hall Holt for grades 6-11.

WenG said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenG said...

@Sahila: Thanks for posting the Vedic Math link. I've just tried some of the tutorials. They're really fun. My daughter will enjoy them.

dan dempsey said...

Sahila thanks for expanding our knowledge.

Here is the scoop on Vedic Math from my buddy Sudhakar Kudva PhD. born in India & retired from Intel.


Yes, I was taught some of it by my father when I was young. It is based on the AtharvaVeda, one of the four sacred texts passed down orally for thousands of years. Most of the math is based on formulas set into very short two line poems, which are supposed to make mental arithmetic easy (remember, this math was invented before writing was invented). Once writing was invented, more formulas were added. Most of the knowledge was unknown to foreign visitors because the formulas were hidden as codes in religeous hymns, until a recent genius and sanskrit scholar (circa 18th century) translated them and condensed them into 16 overt formulas. These formulas are based on sound algebraic principles, and often times differ from what is taught today as "standard algorithms". This tradition is taught in some families with a long tradition of mathemtics training (temple priests, for example). In my opinion, perhaps this is based on four thousand year old knowledge, it is incomplete when it comes to advanced math. Calculus is absent, for example. Algebra is used to derive the formulas, but is not treated separately as a discipline. Geometry and trigonometry are only superficially treated, if at all. But that has not stopped people in India from using it for its strength - mental arithmetic. For example, I still use the reverse algorithm for adding and subtracting mentally (start with the highest power of 10 first), because it is faster. Many kids preparing for mental math contests in India use some of the formulas as shortcuts, with lots of practice, of course. And it happily coexists with the traditional paper and pencil math taught in all the schools.

I guess this is more than you wanted to know.


Dorothy said...

Vedic Math? Some tricks/shortcuts for special cases of arithmetic and algebra. Not unknown and you'll find some in American Math competition literature as well. But they are simply shortcuts for special cases, not comprehensive mathematics.

Four thousand years old? Not everyone agrees. Myths or Reality: On 'Vedic Math', by S.G. Dani, School of Mathematics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research

"It is not the contention here that the contents of the book are not of any value. Indeed, some of the observations could be used in teaching in schools. They are entertaining and could to some extent enable children to enjoy mathematics. It would, however, be more appropriate to use them as aids in teaching the related
concepts, rather than like a series of tricks of magic. Ultimately, it is the understanding that is more important than the transient excitement, By and large, however, such pedagogical application has limited scope and needs to be
made with adequate caution, without being carried away by motivated propaganda. It is shocking to see the extent to which vested interests and persons driven by mis-
guided notions are able to exploit the urge for cultural self-assertion felt by the Indian psyche. One would hardly have imagined that a book which is transparently not from any ancient
source or of any great mathematical significance would one day be passed off as a storehouse of some ancient mathematical treasure. It is high time saner elements joined hands to educate people on the truth of this so-called Vedic mathematics and prevent the use of public money and energy on its propagation, beyond the limited extent that may be deserved, lest the intellectual and educational life in the country should get vitiated further and result in wrong attitudes to both history and mathematics, especially in the coming generation."

Sudhakar Kudva said...


I think there are a couple of ideas at play here which did not come out explicitly in my brief response to Dan. I think they are a bit difficult to grasp if not put in the proper context. So let me elaborate.

One idea is the process by which mathematics evolved in different parts of the world. The context for vedic mathematics is embedded deeply in the evolution of Hindu religion through the last few millenia in the Indian subcontinent. Most math was used, to give a couple of examples, to calculate the positions of the heavenly bodies so an auspicious time could be found to perform a ritual, or to calculate the exact dimensions of the fire pit used for sacrifices. This is only relevant to a very small population in the modern context, and therefore I believe the reason to pursue it is only relevant to a limited group of people in another part of the world.

The second idea is what should be taught as a mainstream mathematical curriculum in schools, and if any idea from any other part of the world can be used to augment parts of it. This is not limited to ideas from Vedic mathematics, but from all over the world. I have some Chinese friends send their kids to abacus classes, because they believe it gives them a better grasp for number sense (manipulatives, anyone?). But I don't know any who teach it to their kids to the exclusion of traditional math. Similarly, the schools I am familiar with in India do not teach Vedic mathematics in classrooms to the exclusion of traditional math. Everyone gets the same "traditional" math until 10th grade, unlike in many of the states in this country. The TIFR folks are scientists who studied math the traditional way, and they can see the limitations of what has been discovered so far. If there is an attempt in this country to teach "alternate" methods to the exclusion of building mastery in one, then it completely misses my point. In the age of globalization, "traditional math" is the common language of scientists and engineers through out the world, and we will be cheating our kids out of another tool they will need to succeed in their future careers. Once they master it, then it becomes easy for them to play with ideas that evolved in other parts of the world, either for winning contests, enrichment, or simply amusement.

Sahila said...

I'm in a different boat to many other people... I look at math and science and art and music as being foundational aspects of spirituality and creation... all of it is inter-related --- numbers, colour, sound, frequencies - are what the universe is made of... there was an artificial split between math-science/art-music, male-female created by religion around the 16th Century, from which we in the west are only now recovering...

Vedic math leads back into so-called 'sacred geometry', which is what quantum physics is now rediscovering via its own route...

There's some really way out stuff out there that's really exciting to watch being uncovered... and its exciting watching the mainstream 'discover' what alternative and other traditions have known for eons... its kinda sad that there has been so much resistance for so long - but then again there are vested interests in play interested in maintaining the status quo at all levels ...

I know a Finnish mathematician working on an equation for consciousness, and an Australian scientist-artist who's working on principles of negentropy and parallel universes who bases his work on Da Vinci equations he corrected and completed...

If anyone's interested in this stuff, email me and I'll provide the links..

When I think of this stuff and how the universe just sings when the knowledge is allowed to come forward and be recognised and accepted, I am saddened by the limited experience of education - math and otherwise - we give our kids...

We would be well-served to teach the math of other cultures - Vedic, Chinese, Mayan, Celtic, Islam etc... algebra/goemetry - the pyramids, Stonehenge, ancient astronomy.... its not as though only the Greeks figured this stuff out and that humans didnt have any concept of this until the Greeks came on the scene...

SPSMom said...

I am confused. The UW is behind this reform math AND complaining that students need remedial math classes?

hschinske said...

The UW is a very, very large place ... and unfortunately the department that teaches education classes is NOT the department that has to teach remedial math, or that finds themselves constantly having to recommend students for same.

Helen Schinske

dan dempsey said...


To clarify 57 Professors who are involved with teaching freshmen level students in mathematically intensive fields signed a letter complaining about the erosion of math skills that has occurred in entering freshmen over the last 15 years.

The Education professors have yet to admit that any problem, if one exists, is due to reform math materials and pedagogy.

With the publication of the National Math Advisory Panel's report these education professors are becoming increasingly isolated on "Fantasy Island".

On May 6, 2009, four apparently clueless Seattle School directors maintained their positions on "Fantasy Island" by voting for the "Discovering Math" series for Seattle high school students.

Dorothy said...

Schinske! You're brilliant!

Capital idea. It would give the math ed folks some practice and some study specimens. Have math ed take over remedial math.

hschinske said...

"Have math ed take over remedial math."


Oh, lord, no. A few sample classes, maybe, to teach them the error of their ways, but don't offer the poor students up to them altogether.

Helen Schinske

ConcernedSPSParent said...

FYI Sherry Carr has finally decided to
have community meetings;
HERE. ; a good
place to ask some questions on her decision to vote for the reform math.

Also does anyone have references to
research on reform vs traditional
math results?. I've searched but
not found anything I'd feel happy
to use as a reference.

taylor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
taylor said...

Maybe the math discussions at UW have become more politicized...Looks like UW may be trying to fill in-state employer demands by incubating interests for future science and engineering graduates (who need heavy math backgrounds). Has there a been a decline in UW students graduating with these degrees?

Check out the new job posting on the University of Washington Employment web page, UW Hires:
Job #55406 Government Relations/Curriculum Coordinator for Washington MESA (MESA stands for Math, Engineering and Science Achievement and they have heavy hitters on their Board of Directors)

This is a grant-funded position to develop integrated materials (science, technology, engineering, and math) for K-12 use.... They are looking for someone with very heavy math teaching credentials to work in developing elementary, middle and high school "supplemental curriculum materials" that is "aligned with Washington's EALRs" for use in K-12 schools. The government relations part comes with "advocacy" in connection with "travel to schools" and "strategizing legislative campaigns"... "build district and state level buy-in"...

Could this be that the UW science, engineering and math professors are countering the current math trends in K-12 schools and perhaps within their own institution, the Education Department????

dan dempsey said...

ConcernedSPSParent ,

Send me your email and I will send you what you seek.

dan dempsey said...

Since virgins are no longer tossed into volcanoes we must also disallow the following:

"Have UW math ed take over remedial math."

The children deserve better.

dan dempsey said...

Could this be that the UW science, engineering and math professors are countering the current math trends in K-12 schools and perhaps within their own institution, the Education Department?


This is a grant funded position and will hopefully increase student motivation through hands on activities and several outside of classroom projects, competitions, and activities.

Unfortunately improving the defective SPS k-12 math program is beyond the scope of this worthy undertaking.

dan dempsey said...

Two highly esteemed educational psychologists have brought me to enlightenment. They explain how "Reform Math" started as well as why it does not work.

Now the district and the UW really have some explaining to do, if they plan on continuing their nonsense.

John Sweller the father of Cognitive Load theory says.....
For several decades, the dominant theoretical framework of instructional psychologists has been various versions of a discovery learning/constructivist teaching paradigm

Although the rationale made sense as a hypothesis, despite decades of effort no large body of empirical evidence based on randomized, controlled experiments supporting constructivist teaching procedures has emerged with no credible body of evidence supporting the procedure. If anything, the evidence points in quite the reverse direction.

Now what will the SPS do? When one of the pre-eminent scholars states:
When dealing with novices in a domain, there are an overwhelming number of studies demonstrating that learners provided with worked examples to study learn more and perform better on tests than learners asked to solve the equivalent problems (see Renkl, 2005). This effect, called the worked example effect, has been demonstrated on innumerable occasions around the world. It directly contradicts the suggestion that students will learn more if they are asked to discover something for themselves, in this case a problem solution, rather than being presented with the relevant information by an instructor.

I bet the SPS leadership ignores it as they are not connected to reality.

dan dempsey said...

Fads could end with corrected beliefs

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