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School Districts Abandon Math Investigations

By Greg L | 2 March 2009 | Prince William County | 37 Comments

This week the Prince William County School Board will again consider “opt-in” for an alternative traditional math program.  Just in time, the parents at “Teach Math Right” have documented that about half of the school districts touted by the publisher of the program have dropped it.  About the same time, the Institute of Education Sciences has concluded that Math Investigations is relatively ineffective at teaching math compared to other instructional programs available today.  We’re staying with this program, but why?

Don Richardson would do well to drop his instinctive distaste of what parents are telling him and start paying attention to what they’re saying.  Clinging to studies funded by the publisher is going to get a whole lot more difficult as enraged parents dig further into the questionable data that underpins the claims made by Scott Foresman Publishing.  When a significant proportion of the school districts that still use Math Investigations are doing so only because they’re getting federal or private grants to do so while the remainder have largely abandoned the program, keeping fuzzy math in Prince William County doesn’t make much sense.

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  1. Groveton said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:32 am:
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    Well done multimedia video. My kids don’t go to school in PWC so I’ve been watching this from afar. It sounds like the anti-Math Investigations people have a point. But more importantly (in my mind) is the style of communication used in this video. It was clear, crisp and made a very understandable point in an understandable way. Today, Republicans lack the money to fight the Democrats in a traditional media battle. However, there is good news. So many people are active on the internet future capmaigns don’t have to be traditional media battles. TV advertising money does not have to be the major (sole?) factor in winning vs losing. Videos like this can cut the political funding gap and bring Virginia back to being a two party state.

    Well done.

    What software did you use to create this multimedia presentation? Did it take a long time?

    For a more detailed take on this idea, please see teh Dec 13, 2008 post on Grovetonsvirginia blog entitled, ESPN Saves RPV


  2. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:36 am:
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    Unfortunately, Mr Richardson seems to think MI is effective here when it is failing everywhere else.
    He says his staff overwhelmingly supports it. That must be why they did such a snow-job over the work session answers to questions.

    More parents need to let him know how they feel as he represents us not the math department.

    And while we are at it, why is the math department web site on a private domain owned by Donna Stofko rather than the .edu domain?
    Different rules of disclosure and honesty perhaps?

  3. Kim Simons said on 2 Mar 2009 at 7:43 am:
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    Unfortunately I don’t think our school board will vote to change anything. Word on the street has Trenum, Johns, and Covington in favor of choice; Lattin, Richardson, Ramirez, and Otaigbe opposed to choice; and Lucas undecided.

    Why is it that the school board seems all to willing to continue lying to parents and other community members about the content of the program? Dr Otaigb’e motion, which has been further watered down to the point where it’s really a shameful waste of paper to print it, will have no effect on improving the math program in PWC.

    I wonder whether school board and school officials will have the courage to stand up and defend their decision or whether they’ll continue to hide behind promises of a blended curriculum. Because we all know that promises of a blended curriculum are a lie. I find it shameful for elected officials to be so comfortable spreading it.

  4. anon said on 2 Mar 2009 at 8:13 am:
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    The good news seems to be that anti Math Investigations parents are making progress. Just a year ago, Trenum was the only school board member who seemed to be against Math Investigations and now we’re almost at half the board. Keep up the good work.

  5. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 8:40 am:
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    It’s hard work when Don Richardson says his staff support it and it will cost to much to administer even with the current proposal which manages it at the school level.
    That’s just an excuse for not admitting they made a mistake. It is a bigger mistake not to act now.

  6. Anonymous said on 2 Mar 2009 at 9:11 am:
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    But how would Mr Richardson know any different? The only people who have spoken against the program are parents. Teachers overwhelmingly support it. Administrators and central office staff love it.

    What basis does Mr Richardson or any other school board member have to believe that the difference is anything more than simply between the professional educators and parents? Not a single teacher or Principal has stood up and stated that the program is sub-standard or that choice could work. Not one.

  7. freedom said on 2 Mar 2009 at 9:54 am:
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    First of all Anonymous, what teacher or Principal would dare publicly buck the establishment? They know where their bread’s buttered…and they kinda like having a paycheck.

    Secondly, I believe you’re a bit quick to pit “professional educators” against parents. Who is it that is responsible for these children afterall? No one is more responsible for the welfare, development and education of a child than Mom and Dad. Just whom do you suppose will be there to explain why they’re having difficulty with basic arithmetic later on in school, or why they can’t get into college or why they can’t get a job just because they don’t know basic math? It certainly won’t be “the professional educator.”

  8. anon said on 2 Mar 2009 at 10:07 am:
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    I remember Ms. Covington saying that many teachers had called her upset about it but felt like they couldn’t speak. There was a also a survey which showed that many teachers did not like it. Maybe they don’t feel they can speak out or they will be punished. Think about the guts it would take to go and speak. You would have your principal mad at you, the math department watching your every move and it probably isn’t worth the risk during a time of budget cuts.

  9. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 10:12 am:
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    Anonymous, if teachers overwhelmingly supported it, they would have said so on the survey; they didn’t.
    Why are the schools asking 2nd grade parents to teach math facts at home? Because they are not learning them under MI.

    Mrs Covington said she had heard from many teachers that didn’t like MI. The last associate super that was appointed was a strong MI advocate; which side do you think it’s buttered on.

  10. Anonymous said on 2 Mar 2009 at 11:31 am:
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    I’m quite sure our teachers are under pressure to keep their mouths shut. But by refusing to speak out, they are contributing to the problem. School board members like Mr Richardson, Mr Lattin, Mrs Ramirez, and Dr Otaigbe don’t hear from teachers who hate the program - they hear from Principals and teachers who love love love Investigations.

    The math survey results weren’t reported to the school board in full and were discounted by the math department and Superintendent because SOL scores weren’t in when the survey was completed and the program is new and no one likes change.

    If our teachers really want to be given control over content again, if they really believe the Opt In can be effective then they need to speak up. By remaining silent they are giving their tacit approval of maintaining the Investigations program as it is currently implemented.

    Yes, speaking out is frightening. But I’ve done it. So have many other parents. It’s time for our teachers to show some courage a speak up.

  11. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 12:15 pm:
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    If they email Dr O, Mrs Ramirez or Ms Lucas, I think they would be safe. Mr Richardson can probably be trusted as well.
    It would be good if they could speak out in public but I doubt that will happen.

  12. Greg L said on 2 Mar 2009 at 12:37 pm:
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    Don Richardson can be trusted???? What would make you believe that?

    We’ve seen Richardson
    - say parents are defaming him when they point out that the school system may not have followed regulations when adopting the Math Investigations program, and hint at suing them.
    - tell parents to “start acting like adults” when they question what the school system is doing.
    - dismiss out of hand the idea that some teachers don’t like the program but fear reprisal if they speak out, something which Ms. Ramirez has acknowledged is a problem.
    - tell parents they aren’t providing facts when they’ve been doing so for two years, including providing studies he refuses to read.
    - attack parents for emailing him.

    I’m sure you have some basis to claim that Mr. Richardson is trustworthy, I just can’t imagine what that might be. I suppose he hasn’t assaulted any parents, if that counts.

  13. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 12:42 pm:
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    Only that his approach has softened; I think he somewhat believes us and knows his political career is on the line.
    I think he would honor a trust and I want to encourage teachers to let him know how they feel.
    I want to get over what has happened previously in the vain hope of getting him on our side.
    Admintting a mistake might be difficult for him though..

  14. Monster_Mom said on 2 Mar 2009 at 12:55 pm:
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    Not gonna happen. Mr Richardson, whom I think is a very nice person albeit a little hot headed at times, supports continuing Investigations until sufficient data can be gathered to conclusively demonstrate it’s performance, either way. He has a valid point that one years data is insufficient to demonstrate trends. His children, from what I understand, are grown so the experiment doesn’t affect him in a personal way and he can look at from a scientific standpoint because his children won’t suffer any ill consequences as a result of the program.

    Unfortunately, what Mr Richardson doesn’t realize is that many parents don’t want their children to be lab rats and would prefer an alternate approach for their children. I’m kind of at a loss to understand why he’d oppose choice. The Investigations program could continue unabated for those parents who prefer it and parents who don’t care for the program could enroll their children in a different program.

    Mr Trenum’s revised motion reduces the probability of transfers between schools and keeps costs down. It seems like a win win to me, but Mr Ricahrdson, Mr Lattin, Mrs Ramirez, and Dr Otaigbe are all opposed to it.

    I really don’t understand why.

    . It would probably show demonstrably better results when the parents whose children are enrolled in it actually believe in the program than when half the parents think it’s a waste.

  15. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 1:05 pm:
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    Except of course that all the involved parents would immediately switch.
    If the SOL results suck in August, what are they going to do then?
    Sorry, we now realize it’s bad but you have to do another year of it because we bought the books already..

  16. BoysMom said on 2 Mar 2009 at 1:22 pm:
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    Some would. Others would remain in the program. Again - the issue is one of parental choice and whether parents deserve a choice in how their children are educated when faced with controversial programs.

    SOL scores aren’t released until August. Instructional materials are purchased in March. By then it’ll be too late to implement any sort of substantive change to the program and parents and students will have to accept another year of substandard math. Though I’m quite sure school system officials will bend over backwards explaining how the scores are an anomaly and not representative of the program as a whole and they’ll promise to make changes blah blah blah…and our school board will smile and go along with it because that’s just the sort of lemmings they are.

  17. anon said on 2 Mar 2009 at 1:34 pm:
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    “His children, from what I understand, are grown so the experiment doesn’t affect him in a personal way ”

    There are only two board members with children whom math investigations will affect and that is Mr. Trenum and Mr. Johns. Both of them seem to be strongly in favor of traditional math choices, so what does that tell you.

    The only board members who will have to actually deal with the impact of substandard feel good math are strongly opposed to it. If I were the other board members I would listen to the fact that the two who have the most to lose are worried about MI, therefore I should be worried about MI for all the other children in the system. What is wrong with these people? It seems only Johns, Covington and Trenum have any common sense.

  18. CONVA said on 2 Mar 2009 at 1:34 pm:
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    If these brain surgeons are so bent to change to a different math curriculum, why not incorporate those that the Chinese and Japanese use? Their students have been at the top of every international survey since they have been taken. Or maybe they need teachers that understand the traditional method to the degree necessary to be able to teach the subject.

  19. freedom said on 2 Mar 2009 at 1:57 pm:
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    I don’t have school-age children and therefore, I can’t speak to the problems or successes of Math Investigations. However, I CAN speak to experimentation with a child’s education…get ‘em off on the wrong foot and they’ll just never catch up. I have an adult nephew who grew up in California public schools and to this day, can hardly read due to an experimental reading program back then. Phonics? Nope…”word shape” was the new thing of the day and it failed miserably — the “lab rats” never recovered, never!

    This whole thing is really so much larger than Math Investigations. As every day goes by, I get sicker and sicker of the attitude, “We’re government, we know what’s best, we’ll take care of it.” I wonder when you parents are all going to realize that when your children turn five, your job is to turn ‘em over to “the professional educator,” shut-up, and “spectate”!! Of course, if we had a school voucher system, things would be a bit different, wouldn’t they?

  20. Monster_Mom said on 2 Mar 2009 at 2:10 pm:
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    I’m the daughter of public school teachers and seriously considering home schooling. I’m not sure vouchers will get here in time to help my children.

    Oh - the math program that’s shown such tremendous results is Singapore Maths. It’s never been submitted to or reviewed by the VA DOE for content match with our standards, but I use it at home to teach my children and it’s wonderful.

  21. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 2:35 pm:
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    As do I. I hardly have to ask my son to work on it and his 5th grade sister loves playing teacher with him. She can teach from it so I’m sure our teachers could manage it..
    He is doing multiplication and division in second grade and learning his times tables. In MI, they have been memorizing doubles so they can get close to the answer. Pathetic.
    And board members that are engineers and math teachers can’t figure this out?

  22. FOIA said on 2 Mar 2009 at 3:12 pm:
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    The math teachers have been told to support MI or find another home. This school district is run like a totalitarain government with Walts at the top and a bunch of puppets acting as a board.

  23. AWCheney said on 2 Mar 2009 at 4:22 pm:
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    “It seems only Johns, Covington and Trenum have any common sense.”

    It should be noted that Betty Covington has a long history with the Prince William County school system as an educator before her retirement…which speaks volumes to the fact that she is not enamored with MI. Given this fact, it is not surprising that she is a board member to whom the teachers opposed to Investigations turn…she would know exactly why those teachers are reticent to voice their opposition publicly.

  24. Loudoun Insider said on 2 Mar 2009 at 5:09 pm:
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    What a crock. Public education these days is a trainwreck and is being led by special interest lobbyists. This Math Investigations BS is just another example. Keep up the good work fighting this, PWC.

  25. anon said on 2 Mar 2009 at 5:46 pm:
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    “Why are the schools asking 2nd grade parents to teach math facts at home?”

    Maybe because there isn’t enough time in the school day to drill these facts over and over.

    And maybe it’s because that what GOOD parents do anyway - without having to be told.

  26. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:04 pm:
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    But it was not needed with traditional math. Basic addition facts do not normally need to be drilled at home. Times tables, yes.
    There was time in a day under the previous math program; my other child went through it.

  27. ateacher said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:05 pm:
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    It’s not the teachers but the curriculum gurus in central office who decide to introduce the newest and greatest method to solve the problem of low test scores. In my 12 years of public school teaching I’ve undergone countless training for the newest system for teaching reading and math. And just as teachers wrap their minds around one curriculum system a “newer and better” way of teaching pops up, and there is a new round of curriculum to learn, new supplies (which are many times the same supplies already owned by the schools) to purchase, new training sessions to go thru etc. It’s like re-living the Emperor’s New Clothes every 4 years or so. However, the best teachers that I know are the one’s who just take the newest system, pull out the parts that they know will work, combine them with the best practices they know already work, and continue to use a blended system. Good and seasoned teachers smile and nod, do what they know works, produce good test scores, and are not bothered by administration to adhere to a single curricular format. They know that when the high paid consultant from the publishing company comes to observe, you do the dog and pony show. Then go back to using what years of experience has taught really is effective. If PWC or any other jurisdiction really wants to make an impact on test scores, they will pull their most effective teachers together and have them write up the methods by which they teach their subjects well. Those teachers would then educate other teachers about what really works. Then the county could save millions in supplies and consultant fees from publishing companies, and teachers, especially the new ones, could have some ideas of good lessons, lessons that have been proven to be successful in their own school system, with the students that they work with. I’ll get off my soap box now:)

  28. sceptical said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:12 pm:
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    And the trouble is that the math department is so enamored by MI that they threw out all the good stuff and forced the teachers to do it their way.
    It has taken 3-4 years for seasoned teachers to get back on track but the new ones are never going to figure it out.

  29. Leatherneck said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:27 pm:
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    “Professional Educators” are the problem–not the solution. Fire them all.


  30. ateacher said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:32 pm:
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    Define “professional educators”. Central office staff? School board members? Teachers? If you fire them all, if by definition you mean all three listed above, then with whom would you replace them?

  31. Leatherneck said on 2 Mar 2009 at 6:51 pm:
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    Central Office staff? Probably OK, although they probably are burrowed-in brown-nosers, at least in part.

    School Board members? Yeah, they bought into this farce.

    Teachers? Hard one. Some yes, some no. They’ve grown used to kissing so much butt that they (at least some) probably have no capacity for independent thought any more.

    To answer your question more directly, I have to point the finger at Don Richardson and his ilk.

    Look: I don’t have a dog in this fight, since my kids are grownups. But they were educated by PWC schools and did OK in college. From what I’ve seen and read and heard from my younger co-workers at the Pentagon, this program is a loser. Whomever bought it and pushed it should be–well fired is probably the worst allowed.


  32. Anonymous said on 2 Mar 2009 at 7:13 pm:
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    The program was brought to PWC by the math department. They are the ones who subverted the textbook selection process to ensure that Investigations was selected, they are the one who have mislead the school board and the public about Investigations performance in PWC and content, and they are the ones who are pressuring teachers to keep quiet. They are also the ones leading the defamation campaign against the parents who have dared to stand up to them.

    The Superintendent was hired after the textbook selection process was well underway, however, his reassurance that Investigations had been highly successful in his old school district did convince a few board members (Mrs Ramirez among them) who were worried about how controversial the program is. He has also allowed and even encouraged the PWCS staff to willfully misrepresent the program as blended when there is no blending going on at all.

  33. wineplz said on 3 Mar 2009 at 4:16 pm:
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    Good thing I was a good math student…I have a good chance at teaching my children the traditional math skills that will stick with them into adulthood. I feel bad, however, for other parents that aren’t as strong in math and will be frustrated that they cannot help their children when they bring home this pathetic excuse for math curriculum. Guess a lot of parents will be in the market for good traditional math tutors soon.

  34. Monster_Mom said on 4 Mar 2009 at 11:56 am:
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    Funny question - Exxon Mobile is funding the 26 PWC teachers getting their TERC math specialist designation. Those teachers have been promised positions as math specialists once they received their TERC certificate - which means PWC will have to hire 26 new classroom teachers to replace the 26 who will be TERC specialists and no longer be assigned to a classroom.

    That’s about $1.3 million in additional salary expenses each year to provide TERC specialists. I wonder, will Exxon Mobile be paying for that, our will PWC has to cut another program so that we can have 26 TERC specialists?

  35. Mad Mama said on 4 Mar 2009 at 10:04 pm:
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    Both of my kids are struggling with MI. My husband who was a Math and CS major at Virginia Tech reviewed the program and it is his belief that PWCS are failing our kids by teaching them improper math structures, formulas and processes.

    His comment about MI - “It is just English with numbers.” “That program is not about math and it does not teach the kids what real math is all about.”
    “Pull out my math books and we’ll start working with the kids.” “I’ll be damn if they end up failing advance math in MS and HS because thier ES failed in teaching proper mathmatic formulas, processes and structures.”

    So, I was just wondering….how many parents are subsidising their children’s education at home because our school system is failing to do their job?

  36. sceptical said on 5 Mar 2009 at 11:08 am:
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    I certainly am; My son in 2nd grade has just finished Singapore 2A doing multiplication and division in 2nd grade.

    He enjoys it, it challenges him but also reveals weakness in his math recall due to lack of practice.

  37. Anon2009 said on 6 Mar 2009 at 8:33 pm:
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    I bet the top performing countries in Math/Science are not doing Math Investigations!!! Why are we not using the math programs those countries are using?

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