Thursday, November 13, 2008

Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns

A November 2008 headline caught my eye: “Media bias a form of arrogance.” In this article, columnist Cal Thomas criticizes the media: “Journalism is the only profession I know that ignores the wishes of its consumers. If a department store found that most of its customers preferred over-the-calf socks to ankle-length socks, would that store ignore customer preferences for the longer socks because the president of the company preferred the ankle-length style? … Yet journalists have this attitude: ‘we know what’s good for you, so shut up and take it’ … In only the rarest of cases are they confronted with their biases and held accountable” (Thomas, 2008).

Thomas must not have any school-age children. Members of the public-school establishment tend to ignore the wishes of their consumers, too.

  • For decades, mathematicians, math professors and advocates have complained about “discovery” teaching styles – yet here we are, awash in discovery teaching styles.
  • For decades, they’ve refuted the effectiveness of reform mathematics – yet here we are, awash in reform curricula.
  • For decades, parents have tried to address their concerns with administrators and board members – yet they’ve been repeatedly and consistently rejected as being uninformed, uneducated, unknowledgeable and alone in their complaints.

On Nov. 5, I went to a Spokane school-board meeting and I asked for five things, including a more traditional track in mathematics. I noted that Spokane’s curricula – all reform – have been heavily criticized by mathematicians, parents, math professors and math advocates; that the state and state’s advisory panel are unlikely to recommend these curricula; that it’s unlikely the curricula are aligned with the revised state math standards; and that clearly, Spokane’s students are having serious problems with basic math skills.

The board president asked a Spokane principal for his reaction to my comments about reform curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The principal replied that as soon as the state stopped revising its math standards, teachers would be able to get more deeply into Investigations and then everything would be fine.

Parents … Please don’t wait for the district to get it together. Find out what your children should know in mathematics, and then either teach it to them or find someone who will. Rise up, speak your mind, demand accountability, insist on respect for your viewpoints, and – failing all else – vote with your feet. Don’t be dissuaded by the false reassurances, non-answers and argument fallacies you’re likely to receive.

Nationwide, parents have said:Nationwide, the establishment has replied:
This approach to mathematics is illogical and counterproductive. Research shows this approach is best. Math might not be your child’s (or your) best subject.
No one seems able to pass the science tests. We were successful in raising reading scores. We’re working on math. Soon, we’ll get to science.
A lot of parents are frustrated.You’re the only one who’s ever complained.
My children need a more direct teaching style.The district is committed to a student-centered approach. Research shows that it builds enthusiasm, cooperation and deeper understanding.
We want more traditional math. That’s only because it’s what you had as a child. Today’s children need 21st-century math. Research shows they get more from “discovery” approaches.
We want more phonics. The students who need phonics are able to get that.
The math curricula aren’t teaching algebra. Students aren’t learning what they need for college. Research says the curricula are fine. Not everyone needs algebra. Not everyone will go to college. The problem is the (money, standards, teachers, students).
We don’t want our young children using calculators or computers in the classroom. They seem to interfere with learning basic skills. Research shows that technology is helpful and exciting to the students. We’re bringing the latest technological advances into our classrooms to prepare our students for jobs in the 21st century.
Teachers are reluctant to speak frankly with me about the curricula. They might have issues or be adverse to change. They might not be successful teachers. They might be insubordinate.
My children need a textbook so they have continuity. We chose programs that align with the standards. The students have the materials they need.
I want my children to have a textbook so I can help them. Today’s curricula use a hands-on, exploratory approach. Textbooks are boring and expensive, and they’re no longer necessary.
The teacher seems to be away a lot. Teachers need professional training in order to be truly excellent.
The constant rotation of substitutes and student teachers confuses the students.
We work hard to choose the best teaching personnel. They do a fine job, and we’re proud of them.
The classroom is constantly being distracted by non-academic events. We want to enrich the environment and teach the whole child. We work hard to choose activities that add to the learning experience.
My child can’t concentrate in these big, noisy classrooms. Has your child ever been tested for ADHD?
My child knows this material because we taught him at home. He’s bored and beginning to resist coming here. Your child’s teacher works hard to find ways to challenge your child in the classroom. We love our teachers, and we appreciate them.
My children are frustrated. They’re beginning to act out a bit. Have you spoken with their teachers? Perhaps they need an IEP (Individualized Education Program).
Fewer than half of the students pass math tests and almost no one passes science.
Those scores might actually be good, depending on where those groups began.
Since 1999, the number of students in Advanced Placement classes has tripled, but only half of them pass the exams. We continue to increase AP enrollment and statistically perform well on the AP exam. Students must have learned something while they were there.
The SAT scores dropped. They didn’t drop here as much as they dropped elsewhere. Overall trends show we’re doing well.
But the SAT is also taken by private-school students, homeschooled students and students in alternative programs. Yes, but studies show that our students are heading into college well prepared for success.
Large numbers of students are dropping out or requiring remedial help before beginning their postsecondary life. It’s a national problem, but students who need remedial help can get it. Our teachers are very good, and we appreciate the hard work they do.
My neighbors have all left the district. They’re suggesting we leave, too.
We haven’t heard that. People who leave us tend to leave because of jobs, lower-cost housing or a normal demographic ebb and flow.
We want regular public conversations with policy-makers.You can send us a letter, call us on the phone or set up a private meeting.
I’m worried about my children’s future in (middle school, high school, college). Your children will be fine because they have you for a parent.

Parents, you see how it is. The best way to know how your children are doing is to look at what they know versus what they could and should know at their age. Have them tested by outside sources that emphasize more traditional approaches. Find out what the gaps are (I believe you will be shocked).

All students need phonics. All students need to know long division, multiplication in a vertical format, exponents, fractions, decimals and algebra. They need to know how to show their thinking – not in writing but in mathematical processes. They need to practice basic skills. They need to be able to do arithmetic without a calculator.

Please don’t wait for the establishment to get it right. Who knows when that will be? As education policy continues to shift under our feet, we must demand the education that our children require and deserve. I’m afraid we’re going to have to fight for it.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Education establishment rebuffs concerns." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

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