Short-Changed By New-New Math
The public education cartel would gain much by using methods from business and industry, but instead refuses to learn from others, or even from its own mistakes. Decisions in public instruction are rarely, if ever, based on pilot studies; control groups; customer (pupil) needs and (parental) satisfaction. FedEd does not discriminate against new, untested methods, even those lacking any sign of intelligent life or logic. A new method might short-change, or even destroy children, but is put into wide usage, nevertheless. This indiscriminate acceptance of experimental curriculum has resulted in the depreciation of academic standards, and achievement.
When products are sent to mailboxes, handed to shoppers, or offered at very low prices, consumers are given chances to try new items with little or no risk to household budgets; producers are given opportunities to assess follow-up sales and make decisions regarding marketing, production and distribution. It has been decades since my parents received a free bar of Dove soap, and purchased a 19-cent bottle of Western salad dressing, but our households are still faithful to those products. The business strategy worked and benefited those on both sides of the exchange.
Such a process does not exist in public education, so parents and taxpayers rarely have knowledge of the educational 'samples' being considered; no idea if the new product or idea is educationally valuable and has been objectively and rigorously tested for soundness. Schools foolishly make decisions to remove successful curriculum which has passed the test of time, and replace it with experimental curriculum which has had no rigorous pilot studies, passed no peer reviews, and could actually compromise a child's educational opportunities. Such decisions would not be tolerated in the free market, and worse yet, these anti-consumer, anti-education, decisions are not even limited to public schools.
We removed our son from public schooling in the middle of third grade due to the failure of his school to meet his educational needs. We then enrolled David in a Christian school where he received the most outstanding math instruction that I have ever witnessed. He attended a 3rd/4th grade split classroom for one and one-half years, and his fantastic teacher, Mr. Warners, taught the processes, logic, and marvels of mathematics. David made up for time lost in the public school, and learned concepts and processes far above the expectations for those grade levels.
(David is now a 9th grader and has been homeschooled for 3˝ years using Saxon Math materials. He has completed Pre-Algebra, Algebra I, Algebra II, a separate Geometry course, and is half-way through Advanced Math: trigonometry and pre-calculus. In each of these classes David has frequently announced, "Mr. Warners already taught this to me!" David was able to prove each claim — he did, indeed, already possess the higher skills.)
Parochial school; successful math curriculum; wonderful teacher; educationally advanced students; happy parents — few schools could hope for such a positive response to their programming.
Then, the Chicago Everyday Math salesperson appeared on the scene. This person must have been very skilled and manipulative, a "Professor" Harold Hill (The Music Man) type, for the school administrators were deceived into believing that this strange new math program would improve upon the teaching of Mr. Warners. The administrators decided to toss out successful curriculum, and replace it with the infamous Chicago Math.
Chicago Math comes from those same people who replaced the successful phonetic teaching of reading, with sight words, 'Dick and Jane,' and whole language. Astute teachers and parents are angrily aware of how the Dewey methods have really 'fixed' reading instruction. It was unfathomable that any educator would trust the Dewey folks to next 'fix' math instruction. (Odd…my father always taught me, "If it isn't broken; don't fix it.")
So David moved up to fifth grade but down to Chicago Everyday Math.
David's math skills declined with each passing month. He lost all automaticity in division processes; developed calculator dependency; and received low grades. His prior 'delight' in mathematics turned to scorn and unhappiness. His workbook was a mess but the teacher never checked them, so kids, using ink pens, worked a couple examples, copied the rest from the board, then scribbled or drew pictures. The poor grades turned out to be my fault — I realized too late that the lousy "Study Links" that I threw away every night, considering them some kind of foolish busywork, were actually the homework assignments.
David said students were threatened with, "If you kids don't behave and work, I'll get those old math books out of storage and you'll see what math really involves!" David kept wishing the teacher would make good with her threat and put the old math books back into use. By second semester, David was pleading with us to homeschool him and my husband decided to take early retirement to stay home and teach this intelligent, curious son.
Many people, concerned about public education, wonder why parents continue to enroll their children in public schools and trust these failing institutions to make solid, scholarly decisions, especially in light of track records and bad press. The reasons for this 'seeming' parental trust are varied, but usually fall into one or more of these categories:
The parents are too busy to be bothered with parenting or its underlying responsibilities, and are just happy to see their children enrolled for full days — someplace/anyplace — to end the costs of day care.
The parents lack any other choice, and feel unable, financially or academically, to homeschool.
The parents were educated in public schools and are undereducated, themselves. They do not recognize problems and inconsistencies when they see them, or when they do notice and object to the dumbing down of their children, they are unable to effectively express their concerns, and argue their points. (Someplace I read that the Graduating Class of 1967 was the last lucky group of students. I suspect the statement may be quite accurate.)
The districts keep the parents unaware; disguise true failure rates with inflated grades; and discourage any questions from alert, concerned parents and taxpayers. (The usual line from administrators is, "You are the only parent who has complained about this." Don't believe it!) At least one district published course descriptions that specified "Saxon Math" books as part of the math curriculum. The district does own Saxon math books, but those are kept in the storeroom while progressive fads fill the instructional hours. Parents do not notice the 'bait and switch' unless they are especially attentive.
The state departments of education cover up real failure rates in math instruction by constantly realigning (i.e., lowering) the criteria and score ranges to show 'acceptable' skill assessment and reporting. It is my understanding that a student in Michigan can earn the coveted "1" ranking on the MEAP test with a sixty percent (60%) accuracy rate. (In my special education classes, 59% is a failing score.) We have been told that the MEAP is being rewritten and that criteria will again being 'realigned.' One can bet that the standards are not being raised.
It is difficult for me to observe this from inside the system, yet be powerless to make any modifications and improvements. I have voiced numerous concerns and complaints. When I read of new statistics regarding declining math scores due to high failure rates involved with the new-new math curriculums, I provide copies to administrators and math teachers. My concerns are ignored. I never understood why schools would stubbornly continue to use inferior materials and methods in the face of repeated, public embarrassment over the failure of math instruction. It seemed inexplicable.
However, one day I overheard math teachers discussing the seven (7) year contract that districts sign with Chicago Math, and learned the answer to my question. "Do you mean that, if Chicago Math curriculum fails to even adequately, let alone expertly, serve the needs of our students, we cannot stop using the materials because someone in the district signed a contract?" I asked. The answer was in the affirmative, leaving me shocked and angry, convinced that the individual who betrayed students and parents in this way should be fired and sued.
Consider the implications of a national educational philosophy that not only condones the use of substandard instruction and materials, but participates in the buying and selling of contracts that limit and diminish the educational opportunities made available to the very children the district is being paid to educate.
How dare anyone, let alone a textbook company, demand a seven-year contract for the right to control the educational offerings to children? How dare the contract holder then provide materials that bring about a rate of failure so rapid that state departments of education will obfuscate and realign statistical information? How dare any district — public, private, or parochial — sign such a contract, without full parental knowledge and written approval, then provide our children with experimental instruction that appears to be detrimental — both to their current well-being, as well as to their potential for successful advanced education and employment?
Indentured servants received better terms. They agreed to the contract of their own free will; they understood the terms of the contract; and they could expect their freedom at the conclusion of the contract. Our contract-educated children will never gain their freedom, for the years of dumbed-down curriculum and instruction will have damaged their minds beyond repair. These students will never recover from their loss, and will never reach their God-given potential.
I cannot help but agree with John Taylor Gatto and Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt — these decisions to permanently damage the minds of our population must be purposefully made by someone sitting in some unseen place of power. So many bad decisions in public education, across so many decades, with many 'new' methods simply being earlier mistakes recycled under new names, could not be a coincidence. There has to be planning and purpose behind the movement, and the goal must be to prepare our children for lives at the lower strata of society. Those unseen 'powers that be' have probably decided that their own children, educated in their privately supported prep schools, will be numerous enough to serve the mathematical and scientific needs of the Collective State. Our children need not apply.
Our children are being short-changed, and the contracts that deny them the right to fine educational opportunities such as Mr. Warners presented, seem to be binding. Our children are growing up uneducated, illiterate, mathematically retarded. Our children are expected to set no higher goal in life than to labor in one of the numerical job classifications detailed in the School-to-Work legislation and follow-up documentation. Those who created those job lists — want laborers with capabilities that are limited to doing simple, 'everyday math' problems. Uneducated, limited children will not develop into adults who might threaten the power structure or the class system. Our children, our entire culture, are being short-changed and slowly being destroyed — by illiteracy and by math standards, lowered and controlled, by contract.
Become comfortable with the Brave New-New World, and the New-New Math, or opt out and homeschool so you can teach your children well. Soon there will be no middle road; no fence to straddle. The decisions, the responsibilities, are ours.
March 11, 2003
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of "The Learning Clinic," where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.
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