Friday, April 17, 2009

California Here We Come

Tom O’Brien and Marianne Smith wrote an article entitled Three Strikes about the National Math Panel and much more.  The first part of the paper describes and comments upon three aspects of the back-to-basics movement: the make-up and mindset of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP),the movement’s history in California, and recent “grassroots” activities of the movement in the state of Washington. The second part reports and comments on the principal findings of the NMP report.  We, in NJ, must learn the lessons of California so that they are NOT repeated in NJ.  The authors write:

The origins of the most recent swing of the pendulum toward back-to-basics in mathematics education has been documented in books and articles about the trajectory of education policy in the state of California during the 1990s. By 1999, changes were made in the state’s mathematics framework and academic standards, in teacher professional development programs, as well as to textbook adoption guidelines. The changes were made under very controversial circumstances. The rigidity of these changes significantly affected professional development providers, who must sign a loyalty oath— an agreement to follow the back-to basics California state standards. The California back-to-basics movement has since metastasized through the years to Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, Washington, New Jersey and Utah. Despite claims made by California back-to-basics leadership that their Standards are “worldclass” and “rigorous,” 2007 data show that only 23% of California students are proficient in Algebra I by the end of high school and NAEP data showed 30 and 24 per cent of pupils proficient at grades 4 and 8 respectively. The California grade 4 NAEP results were higher than only 1 of 52 states and other jurisdictions and the grade 8 results were higher than only 4 of 52 jurisdictions.   It is clear that the data do not give much support for the Panel's embrace of California's "world class" curriculum.

 Why, then, do you read in newspapers about how terrible the mathematics programs developed in the 1990’s are and how successful California is? It has to do with an organization called Mathematically Correct, whose membership and funding is secret. Their goal is to have schools, districts, and states adopt the California standards and they recommend Saxon materials as the answer to today’s problems. They are radicals, out of the mainstream, who use fear to get their way.   Their other suggestions included replacing the Standards with California’s “world class” standards; purge the state schools of any "reform" curricula; erase the influence of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics standards; make sure that no decision on math instruction is influenced by any educational research or anyone from a college of education; adopt alternative textbooks, such as those now published in Russia or Singapore; look to mathematicians and "good teachers" while avoiding advice of "mathematics educators" (a rung or two below the night custodian) and teachers whose instruction mirrors constructivist notions, a practice which separates them from the "good teachers.”

Doesn't this sound just like NJ now.  Look at the language.  "world class"  "mathematicians not math educators"  "Singapore"   If we are not united, it is California here we come.


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