Considering we have heard this for years, its not exactly “news.” You can find the U.S. Chamber report here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007 Providence Journal

**Members of Rhode Island’s highly paid and powerful educational establishment are fond of declaring, year after year, that progress is under way in the public schools. Meanwhile, national surveys by groups that have a less direct personal stake tell a different tale.Thus it is with a new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called “Leaders and Laggards,” analyzing the performance of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report found that four New England states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut — rank among America’s top six in terms of their public schools. A fifth, Maine, fares very well, ranking 16th overall.**

The performance of only one New England state is dismal: Rhode Island, which ranks 16th from the bottom, despite consistently finishing near the top in taxpayer spending per student.

Some of the survey’s results are shocking. Rhode Island:

• Ranks dead last in America — 51st — with an “F” in how much flexibility and freedom it gives its schools and principals, and in its hostility to charter schools. That clearly reflects the impressive political power of its teachers unions, which do not want educators to be free to use their judgment to implement best practices or parents free to choose between schools.

• Also ranks dead last — 51st — with an “F” in creating a 21st Century teaching force. “Rhode Island earns very low marks for its teacher workforce policies,” the report says, citing the state’s failure to test teachers in basic skills or allow alternative routes into the teaching profession.

• Gets an “F” in academic achievement of low-income and minority students. “Only 9 percent of Hispanic 4th-grade students score at or above the proficient level on the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] math exam,” the report says. “The national average for Hispanic 4th graders is 19 percent.”

• Gets an “F” in return on taxpayer investment. “Student achievement in Rhode Island is very low relative to state education spending (after controlling for student poverty, the percentage of students with special needs, and cost of living),” the report found.

• Gets a “D” in academic achievement. Its students rank 4 percent below the national average in the percentage of 4th and 8th graders who perform at or above proficiency on NAEP math exams.

• Gets a “D” in rigor of standards, given the state’s poor math curriculum and its failure “to align its high school graduation requirements with college and workplace expectations or to enact a rigorous graduation exit exam.”

• Gets a “D” in post-secondary and workforce readiness. “The state’s 11th and 12th graders perform poorly on core Advanced Placement exams, and only 40 percent of 9th graders who finish high school in four years go on to college.”

The only thing Rhode Island does reasonably well is measuring how poorly it is doing! (It gets a “B” in “Truth in Advertising about Student Proficiency” and a “C” in “Data Quality.”)

This report confirms what many others have found. It is the umpteenth warning that Rhode Island is failing its students and undermining its economic prospects. Teachers unions have their place, but clearly politicians have allowed the unions’ special interests to take precedence over the needs of students —with the results shown above. A radical change is necessary. Parents and taxpayers must demand it, and political leaders must come forward to lead it, putting students first.

Thank you for your recent posts Mr. Felkner. I certainly hope Hopkinton rejects the bond. I refuse to accept any new school buildings until the school and/or school committee address why we need more structures for a declining population? I also have major problems with rolling mainentance expenses into a bond.

Another issue that has me wound up is over on the Hopkinton Speak board. Ms. Capalbo brought it to our attention that Chariho elementary schools are using a math curriculum called TERC. There are many details, but in my initial review of TERC, along with some personal experience with TERC taught children, I am dismayed to find out that our children are being denied algoritymic learning. If you get a chance, could you provide your understanding of TERC within the Chariho system? If the curriculum is being used, is there any way to find it and get it changed?

Thank you for your continuing efforts to inform us!

Comment by Curious Resident — March 11, 2007 @ 12:01 am |

Chariho uses the TERC “Investigations Math” curriculum. I too am very disappointed with this program and fellow board member Giancarlo Cicchetti has done a great job of fighting this battle. He has not been a proponent of any particular curriculum but has addressed the problem simply on a student performance evaluation. The bottom line is, regardless of what our standards or curriculums are, our students are not doing well in math (or reading for that matter).

However, without administrative support, it is a tough fight. We need more and more parents to get involved.

I would also suggest that using this new “fuzzy” math would explain why we have down graded our standards (see Thomas B. Fordham report on school standards – http://www.edexcellence.net/foundation/publication/publication.cfm?id=358).

More information on math curriculum can be found at

http://www.wheresthemath.com/

http://www.weaponsofmathdestruction.com/

In a perfect world, we would simply allow the teachers to teach. Put the responsibility on them as they are in the best position to determine what works. But this would require the proper incentives, such as compensation based on performance, something the unions would never allow.

Comment by cspf — March 12, 2007 @ 1:38 pm |

I see on the Chariho website that there is a form that can be used to object to curriculum materials. Does this apply to the TERC textbooks? Having reviewed the program, I find them highly objectionable.

Why is the administration allowed to experiment on our children? I take it from your reply that the school committee has no authority over teaching methodologies? How about individual parents…if my child is being taught using TERC, can I insist that my child be given alternative textbooks?

Comment by Curious Resident — March 12, 2007 @ 4:19 pm |

Yes, I would assume that form could be used. However, I don’t think you can have your child taught from a different book. And I understand why this would be the case. It would be impossible to do so for all students. I would suggest making sure your child knows the fundamentals. Once mastered, these other exercises (clusters, matrix, etc..) will come easier.

When I saw the first video on the new math, I couldn’t help but think that we all do these things. However, we were never taught them. They are just our brain’s way of taking short cuts. But each brain hard-wires information differently, so it would stand to reason that each brain will find its own shortcuts. Trying to teach them would be difficult.

And I wouldn’t call it an experiement, its more like tweaking a good thing trying to make it better. When I posed the question to my wife, “how can administrators choose to use this “new” math” her response was probably accurate. She thought that those in charge were simply sold on the new curriculum by slick salespeople.

Others have suggested that the new math is an effort to make school “fun.” Math normally involves memorization and repetitive exercises. Not always “fun” but effective.

Comment by cspf — March 12, 2007 @ 9:21 pm |

I watched the video with my wife and children, and we all agreed that we use many of these abstractions/tricks inside our head when we multiply and divide…the problem is that without the basic algorithms, once you get beyond a certain point, the abstraction is too complex for the “tricks” to work. We all think that the abstractions, as shown in the video, are a result of knowing math basics, not the other way around. My wife’s experience with local children bears this out as they are extremely frustrated until she is able to teach them the algorithms.

My personal experience with math is that much of it is formulaic and can be tedious, but I’ve seen no reasonable way around the rote learning. While we can use calculators, if students are unable to grasp basic algorithms, they are ill prepared to move to higher math such as calculus and trig.

I do disagree with your wife regarding this not being an “experiment”. Eliminating the basic and traditional division and multiplication algorithms is going much farther than “tweaking”. I find it hard to believe that all the college academics condemning TERC would be this outraged about “tweaking”.

Comment by Curious Resident — March 12, 2007 @ 9:40 pm |

In doing research on TERC, one educator defends this untested curriculum thusly –

“People who demand research to document the effectiveness of reform curricula are either unaware of the history of student performance using the traditional curricula or choose to ignore more than 30 years of widely reported results. In fact, to assume that traditional mathematics programs have shown themselves to be successful is, according to James Hiebert, “ignoring the largest database we have.” Hiebert goes on to say, “The evidence indicates that the traditional curriculum and instructional methods in the United States are not serving our students well.”

http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0111rey.htm

So if my simple mind grasps what he is saying, apparently because some academics are not satisfied with the results of traditional curriculum, it is okay to implement untested curriculum. If this is not experimenting on children, I don’t know what is?

From a 2005 parent petition in Penfield, NY –

“Although it has taken some years for Penfield parents to figure out what is really happening, we now understand. Our students are not learning math! Why? Because they are never taught the math in the first place, and have no reference material to learn it on their own. Because multiplication tables and basic number sense are not practiced by our children in elementary schools, they don’t have the number sense they need in middle school to understand basic algebra and geometry skills. By the time they reach high school, they are ill prepared for college preparatory classes like calculus, and then it is too late.”

From the same petition a student weighs in (notice the expressed frustration which mirror what my wife has encountered) –

“Believe it or not but some of us students want to learn. There have been students who have gone to math teachers and asked them stop using this book and to teach them something and make them learn and understand math. The frustration level is high among the students. We despise this math program. I cannot give you all the statistics on how well the students do on SATs or other standardized tests but I can tell you that the students are not happy with this program; they hate it.”

http://www.nychold.com/talk-penfield-050426.html

Comment by Curious Resident — March 12, 2007 @ 10:19 pm |

I’m working “out of my element” today as my laptop has died (im using my wife’s computer). I’m hoping for a speedy return but when that time comes, I may post some info on this math issue. Thank you for that research and I’ll probably use it on the post.

Comment by cspf — March 12, 2007 @ 10:26 pm |

In discussing TERC with my wife last night, I jokingly suggested that Texas Instrument and Sylvan Learning Center are behind the curtain. TERC seems to have been implemented in many schools without any fanfare or discussion with parents. In my research I came across a 1998 invitation to New England teachers to attend a multi-day seminar in regard to the TERC curriculum. Teachers were offered a $1000 stipend, lodging, meals, two Texas Instrument calculators – from my experience valued at a few hundred dollars – and the trip would occur during the school year. Quite an incentive to be indoctrinated.

I just now came across this helpful website advising parents of strategies to save their children from the deficiencies of TERC curriculum. I couldn’t help but notice that tutoring seems to be the only cure for the TERC curse – http://www.lindamoran.net/blog_teen/2006/01/terc_math_what_is_it.html

“Children exit the TERC math program with a sparse ability to solve mathematical problems in the real world. ”

“If you can at all afford it, get a tutor, or use Huntington Learning Center or Sylvan Learning Center.”

“…once your child is done with his tutoring, all the good math he has learned will not be reinforced in school.”

“…your child will actually be discouraged from using the more traditional means of finding an answer to a math problem. This, in my view, is akin to brainwashing. So have some talks with your child from time to time about the difference between education and indoctrination. Remind him that it’s your job to detect indoctrination, and round it out into education.”

“…those sterling grades your child achieves on his standardized math test do not result from TERC–they result in spite of TERC. It would be a travesty if we all got tutoring for our kids (which is happening in droves in TERC districts by the way) and then the TERC folks pointed to those test scores as evidence their program is working.”

” Make a stink with the school, but only if you can stomach it. Be prepared to be considered a complete dolt–a throwback who wants to return to the one-room school house and the dunce cap. Be prepared for defensiveness. These kinds of extreme programs are often adopted by young, easily impressionable teachers who want to build a legacy.

Such teachers aren’t always wrong, though. The literature program in my children’s school district, for example, will most certainly build well-deserved legacies. I’ve seen fifth graders routinely write better than the college students of old. My personal thanks go out to Narrie Gavarez, an outstanding literature teacher indeed.

Just try and understand that they’re glassy-eyed, and aren’t going to take kindly to your being a killjoy. They’ll chalk you up as neanderthal.

So if you do talk to the school, try not to mention your own math education…”

Comment by Curious Resident — March 12, 2007 @ 10:35 pm |