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BYU Math Professor David Wright on Common Core Math   12 comments

This letter (posted at Utahns Against Common Core) is written by a BYU professor to help Utah legislators know the facts about Common Core math. Other important letters on this subject from other math experts to the State Office oF Education are posted here.

Dear Senators Osmond and Weiler,

I see that Diana Suddreth sent a “Your Action is Needed” email to defend the Utah Math Common Core. She is encouraging letters of support for the Utah Common Core and is concerned that the Common Core is under a “vicious attack.” She is inviting her supporters to send letters to both of you.

As a mathematics professor and someone who is very aware of the details of the Common Core, I would like to comment on what I feel is the awful way the Common Core Math Standards have been implemented by the USOE.

1. The Core was implemented before there were textbooks. In fact, some of those who favor the Utah Core do not even feel that textbooks are important. When I hear Suddreth say, ”And teachers are empowered by creating units of study for students that go beyond anything their textbooks ever provided” I know something is seriously wrong.

2. The Core was implemented before there were assessments in place.

3. The standards do not dictate any particular teaching method, but rather set goals for student understanding. However, the USOE has used the implementation of the new Core to push a particular teaching method; i.e., the “Investigations” type teaching that was so controversial in Alpine School District.

4. Evidence of the type of teaching promoted by USOE comes from the textbook used for the secondary academy, 5 Practices for Orchestrating Productive Mathematics Discussions (Margaret S. Smith and Mary Kay Stein) as one of the primary resources. The book is about the kind of group learning envisioned by Investigations and Connected Math (the sequel to Investigations).

5. The Mathematics Vision Project was created in partnership with the USOE. It has developed integrated secondary math material for the Utah Core. They openly admit that their “teaching cycle” is similar to the model of the Connected Mathematics Project. Here is a statement about their teaching method:

As students’ ideas emerge, take form, and are shared, the teacher orchestrates the student discussions and explorations towards a focused mathematical goal. As conjectures are made and explored, they evolve into mathematical concepts that the community of learners begins to embrace as effective strategies for analyzing and solving problems. These strategies eventually solidify into a body of practices that belong to the students because they were developed by the students as an outcome of their own creative and logical thinking. This is how students learn mathematics. They learn by doing mathematics. They learn by needing mathematics. They learn by verbalizing the way they see the mathematical ideas connect and by listening to how their peers perceived the problem. Students then own the mathematics because it is a collective body of knowledge that they have developed over time through guided exploration. This process describes the Learning Cycle and it informs how teaching should be conducted within the classroom.

6. The USOE does hold students back. This is not the intent of the Common Core, but it is Utah’s implementation. I regularly judge the state Sterling Scholar competition. Almost all of the bright kids take AP calculus as a junior or even earlier because they were taking Algebra 1 by seventh grade. Now it will be difficult to get that far ahead. The National Math Panel made it clear that there was no problem with skipping prepared kids ahead. The Common Core has a way for getting eighth graders into Algebra 1 which the USOE has ignored.

7. The USOE chose the “uncommon” core when they picked secondary integrated math. Hardly anyone else is doing this program. So there are no integrated textbooks except the one that the USOE is developing. I have been told that this is the “Asian” model, but I am very familiar with the textbooks in Hong Kong and Singapore. The Mathematics Vision Project Material does not look like Asian material, it looks like Investigations/Connected Math.

8. There is substantial information that Diana Suddreth, Syd Dickson, Brenda Hales, and Michael Rigby of the USOE participated in unethical behavior in the awarding of the Math Materials Improvement Grant. The USOE chose reviewers (including Suddreth and Dickson) who were conflicted. Suddreth helped the University of Utah choose a principal investigator who was her own co-principal investigator on a $125 K grant . According to the USOE internal email messages, the required sample lesson of the winning proposal contained “plagiarized material.” The sample lesson had “no text” instead it contained 79 pages of “sample materials” (some of which was plagiarized) for a teacher study guide including problems for discussion and homework. The adaptive performance assessment program for the winning proposal was non-existent. The principal investigators redefined “adaptive assessment” to be something that was never intended.

Regards,

David G. Wright

I am a Professor of Math at BYU, but this letter is written as an educator, parent, and concerned citizen and does not represent an official opinion from BYU.

Brigham Young University has a policy of academic freedom that supports the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge and ideas. The university does not endorse assertions made by individual faculty.

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Thank you, Dr. Wright, for your courage in speaking out.

The USOE’s Diana Suddreth has called the movement to stop common core a “vicious attack.”  The State School Board’s Dixie Allen has said that we (teachers and parents against common core) are “creating turmoil in our state.”

In our defense:  1) we do not wish to disparage personally the USOE or the USSB or Governor Herbert’s staff, despite their endless claims, in the face of truckloads of evidence to the contrary, that Common Core is a benefit to Utahns.  We do have much against the fact that as a state, we’ve sold out our kids to common core– to its slashing of local control, slashing teacher autonomy,  slashing the right to amend our own education standards, deleting legitimate and proven academic standards, and ending student privacy.

I would appreciate not being called names, such as special interests, turmoil-makers or vicious attackers –since we have made no personal attacks, and are not making but are losing our personal money in this fight for true principles, our rightful duty to defend;  and since we’re  the ones trying to clean up the turmoil our leaders created by signing away local rights, privacy and standards, without letting us know it.

Personal pride, personal investment in the common core agenda, personal career investment related to the common core agenda, and social loyalties are not more important than LEGITIMATE education standards, student PRIVACY rights, PARENTAL consent requirements for state systems in testing students and in collecting student data, and most of all, they are not more important than constitutional, LOCAL control.

Common Core must be stopped.

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