Reigniting the Math Wars over the Death of Calculus

When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, I was always very good in math, but I was lazy about it. It came naturally to me but I disliked homework so I avoided doing it. When I hit Junior High, I hit a brick wall that really threw me. Algebra was confusing. I wound up needing tutoring one summer and in the end took algebra 1 in 9th grade. By this point I’d been thinking about careers and thought it would be my desire to be an aerospace engineer and a pilot in the Air Force (the dreams we have… :) ). I knew I needed calculus by 12th grade but I would not be able to do it taking algebra 1 in 9th grade. So in 10th grade I doubled up and took geometry and algebra 2 to get back on track and I was able to take calculus in 12th grade.

In Utah, this would have also been possible in the past, but now with the way Utah adopted Common Core it will be extremely difficult for students who are late bloomers or late to get serious about school. Since Common Core, as adopted by Utah, completes algebra 1 in 9th grade, most students will wind up needing pre-calculus in 12th grade after completing Math 3 in 11th grade. Junior high placement in an honors track would be the path to calculus and most children don’t fall into that category. So much for the tech community needs in Utah.

When Utah adopted the Common Core standards, there were two methods for adopting math. Option one was as discrete years of study where algebra, geometry, etc… were taken as individual courses. Option 2 was an integrated approach where these courses weave and blend together each year and students get a little of each subject as they might relate to each other. Utah and Vermont were the only two states in the country to choose the integrated approach in spite of the fact that the public was told one of the great things about Common Core was portability of students between states.

Utah’s educrats at the USOE were warned by BYU math professor David Wright, that in choosing this integrated approach there would be no textbooks available that would provide for this integrated sequencing. USOE brushed his concerns aside and said they would develop the materials themselves. So they hired some of the biggest constructivist-leaning math educators* in the state to produce what has turned out to be utter garbage. I don’t believe any of these people are PhD’s and I recognize a couple of the names as junior high and high school teachers in Alpine School District. These people should NOT be writing curriculum. Imagine 9th graders (especially boys) being excited about math when they get these assignments:

Lesson Titles from Module 1 on systems of equations and inequalities:

Pet Sitters

Too Big or Not Too Big, That is the Question

Some of One, None of the Other

Pampering and Feeding Time

All for One, One for All

Get to the Point

Shopping for Cats and Dogs

Can You Get to the Point, Too?

Food for Fido and Fluffy

Taken Out of Context

Pet Sitters Revisited

These sound like titles for 2nd graders, not 9th graders. You can check it out here: http://www.mathematicsvisionproject.org/

I asked some people from around the country who have worked on standards and curriculum for their review comments on this “curriculum” and this one summed up the situation pretty well.

Sorry. Wanted to help, but there is not enough here to criticize. It isn’t a text or a curriculum.

For starters, you can’t learn anything by reading it.

Dr. Stephen Wilson, Johns Hopkins University Math Professor

Susan Holladay in Idaho commented:

This just makes me want to cry. I hope the State Department increases the I90’s so that we can have plenty of foreigners who can fill our needs in math related industries. What a sad joke!

The constructivist educators are constantly espousing they want children to have a deeper understanding of math and deal with real world problems, yet they give children no instruction or examples to learn or study with. By the time children are done with this math program, these titles may truly reflect real world math problems students are capable of. I don’t imagine we’ll see any titles like “Building the Brooklyn Bridge” (which appears now to have been sold to Utahns).

Parents will also have great difficulty helping their children with math because there are no example problems to remember how to do the problems with. This fulfills the Progressive’s idea of separating parents from children and making teachers the “smart ones” in children’s eyes who know how to solve the problems.

Two separate parents emailed me last week illustrating the death of calculus to be true. The first was a letter sent to the USOE.

Ms. Suddreth,

My daughter is in ninth grade at Wasatch High School, where Common Core was implemented this year.

I want you to know that neither she nor any other ninth grader who took the Common Core math learned anything at all this year.  It was a waste of time, money, and children’s minds!

It may be a surprise to you that Algebra I is assigned to 9th graders under Common Core.  Before, last year, Algebra I was assigned to 8th graders.

Please provide an explanation.  I have seen the words “rigor,” “college readiness” and “high standards” applied in conjunction with Common Core at the USOE website and at our local Wasatch District website.  This is false advertising.

I have made this math robbery very clear to my local board and principal.

They tell me their hands are tied because the state school board has pushed Common Core on them.

Please let me know what you plan to do about it.

   Went to a district meeting this week up here in Park City touting the wonders of the Common Core math which we have been experiencing all year.  In a room full of angry parents, they explained in an attempt to get us to cut them some slack, that the reason the kids really didn’t learn anything this year and only did a repeat of material they already learned (ie: my daughter did 5th grade level math in 8th grade all year) was because the teachers really have not learned yet how to teach this new way of teaching math, and they still do not have any textbooks.  But they hope to have some online textbooks by next year.  When asked why on earth they would start this when they clearly were not ready,  the presenter said it was because the kids now in 9th grade need to be able to pass some test at the end of 11th grade so they wanted them to be ready. When asked why are we so concerned about the tests and not having the proper curriculum to be teaching off of, she totally slipped up and said, “because this is how the FEDERAL GOV’T wants us to implement it.  She practically gasped once it was out of her mouth as if to try and suck the words back in from out of the air and quickly corrected herself saying, “well not the gov’t but the state lead consortium.

They showed an example of some of the 6th grade math.  What a joke.  “Lets say your going to divide a fraction into another fraction.  Well before we can do that we need to get the students thinking “deeper”.  Why would you need to divide a fraction?  And what exactly is division? Why is division a necessary thing to know/learn. Once we know the kids understand the deeper meaning of what it is they are going to be doing, then we can proceed in teaching them”   WHAT!!!!!!!??????????  They told us that the kids would  be interacting with each other more to “find the deeper meaning of things” and the teachers would be interacting less with the students and they would be using less material.  WHAT!!!!??????

One mom  pointed out that the ACT & SAT tests are revised only every 10 years and thinks they were revised just a few years ago. So when her 8th grader is in 11th grade taking these tests, how will they prepare these kids for the tests since the new math and whatever other Common Core wonders they will be using by then will be different material than what is asked of them on the ACT & SAT tests.  Her response was that  “46 states have adopted it, so they will have to adapt the tests somehow”  In other words, she really didn’t know.  To which I added, “Not all school districts in 46 states have handed their kids laptops as ours has, my daughter has not hand written anything in 2 years now, and they spell check , they are losing their ability to write & spell and the ACT & SAT tests have a hand written in cursive essay.  And my understanding is that as of last year at least our district stopped teaching cursive in 3rd grade, they just don’t see the need for it anymore. How will they prepare the kids for essay writing for those tests?  SHE HAD NO ANSWER, just said yes they realize this may be a problem someday.  WHAT????  They have not thought any of this garbage through.

I also asked how were the Universities going to view kids college applications/transcripts that list 9th, 10th & 11th grade math.  No Algebra, No geometry, to Pre Calc or Trig.  She tried telling us that it was the Universities who were asking for this kind of math to be taught so the kids would be more college ready.   Yeah right!

Our state office of education is in need of an ideological cleansing. It’s time to look at what works and mimic it, before trying to go our own way with proven failures. Constructivism is a proven failure. Singapore math is a proven winner (as are several other strong curricula). If the state of Utah was serious about adopting high standards and excellent curriculum, they would switch to a proven world leader in math and mimic it.  Singapore. Common Core was never about setting high standards, it was about getting money from the federal government through Race to the Top grants.


*If you are unfamiliar with constructivism (also called discovery learning), it is a philosophy that has ignited what has been termed the “math wars” because of it’s approach to teaching which emphasizes group work and students developing strategies to solve problems. There are merits to this approach when used sparingly and in ways to open up the mind for teaching, but it has been carried to the extreme where the philosophy has become the entire curriculum. It is highly popular and everyone is told there are so many studies that support this method of teaching. In reality, there are no studies that support this style of teaching. If you want more information please see these two pages which fully expose this false philosophy.

Project Follow Through – the largest education study ever performed

A study of studies showing no peer reviewed studies exist supporting constructivism

13 Responses to Reigniting the Math Wars over the Death of Calculus

  • Tim Osborn says:

    And the totalitarian control over Public Ed contiues. If this is allowed to continue, and those who are now in charge are seemingly geared for battle, our children will miss out on many wonderful opportunities to become great engineers, scientists and other math based ‘ists’. What’s even more hard to fathom is the fact that while the children are being taught a sub-standard curriculum we’ll have educators that will be cheering them on in an attempt to make the kids feel great about their ‘accomplishments’. It’s really too ad that we may never know what accomplishments could have been achieved with a rigorous math curriculum.

  • Susie says:

    Great post Oak. Thanks for your work warning parents and students so they aren’t caught in this math trap.

  • Patti Bateman says:

    This sounds so ridiculous to me! There is no balance! As a first grade teacher I taught Common Core math last year. We push our kids so hard that it’s exhausting for all of us! Many come in to first grade barely capable of writing numbers and counting to 20! By the end of the year they are regrouping! And for what purpose if we are dumbing down the curriculum for them when they hit middle school and high school? It is painfully obvious to me that this has not been well thought out!

  • James M. Rawson, Phd says:

    After more than 45 years in education as a teacher, professor and university administrator, I’ve had the privilege of sitting in classrooms worldwide, watching the learning process take place. I was delighted to watch the students respond in an 8th grade Math course being taught at Al Waha School in Cairo. The students were being taught in the traditional way of getting down and working Math problems after the teacher made her explanations of the various math concepts. Students would be asked to come up to the chalk board (new, innovative, right?), and work a problem for the other students to watch. Every student participated, every student! Each had a firm grasp of the concepts taught in the traditional way of really learning and understanding math. There was no guess work. They had standard texts from which they were learning and, these students excel. I saw the same at the Green Heights private school in East Cairo with the same classroom results. My stepson, who excelled in Math and Physics, offered full-ride scholarships to 110 major universities (except BYU, ha ha!) and was a national merit finalist calls the common core and constructivist Math words that I won’t repeat. My youngest daughter who is now living in Scotland and working on her Doctorate, scored a 5 (highest possible) on the AP Calculus exam. She told me that she would never have done as well if she had been forced to learn Math through the integrated process or as being forced by the FEDS with the Common Core. Common Core is an insipid ideology that is really aimed at dumbing down our students and separating the gifted from those needing to be taught in the traditional proven method where, as has been stated, the late bloomers, including myself, can develop and progress and not be forced to a lower standard. It’s obvious to me that we have employees of the USOE and State Board who know little, if anything, about the coming demise of educational achievement being brought about, purposely, by the Common Core. It’s time to get rid of the DOE and clean house at the USOE! It’s simply a money thing. The State wants Federal Taxpayer funds and can’t get them without groveling at the feet of the DOE.

  • Heidi Bailey says:

    Holy cow!! I would be a millionaire if I had taken bets on the success of the Common Core math standards. I remember when Alpine School District adopted Math Investigations and slathered over the NCTM standards…the first one or two having nothing to do with math, but equity and opportunity so all could learn math. I was writing a first grade “practice” book at the time for the district and we had to match up every concept with the NCTM standards. There were some concepts the state required first graders to know, but there was no NCTM standard to match it. It was a nightmare! I am so having my blood boil over this. You ought to read the comments of some of the early founders of the NCTM. Many of them distanced themselves and wrote retraction statements. Common Core is about 100 times worse! What is happening here?

    I also remember five or six years ago when ASD wanted to adopt new textbooks. What a joke that was. Because the parents were so “done” with Investigations the district was “forced” to adopt a new textbook series. ASD funneled the choices down, by asking pro- Investigation parents and teachers to
    review textbook options and then they selected three or four series for each school to peruse and decide upon. They were all Investigation oriented except for one. It was the most poorly written and organized, but the only option for teaching basic math principles. Consequently it was a lose, lose situation and thousands of man hours were wasted in the selection process because we were set up, in a word, to pick the series they wanted. Then they said, “Hey, don’t complain, this is what you selected.” I used my old MacMillan 4th grade math books and the new ones sat in my cupboards collecting dust!
    The whole process was along the lines of the e-mail they sent when they adopted Math Investigations in the first place years ago. It was sent out at the end of day Tuesday beginning Thanksgiving recess and in a nutshell it said, “Thanks, but no thanks for your input about Math Investigations. We know what’s better for your kids than you do and we are moving forward with it.” I wish I had saved it, I am sure they would deny they ever said it. Common Core Standards are a million times worse than that.
    If I was President of the United States my first job would be to do away with the US Department of Education….there is no place for it in our neighborhood schools.

  • Tara says:

    Thanks for the post. We had a hard time with Investigations and ended up homeschooling. I couldn’t imagine anything worse and now, here it is!! My daughter is a 3rd grade teacher and she is always thinking about how what she is teaching the children today will affect them in 4th grade, middle school, and beyond. The result is that her ‘middle of the road’ students consistently score higher on tests.

  • Aaron Sellers says:

    Thank God we are homeschooling our children. There’s no way I would subject them to the horrors of the government indoctrination system.

  • Dougc says:

    Thanks for the careful research, Oak. I enjoyed reading it even if it leaves me with a sense of pain over what is unlikely to be stopped in Utah (common core). Obviously, they have not learned much from the past, or they don’t care.

  • Chuck Bateman says:

    “In the hands of the state, compulsory public education becomes a tool for political control and manipulation — a prime instrument for the thought police of the society. And precisely because every child passes through the same indoctrination process—learning the same “official history,” the same “civic virtues,” the same lessons of obedience and loyalty to the state — it becomes extremely difficult for the individual soul to free himself from the straightjacket of the ideology and values the political officials wish to imprint upon the population under its jurisdiction. For the communists, it was the class struggle and obedience to the Party and Comrade Stalin; for the fascists, it was the worship of the nation-state and obedience to the duce; for the Nazis, it was race purity and obedience to the Fuhrer. The content has varied, but the form has remained the same. Through the institution of compulsory state education, the child is to be molded like wax into the shape desired by the state and its educational elite.”
    – Jacob G. Hornberger
    American author, journalist, politician, founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation
    Source: The Nazi Mind-Set in America, The Tyranny Of Gun Control, 58 (Future of Freedom Foundation 1997).
    http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote_blog/Jacob.Hornberger.Quote.B82F
    It is my belief that Common Core is one of the “foundation pieces” that is being laid into place to bring about a type of “…compulsory public education [that] becomes a tool for political control and manipulation — a prime instrument for the thought police of the [American] society.”
    What a shame it is that our politicians can only see the “dollar bait” dangling before them, blinding them to the danger of what Common Core will help to institute in our State’s educational system.

  • D. Miller says:

    I was a Career Center Coordinator also over scholarships at THS in the Alpine School District. While there I noticed many opportunities for scholarships in Science and Math. There were several huge scholarship awards being offered by companies and universities. Some required having a student make a Science project for a Science Fair at their school, going on to the District Science Fair and then the huge Science Fair at BYU in March. When I began promoting these scholarships to the Math and Science teachers at THS, I got mostly no response. I would not let it go since these offered scholarships were huge and I felt there had to be some students who would be interested and qualify. I continued to send email information to Math and Science teachers plus advertise on our website and bulletin boards in our hall. Still little response from teachers. One math teacher admitted to me that she always deleted my emails, because she didn’t think I sent any emails worth reading. HUH?!! I finally called up the Science Department Chair teacher to ask about our school science fair, because I’d never heard of one in two years. He told me that they didn’t do those, because no one seemed interested and if someone wanted to do one, he just sent them to the District Science Fair. With the tone of his voice and the continuous apathy by Math & Science Department teachers for two years, I could only conclude that they didn’t care to do the work of putting on a Science Fair at our school…they were apathetic to it all. That was sad to me in light of the scholarship $$ to be had…what chance did the students have with that attitude?

    Additionally, every year I advertised, on our student TV channel, the opportunity to go to Engineering State at Utah State. I posted information in our hall, on our website and also sent detailed information to all Math and Science teachers (i.e., a DVD from Utah State about ES) with hard copies of fliers to post in their rooms and handouts for interested students. These fliers explained what Engineering State is and what the students would learn and experience in Engineering…a “life changing” opportunity as one former participant from our school put it. After I sent a 2nd reminder of this great Engineering opportunity, I received a call from a Science teacher who asked me why I was sending him this information and just what was Engineering State. I about choked. Didn’t this teacher read anything I’d sent? It was completely spelled out with phone numbers and email addresses for anyone needing additional information. I had been hearing from state and national universities that many engineers were retiring and there was a HUGE need for new ones to take their place, but little were. It was also said that if you chose (especially girls/women) Engineering as your major in college, you’d practically get your whole education completely paid for by scholarships. Bottom Line: Engineering companies and businesses sounded very desperate for engineers!

    With all of this, and now with the lack of offering higher math level opportunities earlier in junior high (and good math, not fuzzy math), it is obvious our children have no chance…unless they’re home schooled or private schooled. What a sham this and the CCS are… Shame on you USOE!! Utah needs to do some major educational (political?) house cleaning…and fast!

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