With permission, I am posting this letter that Dr. David Wright, math professor at BYU, and one of only a couple mathematicians that helped create the A- rated 2007 Utah math standards, wrote to legislators concerning the problems of Common Core implementation from the USOE. We have previously published several posts about significant problems with the USOE math texts. You can read here about Dr. Jim Milgram’s statement on the low quality of Common Core math compared to high achieving states, and former Department of Education math expert Ze’ev Wurman commenting how Utah’s implementation plan outlined in our No Child Left Behind waiver application would actually hurt math in Utah. It matches up with exactly what Dr. Wright is saying in this letter. This letter is stunning because it also reveals a problem that may prove to be the dismissal of several USOE employees.

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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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This comment from Michele Alder was recently made and ties right into this: “My kids are in a charter school that teaches an advanced curriculum, and the school is being pressured to change their methods and curriculum which would be a big step back. My neighbors from France have their kids go to the same school as my kids and they found this advanced curriculum a year behind where they were in France. This means that the (Utah Core) Public School Math is now two or more years behind Europe, a fact that the presenters to this SAGE/AIR meeting contended saying, ‘these new standards will help us keep catch up with Europe.'”

I am a former elementary school teacher, and now teach my children at home because I became increasingly concerned about the quality of math instruction. I have used two ways to teach multiplication in the 2nd/3rd grade years. When I began teaching, I tried to help the children explore math, see math in different ways, manipulate things, and assumed they would grasp the understanding of why multiplicaton matters, and that they would absorb the information. To some extent that did happen. Yet not one child of all the ones I have taught was proficient in the multiplication tables even after a significant amount of time. . That is one of the things that I feel I failed at as a teacher for those children. When I realized that was happening, I went back and taught them carefully, and then taught them to memorize the times tables. But it definitely put them at a disadvantage for awhile, at least. Hopefully they recovered. That is the result of exploratory math. So when we talk about teaching that way from a self-guided student manner, I see “low quality” and “behind” as being our buzz words. Math must be a careful blend of teaching actual truths, and then giving children a chance to explore them within the context of “truth” being taught. Not the other way around, as Common Core does.