Scandal in the USOE?

Utah State Office of Education

Dr. David Wright at BYU has posted information on a website (http://utahmath.org) alleging what appears to be shocking events inside the Utah State Office of Education and reaching into multiple Utah universities.

In the 2012 legislative session, a Math Materials Access Improvement Grant was passed (SB 217) which required the State Board of Education to select a content developer to develop new math textbooks for 7th and 8th graders, and an adaptive assessment program. The state office wrote the Request for Proposal (RFP) differently than the grant directed. Two proposals were submitted, one from Dr. Jeffrey Humpherys and the BYU math department, and one from Dr. Hugo Rossi at the University of Utah.

According to Dr. Wright’s documentation, there were irregularities in the U of U application including plagiarism of content and missing items that should have been included per the RFP. At least 4 USOE employees were aware of the plagiarism: Diana Suddreth, Brenda Hales, Sydnee Dickson, and Michael Rigby (who apparently found the plagiarism). Both Suddreth and Dickson were on the review committee to select a grant winner. Emails show Diana Suddreth dismissed this saying,

“It also appears that the U is unaware of the copyright violations since they pulled their materials from sources that were labeled as licensed under Creative Commons. Therefore, I do not think this invalidates their proposal.”

Two weeks later the USOE awarded the grant to the U of U and two days after awarding them the grant, Diana wrote Dr. Rossi stating,

“Before you dive in too quickly, we need to have a conversation on why the request for a response about plagiarism was required.”

Clearly people at the USOE knew plagiarism was a problem. In fact, in some circles, individuals would say this type of charge results in “academic death.”

Several other important factors also came up. During the review of the grants, Suddreth informed Rossi that he should add Dr. David Wiley in BYU’s education department to the grant. Suddreth was a co-principal investigator with Wiley on another sizeable grant.

During the RFP review, Rossi offered an honorarium to Suddreth on a project he was working on. In an email he states,

“All your expenses in connection with this project will be covered by the USHE, including an honorarium of $300/day for participation in the meetings, if you are able to accept such an honorarium given your professional role.”

This offer seems highly inappropriate given that Suddreth would evaluate the RFP’s and participate in awarding the grant.

Dr. James Cangelosi at Utah State was one of the 5 grant reviewers, and on the same day the grant was awarded to the U of U, Suddreth was able to secure another $70,000 for Cangelosi’s UMEP program at USU. That has a tainted smell to it.

Is it any surprise that on May 1st of this year, Tami Pyfer on the State Board of Education sent letters of Common Core support from Dr. Rossi and Dr. Cangelosi to state legislators? These two professors are in the back pocket of the USOE after having received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and apparent favoritism.

In Cangelosi’s letter to legislators, he concludes by emphasizing “Utah’s Mathematics Common Core is another in our string of efforts to supplant ‘schoolmath’ with research-based mathematical pedagogy.” He’s flat out wrong. He’s one of the top constructivists in the state and he’s misinterpreted the standards to be a call for pedagogical reform in the direction of constructivism.

Bill McCallum, one of the lead authors of Common Core math standards, was specifically asked about this misinterpretation of pedagogy some are espousing and stated,

I don’t see the standards as dictating any particular teaching method, but rather setting goals for student understanding. Different people have different ideas about what is the best method for achieving that understanding. That said, I think it’s pretty clear that classrooms implementing the standards should have some way of fostering understanding and reasoning, and classrooms where students are just sitting and listening are unlikely to achieve that.”

Dr. Wright has links to all the documents on his website (http://utahmath.org/) and concludes with 6 questions that the public deserves answers to.

1. Were any of the reviewers of the grant proposal conflicted? Were all of them qualified to review mathematics?
2. Did the U of U proposal contain plagiarized material?
3. Did Diana Suddreth direct the U of U to pick a principal investigator who was a co-principal investigator on a grant with Suddreth?
4. Did the sample lesson for the U of U contain “any text” (i.e., content exposition for the students) which was a requirement of the RFP?
5. Did the U of U grant proposal address “adaptive assessment” from the standard public education definition?
6. Did Hugo Rossi offer an honorarium to Diana Suddreth during the review period?

Each of those questions is hyperlinked to the relevant documents on Dr. Wright’s website (http://utahmath.org).

We expect public servants to use our tax dollars wisely. In this case, at a minimum, it would appear that the USOE violated the original instructions from the legislature. At the other extreme, they engaged in unethical and immoral behavior. The public deserves a full and thorough investigation to address these questions, perhaps in the education subcommittee of the legislature where the legislature can call on the USOE to account for their actions in going against the will of the legislature in the original grant.

I strongly encourage you to email State Superintendent Dr. Martell Menlove, point him to Dr. Wright’s website, and ask him to conduct a full and thorough public investigation of these questions. If true, everyone aware of the situation should be fired from the USOE, and all related parties outside the USOE who were involved in this should be forever banned from further grants and involvement with the state educational system.

Dr. Menlove can be emailed at Martell.Menlove@schools.utah.gov.

Please also copy your state school board member and legislators on that email as well. You can locate who your board member is and legislators at these urls.

http://le.utah.gov/GIS/findDistrict.jsp (find your legislators by your address)

http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Board-Members/Find-Your-Board-Member.aspx (find your state board district here)

http://www.schools.utah.gov/board/Board-Members.aspx (look up your board member here)

You can also copy the 2 board of regents representatives on the state board to ensure they investigate and take action at the university level.

Teresa Theurer (teresatheurer1@gmail.com)

Marlin Jensen  (jensenmk@ldschurch.org)

 

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