Tonight might be one of the last opportunities for parents to plea with Board Members to allow a traditional opt-in program for teaching math.
On the agenda, are two recommendations.
- Gil Trenum’s proposal for the “traditional opt-in” program.
- Dr. Otaigbe’s proposal for a “blended approach”.
I strongly prefer the recommendation from Gil Trenum which would allow parents a choice in the manner in which mathematics are taught to their children.
We have discussed this topic in some detail previously.
- Prince William County’s Math Investigations Program,
- New Math Investigations Video & Update,
- A Message from Gainesville School Board Representative Don Richardson,
- Prince William County School Board
Additionally, Greg Barlow a fellow Prince William County School Parent gives us his perspective on Math Investigations:
My name’s Greg Barlow and I’m a regular reader of your blog.
As you might surmise, yes, I’m the PW parent who’s been the subject of a lot of scrutiny – and one or two public tongue lashings by PWCS officials regarding the county’s elementary mathematics program, “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.” I’ve followed your coverage of the issue, and though tempted on many occasions to post commentary I’ve elected not to do so if only because I’ve felt the issue is more important than the individuals involved. But since it appears the PWCS Board is poised for action next Wednesday I thought I’d lend my “2 cents worth” to your coverage of the issue.
Whether or not one believes in the educational efficacy of the “Math Investigations” ideology/philosophy, the issue before the Board is really one of good governance. It has become a question of whether or not our elected officials are willing to exercise their oversight responsibilities and make a hard choice that may put them at odds with a small but vocal group of public servants who, in my opinion, have placed personal ideology ahead of the educational content needed for children to achieve and succeed in an academic discipline.
Regardless of what one thinks of the philosophy or of the actual program itself, one of the main reasons this is issue hasn’t just “gone away” is because of “how we got it” in the first place. And that’s where the question of good governance is at hand.
From the beginning, I and the other parents who are not enamored with the content and results of this “new math” program, have held the position that if PWCS had followed the state and local guidelines and processes and selected this program in accordance with the applicable law and regulations – then all we’d be left to do is exercise our rights as parents and citizens to voice our displeasure with the program and advocate for something better. But pretty much from the beginning the answers to questions raised such as how the program was selected, when were parents notified of the selection process, whether or not there was a Board-approved Pilot Program, and whether or not the program was approved by the Virginia Department of Education have proved “challenging” for PWCS staff to answer…even more so to provide consistent answers to the same question when asked by different citizens…or even Board members. So that’s why I, and a number of other like-minded parents resorted to FOIA requests to get the straight answers from PWCS. Which brings us to the good governance issue.
The Virginia Department of Education delegates the responsibility for textbook selection to the local districts within the Commonwealth. In the exercise of that responsibility, local school districts must comply with the governing elements of both state law (Virginia Administrative Code) and local text adoption policy and regulations – it’s not an “optional” procedure. As long as a district is considering adoption of textbooks/materials that are on the Virginia DOE approved list of texts, there’s no requirement for the district staff to seek local school board approval for the review and evaluation criteria used in the selection process – it’s simply delegated to the Superintendent’s staff. However, if the staff is considering a text that’s not on the state approved list (as was the case with Math Investigations Grade 5 – rejected by VA DOE) the criteria to be used by the evaluation committee in the review and assessment of these textbooks must have the official approval of the local school board.
In pursing the countywide adoption Math Investigations as the only primary elementary mathematics materials for all PWCS schools, The PWCS staff never informed the Board that they were favoring a non-state approved math text/materials series. And the staff never presented their proposed review and evaluation criteria to the Board for formal approval. Why? Well, there are a couple of PWCS Policies and Regulations that make it very difficult for staff to select instructional materials that are not approved by the state – or as is with the case of Investigations actually rejected by DOE – and not aligned with the Virginia standards (PWCS Board Policy and Regulation 653 series). Not only does state law require local board formal approval of review and evaluation criteria for non-state approved texts, but also local PWCS regulations require alignment with the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) as part of those evaluation criteria. Yet the formal rubric developed by the PWCS central office staff for the selection of the math texts did not include SOL alignment in the selection criteria. And in fact, had this been included, it would have been extremely challenging to make Investigations the district’s “top rated choice.” It’s the VA DOE’s lowest ranked text for K-4 mathematics SOL support and was rejected by the DOE for Grade 5 because it does not adequately meet the state requirements of mathematical content. There’s an additional local sticking point in the regulations – PWCS instructional regulation policy precludes the purchase of non‑state-approved materials for anything other than supplemental materials – they cannot be adopted as the basic textbooks. Investigations Grade 5 falls in this category.
The risk to the staff in submitting review and evaluation criteria to the Board for approval was that the Board would likely have actually reviewed the proposed criteria and posed some questions concerning why they were pursuing a non-state approved text in the first place and why SOL alignment wasn’t included in the proposed selection criteria? And that might have led to some uncomfortable moments because the staff would have had to reveal that Investigations is the one elementary math text/materials program that least adequately supports the VA SOLs…and that it was rejected by the VA DOE for Grade 5 implementation. And even if the Board had approved the review and evaluation criteria and authorized the staff to pursue non-state approved materials the members may also have asked to see the results of the evaluation showing how the texts were “scored” by the committee in relation to the textbook evaluation criteria rubric that was supposed to have been used to select the math materials. That’s something that never happened, because it never added up to the “right answer” of making Investigations the top pick. If you’re interested, I’ve also attached the actually used final evaluation criteria obtained through FOIA – a group of subjective “likes” and “dislikes” from which Investigations was deemed “top choice.” So instead of securing Board approval, the central staff instead elected to go it alone and hope no one ever asked probing questions. Unfortunately a goodly number of parents have pressed the issue.
The Good Governance challenge is as follows. Not only has the PWCS staff selected a controversial mathematics program and mandated implementation in each and every school across the county (an unprecedented insertion of central staff direction and control for elementary core instruction in PWCS) they did so outside of the letter and intent of both the state and local regulations governing the public education process. In my opinion this was because of the desire of a small but vocal group of central office staff members to force a particular philosophy/ideology into the classroom at the expense of mathematical content. The information I’m sharing with you is the exact same information that the Board has in its possession right now. They’ve been made explicitly aware of this in correspondence for at least the last 6 months now. (I think that’s perhaps why Chairman Johns had an action item on the 4 Feb Board meeting agenda to vote to stop the 5th grade implementation – though that item was withdrawn before the meeting and did not go to vote.)
When the Board approved Investigations they did so with the understanding that the staff had been compliant with the laws and regulations governing textbook review and selection. The Board acted in good faith at the time – they’re the oversight agency, not necessarily the experts in the nuances of state and local education regulatory guidance. The PWCS staff – also public officials are though expected to know and comply with the letter and intent of the governing regulations. That they didn’t do so is troubling. The extra provisions of the state and local PWCS regulations regarding adoption of non‑state approved materials are there for a reason – to ensure that the interests of the county’s children and the content of materials used to teach these children are put in ahead of the personal ideological desires of individuals and staff agencies charged with administering public education programs. The question now is whether or not the Board is willing to execute their oversight authority and responsibility and take swift and positive corrective action in this matter.
I think all parents who’ve petitioned the Board over the last year and half are smart enough to realize that there’s more than just the above at stake. PWCS has spent over $3 million on this program to date. It would be an embarrassment – both professionally and politically, and likely fiscally to admit that the central staff didn’t follow the letter of the law in adopting a very expensive and nationally controversial educational program. In fact, some of us have been “gently nudged” to not pursue the legal end of the debate by some well-placed PWC officials. I think they know that this is a problem. That’s fine, if only because there is a slim chance that the Board may actually vote on the initiative to allow parents to choose the mathematics instructional program they prefer for their children (Johns / Trenum initiative – meeting agenda action item for 4 Mar 09). It would end the current controversy outright if this motion were to pass, and I think it’s a way out of the larger challenge of authority and compliance that the Board would probably prefer to address off camera with the Superintendent and his staff. In any case, it is time to support the adherence with the laws and regulations that govern public education in Prince William County, and it’s the Board’s responsibility to carry out that charge. I’m cautiously optimistic that the Johns/Trenum initiative will gain support of the Board as a whole.
This is long enough as it is so I won’t take up your time with the educational/intellectual arguments about the merits or lack thereof in the Investigations curriculum. I think you probably know what my background is and my thoughts on this front. I believe if a majority of our Board members had children in elementary school subjected to the Investigations program this would have been resolved long ago; I think the two out of eight members who do – “get it.” And just so you know, I don’t believe that the quality of public education ought to be a partisan issue. This has everything to do with mathematics content and children’s capacity to learn such content at appropriate elementary grade levels. The advocates of the Investigations ideology somehow feel that the content of traditional mathematics isn’t appropriate for certain groups of learners, yet never get around to defining explicitly just which children are in these “groups.” My family’s very blessed – regardless of what happens with the Board’s initiatives my wife and I have the background to know that our children need a much more rigorous mathematical education to succeed that what’s offered in Investigations and the means to ensure our children get that education – even if it means paying for the appropriate extra‑curricular instruction outside of the school system. Ironically, those children without such family means and who can least afford a sub-par mathematics education are the ones who are being placed at the greatest risk for future failure by adults who should know better.
Additionally, CitizenTom has a much more eloquently written threads on this subject matter.