PA Coalition for World Class Math

                     Math is still causing headaches for Alpine School District (9/29/2011)

Caleb Warnock - Daily Herald Daily Herald | Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 12:30 am | (11) Comments

Math is still causing headaches for Alpine School District.

Because the state has mandated a new core curriculum, on Tuesday, Mark Clement, the district's newest board member, said he felt it would be a good time to review how the district approaches math. Predictably, the issue was a hot potato, and the sole topic of the 90-minute meeting.

"I feel uncomfortable with my kids in investigations math," Clement said.

Wendy Hart and Paula Hill, who were both voted into office in the most recent election, said they would like to see teachers spell out their individual method for teaching math, and then let parents decide who should teach their children.

Board chairwoman Debbie Taylor and board member JoDee Sundberg said that is not necessary because parents can already go to the principal and request their child be transferred to a different teacher if they don't like the teacher's approach to math.

Hart said she recently heard from a parent who said they had tried to do just that, but were told that "every teacher teaches a balanced approach" to math and the request to move the student was denied.

Several board members said they wanted to send a message to administrators "to be more flexible" in dealing with parent requests to move a child.

"I keep hearing that teachers feel they can't teach traditional math because investigations math is mandated by the district," Clement said.

Taylor and Sundberg vehemently denied this, saying teachers are instructed to take "a balanced approach."

"A balanced approach could mean anything," Clement said.

Hart said that ordering a "balanced approach" implies, if not mandates, that teachers are expected to teach at least some investigations math. If teachers disclosed to parents whether they were using Saxon or investigations or Singapore math, then parents could choose and everyone would be happy.

But asking teachers to label their method does not represent the reality in the classroom, said Taylor and Sundberg. A teacher may use one method most of the time, but use another for a particular student who is struggling. Or they may use parts of all three methods. Or, based on discussions with other teachers, they may shift methods.

Taylor said the district's goal now is to "get rid of the emotional language" in discussing math with the public, and to refrain from using labels like investigations, Saxon, Singapore or traditional and deconstructed math. She noted that the board agreed that administrators should be flexible in dealing with requests from parents to move a student. But she drew a line when it came to asking teachers to reveal their teaching method. Taylor said this was because only two board members -- Hart and Hill -- seemed in favor of that option, so the proposal did not enjoy majority support. Clement said he did not support the idea.

Reader comments

11. Bug said on: October 7, 2011, 6:37 pm

My 10 year old granddaughter needed help with converting cups, pints, quarts, and gallons, and just couldn't get it. She had to convert 6 gallons to quarts. When I showed her it was multiplication (4 X 6), she started counting on her fingers. "Don't you have it memorized" I asked her. She replied that the school showed her how to count in 4's on her fingers. Also, she couldn't visualize the difference between pints, quarts, etc., and the drawing on her homework of a robot divided up didn't help any. I got down a cup, a pint jar, a quart jar, and a gallon of milk and showed her the relationship. I could see the light go on in her head. She had no problems with the rest of the conversion questions after that, although she still counted on her fingers to multiply. She is in Nebo School District.

10. My Kids' Dad said on: October 7, 2011, 11:24 am

How do you know what your child knows (or doesn't) in math?

True story: our son was getting good grades in math and we thought "all was well." Then one day we thought we'd find out what he really knows, and did some flash cards with him. We quickly realized that his knowledge of basic arithmetic (add/subtract/multiply/divide) was not complete (or quick). We talked with his teacher and she didn't seem very concerned, in fact, she tried to tell us why it wasn't important for kids to "memorize" their math facts.

With our son in school, started supplementing at home, using the Saxon math books. He learned quickly and we eventually enrolled him in a school that also uses Saxon math (there are MANY school choices in Utah and Salt Lake Counties). Our son is doing great now. He is in sixth grade and taking pre-algebra this year, along with the rest of the class.

Glad we took the time to find out.

9. FortifyingOurFamilies dot org said on: October 7, 2011, 11:12 am

Fellow moms and dads: until you find out for yourself and TEST your child (not just look at report cards), you may not see the problem with math in ASD. Here are 3 easy ways to test your child's knowledge of basic arithmetic:

1) Flash cards from the store

2) Holey cards (from, these are awesome!)

3) Saxon or Singapore math tests (buy online)

It takes five minutes to find out. Do it!

8. oak said on: October 1, 2011, 8:33 am

Sir John, "Looks like Oak and his Minions have found something to grab onto." Really? Have you lived in a vacuum the last decade? This was the first thing we grabbed onto years ago when ASD refused to teach the times tables and long division to children and threatened some teachers contracts if they did it. Teachers shut their doors to teach the times tables to children because they lived in fear of the administration seeing them step out of line. Thousands of parents moved their children to charter schools where solid math was being taught, while UVU created a remedial math department to handle 70% of their incoming freshmen that needed to get up to college level math because it didn't happen for them in K-12. Jorgy is exactly right. Confusion reigns in ASD because common sense was cast out as a heretic.

7. Sir John the Heretic said on: September 29, 2011, 11:14 am

Ah the Professor doth mingle scripture with the philosophies of Oak Norton.

6. Professor said on: September 29, 2011, 10:39 am

As usual Sir John has posted his entire intellectual knowledge base on the subject in one sentence.

5. Sir John the Heretic said on: September 29, 2011, 8:44 am

Looks like Oak and his Minions have found something to grab onto.

4. Jorgy said on: September 29, 2011, 7:32 am

Let's be very clear on this topic and get past the rhetoric to outline the situation. Vern Henshaw and a number of his board members are proponents of investigations math. They have attempted to call it different names over time and to soften the message but it is a primary focus of this administration. Investigations math is nothing more than an experiment in education and there is no evidence that it improves math education. The rapid growth in charter schools in ASD is predominantly due to parents and educators seeking a way out of the experient in an attempt to get back to the math basics. Most charters are teaching Saxon math for this reason.

This article highlights the main problem with ASD's approach to math education and that can be summed up into one word - CONFUSION. Administrators banter about this and cannot call it for what it is and fix it as evidenced by the board meeting notes. Teachers are confused and have to play the balancing act in teaching real math versus maintaining the confusing guidance from the district. Students are confused and are not learning the basics. It is time for this experiement to be done and if the current administration can't lead the appropriate change then it is time for new leadership.

3. Professor said on: September 28, 2011, 11:33 pm

Brigham Young University and Alpine School District has invested an incredible amount of Taxes, donation money and Tithing dollars pushing Social Constructivist Math (i.e. Connected, Investigations or Balanced Math) into ASD. Constructivist Math is an experimental program with no independent research studies that even suggest it might work. (At BYU they tried constructivist math with an honors calculus class and the students did 20% lower on department test.)

Board Chair Debbie Taylor and ASD Superintendent Vern Henshaw may realize they are in trouble on this issue. As a result are creating a new dialogue by telling us we can no longer discuss math pedagogy with academic terms such as Singapore, Saxon or Social Constructivist Math. That logic is similar to a professor saying we are going to study birds but can't use their scientific names.

My greatest hope is that Utah County parents start asking their child, "Are you good at math?" If they say, "No" it may be good to explain to them that math teaches problem solving and a great deal of life is spent solving problems and if they want to be successful in life they had better buckle down and start spending time in the math textbook instead of playing computer games. It also might be a good idea to get them periodically tested in math by an independent firm.

My next hope for parents would be for them to ask this question, "If ASD says their constructivist math program is so incredible, why is it upon graduation only 28% of them pass the math entrance test at UVU?"

A good question for the taxpayers is, "All my income tax goes to education. Why is the K12 math system failing? Where is my return on investment."

The question that the LDS leaders in this community need to ask is "We spend a lot of time at the pulpit preaching education. Why is is our Mormon boys and girls in Utah are internationally in the lower 30% of all industrialized nations when it comes to math? Does this suggest Mormon boys and girls have bad math DNA or is something else going on here?"

An appropriate question for the K12 administrators to ask is "Who's sins am I covering in this math scandal?"

One thing we know for sure. Nothing will change until enough people wake up to their awful state.

2 bbmoe said on: September 28, 2011, 10:38 pm

The comments published by the Herald illustrate the crux of the problem: there are two many different methods being taught in the district. Where is the consistency and the progress in that? I strongly believe that the district needs to choose a PROVEN curriculum (Singapore seems to have the best stats) and have every teacher teach the same method. I believe the district has failed my kids in math. I have had to transfer my kids to charter schools and/or do my own curriculum at home. My two oldest kids graduated from ASD with traditional math. They scored well on the ACT. My next 2 kids got all A's in math and did poorly on the ACT in math. That was proof enough for me. My last four kids, get their math education elsewhere. We tried ASD math again when the disrrict supposedly changed their curriculum mandate but found that the teachers were still teaching mostly connected or investigational math. I think ASD could do much better in this area.

1. oak said on: September 28, 2011, 10:21 pm

The statements by some board members that they use balanced math in all the classrooms is false, especially in the junior and senior high schools. The "math war" for the past few years almost solely focused on Investigations math because that was a critical K-5 foundation for children. However, Connected math in grades 6-9 and Interactive math in 10-12 is equally damaging and was never "balanced" (if you can call it that). There are also some schools where I have heard from parents but haven't verified that Investigations is the exclusive program being used (Ex. Sharon elementary in Orem).

• Caleb Warnock can be reached at

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