In the late 1990s when many school districts across the country started looking into and implementing the Investigations Math curriculum, scores of mathematicians wrote an open letter to then U.S. Secretary of Education R. Riley. They cited numerous published research papers that showed the importance of teaching simple algorithms that are preparatory and similar to more advanced algebraic manipulations. These scholars stressed that our kids need to be able to quickly manipulate simple numbers and concepts to be successful in algebra later. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that success in secondary school algebra is the single greatest predictor of success in college - not just for engineering and science majors, but for majors in all fields.
Despite the outcry of many parents and teachers, the Las Cruces Public Schools district (LCPS) went ahead with implementing Investigations Math curriculum in 2007 (buttered by a hefty grant to support its use). At the same time in February 2007, the Utah Board of Education banned Investigations for use as their primary curriculum. California dropped the same math program eight years before. After seven years of use, California went from one of the top in the nation to the third lowest in math proficiency. Furthermore, many other schools dropped Investigations after a year or two, citing that it did not meet the state's curriculum standards.
Las Cruces is a poor school district and we cannot afford getting cheap things for our children simply because it is such a good deal. After carefully researching Investigations Math Harvard University Mathematics professors W. Schmidt and D. Robinson noticed that "by the end of fifth grade students have fallen roughly two years behind where they should be."
Last year in the fifth grade Investigations, my child was encouraged to compare fractions using pictures (no use of a common denominator). Try to quickly draw two identical rectangles and equally divide them into a number of parts (ruler is not allowed). This year, the kids were using strips of paper to compare fractions and were estimating angle value in geometry (no protractor required).
Will you want your future homebuilder estimating the measurements for your house with a paper strip, or your nurse eye-balling the medicine in your IV? Will White Sands or Boeing hire an engineer who approximates missile trajectory and air speed? Investigations is not encouraging practice of addition, subtraction, multiplication or division facts, nor does it teach long division or many other important basic skills. According to the program, all of those facts can be rediscovered on the spot, so there is no need to commit them to memory.
Would you like to know how fast your child can solve a simple math problem? There is an interesting video everyone should see of a third grader adding two four-digit numbers using the Investigations approach at www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YLlX61o8fg. It takes a girl about eight minutes to solve a simple problem. Do you think students will be allowed 18 hours to complete their SAT test in high school? Hardly
Many concerns of parents and teachers about the Investigations program were silenced by LCPS's position of looking out for underprivileged second language learners (ELL in the LCPS website charts), who are struggling with math and reading and in need of a progressive innovative approach to computations. I researched the AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) school scores from 2005 -2012 school years available at LCPS website and found that the level of math competency for ELL students dropped dramatically since 2007 when Investigations was introduced. In one local school math proficiency for ELL students is as low as 3.85 percent, which means that out of every 100 students in that school only about four can do math at their grade level. Is Investigations curriculum hurting those whom it was designed to help?
How are the rest of Las Cruces public schools weathering Investigations? Several of the best schools in the district sport 62 percent math proficiency; in comparison, Albuquerque's best schools have 75-80 percent proficiency. One can see that even in the most desired schools in our district, one out of every three students cannot perform at his/her grade level in math. This year 97 percent of our schools did not meet their AYP. We can only expect worse results this coming year, since it is going to be the first year when everybody tested in elementary school (grades 3 through 5) started their math journey in kindergarten with Investigations Math.
Officials within the LCPS administration genuinely feel that Investigations Math, being a "revolutionary" system, will help our children to compete in a global economy. Facing a math program with a failing record, do our school officials really believe parents are not qualified to have a say in this matter?
At least Barnes and Nobles took notice of parents' needs. Have you seen their recent expansion of supplemental math workbooks for kids?
Ekaterina Moore is a Las Cruces resident and has two children in the Las Cruces Public Schools system.