To Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education

By Wayne Bishop, California State University at Los Angeles

Pittsburgh Board of Education
Board of Directors Office - Room 245
341 South Bellefield Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

April 10, 2002

To the Board:

First, the bottom line. You would be wise to approve no recommendation that would extend the so-called reform movement mathematics curricula and pedagogy, currently used in the elementary and middle schools, to secondary school (Core-Plus and IMP are a couple of programs under consideration but there are others) until you have commissioned, and have the results from, an independent assessment of the objectively measured elementary and middle school student performance changes to date, on a school-by-by school basis. Not "New Standards" double-speak, used by Everyday Mathematics and Connected Mathematics apologists, but objectively measured student performance, year-by-year PSSA data, from the 1995-96 year to the present at a minimum, and year-by-year ITBS, SAT-9, or whatever else is available as well. Beyond that, there should be set in place an annual 1st-8th, grade-by-grade assessment using a nationally normed mathematics test or, even better, contract with the State of California to share the use of its STAR exam system, data that will be reported to principals on a class-by-class basis, and to you on a school-by-school basis across the district and easily available to the outside world seeking the truth.

How much good information the district has "in-house" is unknown to me but that which should be readily available to the public is not close to that which is now required under the national policy of "leave no student behind." Meanwhile, Pittsburgh students are being left behind while the district is being presented to the nation as a model of mathematics education reform success. Recall from my letter of March 1, I became aware of the Pittsburgh situation; through carefully guarded numbers being presented very differently from reality to the education world. Instead of opening up the books, your administration is making sure that you see only what they are allowing you to see. My efforts to get these numbers have now been officially rejected, although I assume that there is a Pennsylvania FOIA act that would allow me to force the administration to release them were I to pursue the issue. The names of the schools of this "research" were denied by Dr. Briars a couple months ago and copies of the district profile data have been being quietly delayed. Now these data have been officially denied (unless I view them in person in Pittsburgh!) But it goes beyond that; school principals have been instructed to not talk to me, "do not respond until you see evidence of IRB approval and please notify the Internal Review Board" (attached). That is, the Math Police (the MPs) are busily at work in the Pittsburgh Public Schools.

I did call a few of the heavily African American PPS schools a few weeks ago to confirm information that seemed obvious in the data that I was provided by a source within the district who is trying to crack the MP barrier. This is a barrier that district personnel have placed around principals and disgruntled teachers who are tired of being less effective than they know that they can be. One of those principals - whose school numbers showed clearly that they were heavily supplementing the Everyday Mathematics program - expressed frustration with the lack of grade-level mastery that is common in the program, even in its design. Among other statements she made about EM, "My parents are upset." So she does what she has to do to be successful - daily morning math drills, for example - but her negative comments are commonly repeated themes in regard to EM across the country. The abysmal student performance at Belmar, Crescent, and in other high minority, low SES schools is also common. The program only appears to work at an acceptable level when parental supplementation is available (Kumon, Sylvan Learning, private tutors, etc.) or the school itself supplements heavily as does hers. But you of the Board are not supposed to know that. You are to make your decisions based on the recommendations of "professionals," not based on objectively obtained student performance evidence or school-level information.

I am sure that you have heard some mild grumbles from a few teachers who refuse to be completely intimidated but you may not appreciate the level of resentment that is often felt in an Everyday Mathematics/Connected Mathematics environment but which a strong MP force has the power to suppress. Three years ago, the San Antonio TX Board of Education was having a very similar experience after a four year experiment with this same curriculum. Behind the scenes, some teachers appealed to the Board to put EM against a much more traditional curriculum in a secret vote by the teachers. The MPs fought the idea tooth and nail. When they perceived the Board to be beyond persuasion, these MPs tried to make the vote school-by-school so that teachers would still feel an obligation to vote "right" or fear local school retribution. The Board did not buckle and a district-wide secret ballot was held. Almost 80% of the teachers voted to get rid of Everyday Mathematics, 79-21 to be precise.

In spite of the now documented district intransigence, I already had the PPS profile information from these schools; my request was more a test of district openness and it failed. However, I was unable to exactly match the data in Table 1 of CRESST Report #528, by Diane Briars & Lauren Resnick, for any of schools for any of the years in question (or on average over any range of those years). I assume there is a logical explanation for this discrepancy, perhaps the official data is all-school data but Briars & Resnick excluded those students who were not tested. Although an explanation for the data discrepancy should be provided by the Prime-Plus office to the Board, there remains sufficient evidence to identify the schools in question. For example, Weak Implementation School A is reported to have had 421 students and there were only three schools that large that had almost exclusively African American students, Belmar, Crescent, and Weil. Both Crescent and Weil had much higher mobility rates than were reported in Table 1; in fact, double. Belmar is also higher than the unidentified "Weak Implementation School A" but much closer than the other two so it is reasonable to conclude that Belmar is that school, Weak Implementation School A. Its counterpart, "Similar Strong Implementation School A" does not have such a large student population so Madison becomes a candidate as well. Moreover, using the mobility percentage again, Madison must have been this very school. Anything else would have had to have had considerable "cooking the books" and I do not believe that the misrepresentation is that profound, only carefully selected data to misrepresent the actual situation.

Assuming that these conclusions about schools are correct, the situation at Belmar over the last five years has degenerated badly, at least according to the PSSA mathematics results. Pennsylvania reports the data as percentage of 5th grade students in each quartile bracket of the state's scores:

              High   High-Middle Low-Middle     Low
  1995-1996    14%        46%        30%         9%.
  2000-2001     0%         8%        11%         81%

It is reasonable to conclude from this outrageous performance drop that Belmar had been performing normally - even above socioeconomic school predictions - until the Everyday Mathematics kids hit fifth grade, the PSSA year. Madison, the "Strong" school, started much lower - it was already a "Strong Implementation" EM school according to the Briars & Resnick report - so it slipped only a little but remains in the same hideous ballpark:

              High   High-Middle Low-Middle     Low
  1995-1996     0%        15%        23%        62%.
  2000-2001     0%         4%        35%        61%

The intervening years, however, tell a shocking story that is illustrative of the fact that the names of the school populations involved in education research must be provided, and openly available contact people readily provided on request, or the "research" should be considered irrelevant. Not wrong, not right, just irrelevant. Looking at intervening years we see

              High   High-Middle Low-Middle     Low
  1997-1998     2%         8%        27%        63%
  1998-1999    60%        19%        13%         9%.
  1999-2000     2%         4%        26%        67%

This 1998-99 change in 5th grade mathematics performance is unbelievable. Literally unbelievable. Something had to have been going on at that school other than student performance improvement. One would hope that the individuals involved, ultimately the principal responsible, were dealt with appropriately.

The disturbing part for Everyday Mathematics and CRESST Report #528, however, is that this is one of the three schools that prove that things are working. Even ignoring this strong indication of cheating, the five year progress has been negative! As I said in my original letter, there are schools here in California - entire districts, in fact - that have changed their average student performance profile dramatically. Azusa and Baldwin Park districts each were featured in LA Times stories, the district of Sacramento is another such, half the schools in Inglewood, so famous for high minority and low SES that you can go down to Blockbuster and rent "The 'Wood". Here are three schools from the `Wood in 2001 for comparison; these are school averages of student mathematics national percentile rankings on the SAT-9 on a grade-by-grade basis along with the percentage of students who qualify for lunch assistance and the percentage of limited English proficient students at each school:

% Low %

        Grade    2   3   4   5   SES LEP
  Kelso         85  84  75  67   100  27
  Bennett-Kew   83  86  73  69    99  18
  Hudnall       76  73  52  67    99  40

All of these schools are almost 100% African American and/or Hispanic. Bennett-Kew is the most famous because its former principal, Nancy Ichinaga, took the school from the bottom 5% or so of schools in California to the top 10 to 15%. Then candidate Bush gave his first education address on her campus and she was subsequently tapped for, and now serves on, our State Board of Education. In spite of defeatist rhetoric to the contrary, race and economic status do not determine student performance. Unfortunately, it correlates with it, and therefore predicts it, but it does not determine it. Real reading and real math, done in English, and with good leadership, prove that upward mobility through education is not an opiate for the masses, it is a goal that can be and should be achieved. If progress is not being made, heads and/or curricula must roll.

The real concern in my original March 1 letter was an accurate assessment of the algebra readiness and algebra competence of the students of the Briars & Resnick study, now that those 4th grade students of 1996-97 are, or should be at least, in algebra. Algebra competence (not algebra rhetoric!) seems to make a dramatic difference in student potential for further academic success so it is important that the district and the nation be given an accurate assessment of the algebra reality of the Pittsburgh experiment. What I did not know when I started this inquiry into the data support behind CRESST Report #528, but now understand very well, is that the supporters of Everyday Mathematics, Connected Mathematics, the New Standards, IMP and Core-Plus at the secondary level, etc., have almost no interest in algebra competence. As a concrete example, CTB/McGraw-Hill is implementing the NSF funded MARS, so-called "Balanced Assessment", now in commercial form available to schools. This project is entirely consistent with the New Standards and the Prime-Plus philosophy. As support for my position, you need look no deeper than the test booklet covers. The equation 27 = 4x + 3 appears on the cover of every one, Grade 3 to Grade 10, on both Form A and Form B. However, the solution of *no* equation of this kind or of any kind - nor even the writing of any equation of this or any other kind - is ever requested, much less required, in any of the exams. That is, and in spite of their covers, algebra itself is off the radar. It's called bait and switch.

One last thing, I am not supposed to contact school principals; probably you aren't either. The Pittsburgh Public School administrative structure is absolutely convinced that it is the tail that wags the dog. You may wish to remind them of who works for whom.


Wayne Bishop, Ph D
Department of Mathematics

Diane J. Briars, PRIME-Plus
John R. Garrow

From: "Garrow, John R"
To: zz-Principals-Elementary Schools
Cc: "Butterfield, Paula" , "Briscoe, Delphina",, "Mascari, Richard M" , "Nedley, Shula" , "''"
Subject: Internal Review Board Notice
Date: Tue, 9 Apr 2002 12:28:00 -0400
X-Mailer: Internet Mail Service (5.5.2653.19)

It has come to my attention that Wayne Bishop from the California State University Mathematics Department has been contacting Principals without Internal Review Board (IRB) approval. If you are contacted, do not respond until you see evidence of IRB approval and please notify the Internal Review Board in the Office of Assessment, Evaluation and Research at (412)6223732.

Thank you.

Please note also the earlier letter to Ms. Colaizzi and the Pittsburgh Board of Eduction (March 12, 2002).

The views and opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by New York University.