Re: June 2005 District of Columbia Math Textbook Adoption

Email to Ms. Peggy Cooper Cafritz
President of the DCPS Board of Education
and Dr. Clifford B. Janey
Superintendent of the DCPS

Cc to other members of the Board
and to members of the press

By Bas Braams
June 15, 2005

Dear Ms. Cafritz, Dr. Janey,

Earlier today I sent you a review of the new District of Columbia Math Standards. Please note again that I applaud the excellent work done by your writing committee. Your new K-8 standards are among the best in the nation; they are clear and precise and cover the required minimum content very well. I congratulate you on this success.

It was very strange then that this morning I received an alert that the DC Board of Education is planning to adopt at a meeting tonight a list of K-8 textbooks that looks completely inconsistent with the new mathematics standards. The textbooks before you tonight are, as best as I can judge, all based on or inspired by the 1989 or 2000 NCTM standards for school mathematics that are viewed with scorn by mathematicians and scientists. Your new standards are of a different and superior kind and they demand a different and superior choice of textbooks. I urge you not to make a premature decision tonight, one that the district will regret for the next five years or more, and instead to give mathematicians and scientists a chance to review your options. It is apparent that there has been no such review, and the choices before you tonight all look disastrous for K-8 education.

Later in this letter I will review for you what I know of the textbooks before you tonight. At first, however, I want to address a more political issue, the involvement of mathematicians and scientists in the evaluation of these choices of curricular materials.

I have observed the process of textbook choices quite closely in New York City in recent years. It was incompetent in the extreme, and looking at the choices now before you I fear and suspect that something similar is going on in DC at this time. In the NYC district that led the way in "reform" mathematics the choices were made by a "mathematics expert" whose degree was in theater arts and who appeared not to have a clue about high school mathematics; the district superintendent appeared not to have a clue even about middle school mathematics, as she documented in her prolific writings:

When the team of Joel Klein and Diana Lam took over a "Children First" process was instituted that selected a city-wide curriculum. The "Numeracy working group" that selected that curriculum appeared also to have been without a single member with as much as a college mathematics background. The fruits of their labor displayed their ignorance.

The choices before you tonight look like a list that would be drawn up by people who don't know what mathematics is about; who don't know and probably don't care what is required for college level mathematics, and who are taken in by the anti-academic ideology of the NCTM principles and standards. The District is not well served by such incompetence and by this "reform" ideology. DC has departed from that ideology in its new mathematics standards, but that means nothing if one doesn't draw the consequences when selecting the textbooks. For more about the NCTM ideology I point to these few Web sources.

I turn now to the list of proposed curricula as it was shown to me. For elementary math you are apparently looking at these three:

UCSMP Everyday Mathematics
Wright Group Growing With Mathematics
Math Trailblazers

and for middle school mathematics the choices are:

Connected Mathematics
Math Applications (??)
Pearson Prentice Hall Mathematics

There are two curricula on this list that I know very well: UCSMP Everyday Mathematics and Connected Mathematics, and I rate the first one as bad and the second one as awful. Ironically the two other listed elementary programs are, according to information that I trust, even worse than Everyday Mathematics. Missing from your list are such fine elementary programs as Singapore Primary Mathematics, the Saxon elementary series, or the Sadlier-Oxford Progress in Mathematics. For middle school you might have considered again the Saxon series, the McDougal-Littell Structure and Method series, and also the Prentice-Hall pre-algebra. For other recommendations I can point to the list of California adopted programs: they use a careful professional content review to arrive at their recommendations. The one program on their list that I would not recommend is the McDougal-Littell Concept and Skills.

I have reviewed Everyday Mathematics (it may be your leading proposed K-5 curriculum) from many angles. For a comprehensive overview please see my New York Sun Op-Ed and also a letter to the Chair of the NYC education committee:

In more detail I have two analytical articles on the fourth grade arithmetic in EM: Spiraling Through Everyday Mathematics and The Many Ways of Arithmetic in Everyday Mathematics.

There are many other valuable reviews of the EM program, and I point to this comprehensive Web page.

For many readers Matthew Clavel's description of his classroom experience with Everyday mathematics is most revealing.

Once again I stress that, as much as I deprecate Everyday Mathematics, it may be the least bad of the three choices before you tonight for the elementary grades. The point, of course, is that the DCPS Board really cannot make this decision tonight or it will be a disaster. It is imperative to defer the matter and obtain the input and advice from competent mathematicians. Once again, I believe I recognize in the list of choices before you the uninformed, incompetent advice so often brought to the table in mathematics education by the professional educators that don't know mathematics but are steeped in the NCTM "reform" ideology.

I would have liked to spend more time on this email, but there is no time. Your meeting is less than three hours away. I hope that you will have the wisdom to make no disastrous choice tonight from which DC mathematics education will suffer for the next five years.

Yours Sincerely,
Bas Braams

[Literally there was no more time, or I would have written more about Connected Mathematics Project. I should at least have referred the addressees to the NYC HOLD page Reviews of CMP. At their meeting the Board approved Everyday Mathematics for elementary school and Connected Mathematics for middle school. --BB]

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