Fuzzy Math and Whole Language in Two Districts

To Anemona Hartocollis
The New York Times
July 30, 2002

From Elizabeth Carson

Re: Hoping an Outsider Plus a Bottom-Line Approach Equals Reform, The New York Times, July 30, 2002

Dear Anemona,

Your article has stirred some unhappy responses from parents in San Diego and District 2 who take a very dim view of Alvarado's fuzzy math and whole language reforms imposed in both districts, and cringe at suggestions he has achieved anything worthy of praise.

I've been granted permission to forward one response by Professor Mike McKeown, a former San Diego parent and biologist at the Salk Institute, who is now a professor at Brown University. Mike was very involved in K-12 education issues while living in California, and continues to be in Rhode Island.

You might be interested to know that Mike recently presented at a forum in Washington DC, moderated by Lynne Cheney see: http://www.aei.org/past_event/conf020304.htm


Elizabeth Carson NYC

(Original Message)
From: Michael McKeown
Sent: Tuesday, July 30, 2002
TO: (recipient list suppressed)

RE the assertion in the NYT article that San Diego City Schools (SDCS) is notably successful following Alan Bersin and Tony Alvarado's arrival:

From http://star.cde.ca.gov/ we can now get each district, school, county or state broken down by % above 50 percentile in 1999, 2000 and 2001 (2002 not out yet) http://www.eddataonline.com/StarComp/.

Comparing reading and math SAT9 scores, in terms of relative gains in the three years listed:

Reading is pretty much equal gains in each whether elementary (2-5) alone or all of 2-11, or whether it is state vs county vs SDCS.

Math is much different. State and county are pretty much the same, but SDCS lags. in 2-5, SDCS average change in % above 50 is 4 percent a year below the county and 4.75 % a year below the state.

In 6-11 SDCS lags 3.1 and 3.2 % to the county and state in gains.

Of further interest, no grade level California reading score went down between 2000 and 2001. 4 SDCS reading scores (grades 2, 3, 9 and 11) went down between 2000 and 2001. (Grades 2 and 3 are particularly telling for SDCS because it has more or less refused to go to phonics based programs, as nearly as I can tell).

In math, two grades (10 and 11) went down 00->01 in the state and 3 (8, 10, 11) at the county. SDCS, by contrast had 8 (EIGHT) grades (2,3,4,6,8,9,10,11) go down from 2000->2001.

As a further contrast, consider Oceanside Unified. This is a smaller district at the north of SD county with a high military population and demographic expectations of low scores. Indeed, the starting scores were generally worse for Oceanside than for SDCS. In 2-5 reading, Oceanside avg 2.5% ile more improvement than SDCS.

In math the situation is even more striking. In 2-5 math, the average change in fraction above 50%ile was nearly 11 (10.75) %ile better than SDCS. For all grades the excess improvement for Oceanside was 8.1 percentile, with only one grade (6) going backwards 00->01 (57 vs 55). (BTW - what curriculum do they use?)

So much for Bersin/Alvarado's success. At best they are in the middle, at worst they are actually going backward. They are certainly not setting an example for places like Oceanside.

Alvarado's success in district 2 was the demographic shift for which he gets credit. The scores followed the return of more middle class students to district 2. His programs had nothing to do with it.

In San Diego, there has been no return of the middle class and they implemented bad curriculum (little systematic phonics in early grades, bad math for the most needy and no move to good math for the rest, as nearly as I can tell). It shows in the scores.


(with reference to:)

New York Times
July 30, 2002

Hoping an Outsider Plus a Bottom-Line Approach Equals Reform

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