Some advice for the new superintendent of Denver Public Schools

by Barry Garelick
June 30, 2005

An email to Rocky Mountain News columnist Linda Seebach in response to her request for advice for the incoming DPS superintendent Michael Bennet. See Ms. Seebach's column of July 2, 2005, An advice sampler for new DPS chief Bennet. For related letters and articles, see the NYC HOLD page Watching Curriculum and Academics at DPS under Michael Bennet.

Regarding what advice I would give regarding the hiring of a Chief Academic Officer, this person would need to know what the math wars and reading wars are all about. As a test, I would ask the candidate whether he/she agrees with the following two paragraphs which contain some of the educational philosophy that informs a math text called Math Trailblazers and whose development was funded by NSF-EHR:

- Early emphasis on problem solving. Students first approach the basic facts as problems to be solved rather than as facts to be memorized. Students invent their own strategies to solve these problems or learn appropriate strategies from others through class discussion. Students' natural strategies, especially counting strategies, are explicitly encouraged. In this way, students learn that math is more than memorizing facts and rules that "you either get or you don't."

- De-emphasis of rote work. Fluency with the math facts is an important component of any student's mathematical learning. Research has shown that an overemphasis on memorization and the frequent administration of timed tests is counterproductive. Both of these can produce undesirable results (Isaacs and Carroll, 1999; Van de Walle, 2001; National Research Council, 2001). We encourage the use of strategies to find facts, so students become confident they can find answers to fact problems that they do not immediately recall.

I would also want to know whether he/she considers the research citations of Isaacs and Carroll cited in the second bullet to be true research and ask if he knows who Isaacs and Carroll are. Hint: They are both on the payroll of Everyday Mathematics, another textbook that was funded by NSF-EHR and is informed by the same educational philosophy that informs Math Trailblazers.

If the candidate agrees with either or both of the above two bulleted paragraphs, he/she should not get the job.

Another caveat: People who say they are for "standards-based" math. If a candidate says that, before giving them a drop kick through the door, find out what standards they are talking about. More often than not, they mean the standards that National Council of Mathematics Teachers (NCTM) developed and which many states looked to when formulating their own standards. They were also the standards the NSF-EHR embraced when they started handing out money; they funded projects that embodied the standards and the dubious educational philosophy that informs it.

If they say they support the NCTM standards ask them if he/she believes that Saxon Math or Singapore Math texts meet the NCTM standards? If they say no, it might be amusing to hear why they think so before giving them that drop kick.

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.