Testimony of Susan Sarhady
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce
Subcommittee on Early childhood, Youth and Families &
Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-Long Learning
February 2, 2000
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify before you today. It is truly a privilege. It is difficult to know how to condense the issue that has consumed my life for over a year and a half into testimony for this hearing. There is no "Doctor" in front of my name, I donít work for the government, I donít have a particularly distinguished resume, I couldnít get past second semester calculus in college. I know little of national statistics, and cannot debate the latest brain research and how it relates to teaching math. But I do know my children and how they learn. And so, I am here simply as a parent, the provider of a couple of those children without whom all of this is just talk. When decisions about education are made here, it is the kids and families at the "front lines" in the math wars that deal with the intended and unintended consequences. And I must impress upon you that I truly believe that unless families also buy into the educational reforms we are talking about here today, we will never succeed Ė no matter how good the program, no matter how dedicated the teacher, no matter how much money we spend. Whether you agree with the concept of "reform math" or not, you must agree that it is controversial and without a proven track record. That alone is of great concern to parents.
So, I am going to tell you OUR story. It is the story of the undertaking of a pilot and eventual adoption of Connected Math in the middle schools in our community. It is the story of my friend Sally who ran to the store late one night to pick up a bag of marshmallows for her sonís math homework. They had to be tossed in the air to see whether they landed on their ends or on their sides. When her boys took an entrance exam for a private school, the youngest, in his first year of Connected Math, qualified; but the oldest, in his third year of Connected Math, didnít because of his lack of Algebra skills. It is the story of Melinda whose gifted son has never scored below a 90 on any portion of the ITBS, who during his second year in Connected Math scored a 74 on math computation. It is the story of my neighbor Jill, who spoke with me in exasperation about her sonís poster for his first math unit project called the Special Number project. The assignment reads, "Many people have a number they find interesting. Choose a whole number between 10 and 100 that you especially like. In your journal, record your number, explain why you chose that number, list 3 or 4 mathematical things about your number, list three or four connections you can make between your number and your world." Mind you, this is a six-week project for 6th graders. It is the story of my friend Kathy who bought a supplemental textbook and sits at the kitchen table just about every night making her son do a half-hour of additional math to make sure he isnít missing anything. She told me, "We sit here at the table, doing all this extra work, day in and day out, and when they report those terrific TAAS (Texas Assessment of Academic Skills) scores, it will be Connected Math that gets the credit --- not me. And it just makes me crazy!" There are too many stories to tell here and let me emphasize that they come from all over the country. Bess in Mankato, MN and Rhonda in Chattanooga, TN and Linda in Traverse City, MI and Marilyn in Chicago, and Betty in Okemos, MI and John in Silver Springs, MD and others who have written me these letters. I would like to ask that these be added to the official record.
We live in a lovely suburb just outside of Dallas. It has experienced tremendous growth over the last 20 years. It is clean, it is safe, has lots of parks and bike trails, a healthy economy and a school system with a wonderful reputation that entices families to make this city their home. In 1996, our school district became one of the first 6 districts in Texas to participate in the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative pilot of Connected Math.(1) Within our district, 4 out of 9 middle schools were chosen, without parental approval, without school board approval, without so much as a public meeting completely bypassing (with the aid of federal funds) the theory of local control. A letter from the school district called for the release of identifiable, individual student test information, open-ended, without any kind of parental approval OR notification, (2) a clear privacy violation. There werenít any textbooks yet, just classroom copies giving the definite impression that our kids were the guinea pigs as the pilot was phased in one grade level at a time. By the third year of the pilot, parents had started publicly complaining about this "New" math program. The school district responded by mailing a flyer to every family with a child in middle school(3) and agreeing to hold a handful of public meetings. In Texas there is a state textbook adoption process and new textbooks are adopted on a seven-year cycle. New middle school math textbooks would be adopted in the spring of 1999. Connected Math was on the list of textbooks up for adoption. A few parents got together and decided on a course of action. We would try to prevent the adoption of the Connected Math textbooks by our school board.(4) We mounted what would be a publicity campaign, informing parents of the impending adoption. We worked with our school board to hold a public hearing regarding Connected Math. It took us 4 months just to accomplish that.(5) We asked that the school board authorize a survey of parents regarding Connected Math. They declined to agree to that. We filed a grievance that eventually went before the board as well.(6) It took 4 months for that to be heard. We hear that the middle school math teachers got to vote whether to adopt Connected Math. It must have passed, but 23 of those teachers did not return the following year to teach math. Twenty-three out of around 100! Eventually, despite strong opposition from parents, the school board trustees unanimously approved the administrationís recommendation to adopt the Connected Math textbooks.(7) Statewide, only 6 districts adopted Connected Math. Three of those districts were from the original 6 that started the pilot in 1996.(8)
Section 26.003 of the Texas Education Code says, "A parent is entitled to request, with the expectation that the request will not be unreasonably denied, the addition of a specific academic class in the course of study of the parentís child in keeping with the required curriculum if sufficient interest is shown in the addition of the class to make it economically practical to offer the class." We traveled to Austin to give testimony before the State Board of Education citing deficiencies in the program. It happened to be the same week the Mathematically Correct textbook reviews came out. Connected Math got an F.(9) The Commission and the State Board decided not to interfere citing local control issues. Eventually, we even filed a grievance with the Texas Education Agency asking for an investigation. The books do not conform to the state curriculum standards, in fact they fail to cover an average of 43 percent of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills elements.(10) It is our contention, after a review of teacher lesson plans, that there is not ample time to supplement Connected Math to cover the state curriculum standards. We expected a complete investigation of our grievance by the complaints division. Instead, the curriculum department examined the "plan" that the district has to cover all the TEKS. The plan is judged adequate despite the fact that it has no relation to what is actually happening in the classroom and the districtís contention that all the TEKS are really there in the textbooks is in direct conflict with the TEA report showing 43 percent of them missing. Although it took a few months, the Texas Education Agency eventually wrote a letter, of which every middle school parent got a copy of compliments of the school district saying, "This law applies to the addition of a specific class, and does not address an instructional methodology used in the classroom."(11)
We talked to legislators asking for help. Over 2000 new laws and revisions were submitted during that legislative session. Lots of people listened but nothing changed. We gave public testimony before the Texas House Committee on Public Education.(12) There was much talk of TEC section 26.003. In fact, the committee affirmed our belief that this law applied to our request for an alternative math class. Our Deputy Superintendent happened into the hearing room, was convinced to provide testimony, and eventually admitted that yes, if there were enough parents that asked for it, it would be feasible for the district to offer an alternative. At that time we had approximately 200 signatures of parents who did not want their child taking Connected Math. The Deputy Superintendent told the committee he understood that there were only about 25 people opposed to the program. The newspapers covered the testimony and reported the Deputy Superintendent was speaking hypothetically and "didnít mean to imply we would go back and offer an alternative."(13)
We changed our focus. Perhaps we just had to show the district how much support there was for an alternative. If 22 kids out of one grade level, at one middle school requested an alternative, surely the district would need to offer it. We conducted a petition drive.(14) We asked the school district to allow us to send home, via the school district distribution system a flyer with a petition attached. In the mailings the school district was sending to parents there was no mention of the fact that Connected Math does not meet state curriculum requirements, no mention of the fact that the division of fractions is never covered, no mention of the fact that parental opposition was growing in cities where it had been introduced earlier and no mention of the factual errors in the program that caused the State of California to boot it off their adoption list.(15) But of course, the district would not let us send out our information. So we collected addresses and spent over two thousand dollars mailing about 5500 petitions. We eventually collected 521 petitions asking for a specific, alternative math class. We informed the school district which refused to look at the petitions.(16)
After the Connected Math textbooks were adopted, the curriculum department told the school board that they would write a curriculum that would encompass all the state curriculum standards and make it available to the board for review. In our city, the only way to give public testimony before our school board is if the item you want to speak about is on the board agenda. In June, the new middle school math curriculum was presented to the board for its consideration. With the help of the Texas Justice Foundation, a non-profit public interest litigation foundation, we presented our 521 petitions asking for a specific class.(17) The answer? School Board member Alan Bird told us in part, "What weíre clearly talking about is instructional methodology, weíre not talking about a course. And if somebody doesnít like the way that a teacher instructs something in a classroom, I think it is the responsibility of that parent to go over it with the teacher. " In closing, School Board President John Muns told us, "We will not have this item on the agenda again."(18)
Last August, as a last resort, six parents represented by the Texas Justice Foundation and seeking class certification filed "federal litigation against the Plano Independent School District for violations of the parentís constitutionally protected rights of free speech/expression, equal protection and the fundamental right as parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children."(19) Now, when I communicate with the school board that I have concerns
because the supplemental material is not being taught as required in the curriculum
or that a teacher requires his students, at the beginning of class, to come and get a calculator from his desk
or that a student asking for clarification was told by his teacher to figure it out for himself
or that a middle school is asking for parent volunteers to act as monitors in a math lab devoted to timed diagnostic tests(20)
or that the district has added a $39,000 position to help with parent meetings and "provide support to the PISD Communications Department with regard to the publicity of the mathematics program"
the school board members tell me that, on advice of attorney because the matter is under litigation, they cannot discuss the Connected Math issue.
So, weíve devoted a year and a half of our lives, and a considerable amount of money to getting rid of Connected Math in our district, if not for everyone, then at least for the parents that request it. Then, last October I was amazed to read that the Department of Education had issued a report recommending Connected Math and calling it exemplary. I couldnít believe it. Within days the school district had principals handing out copies of the press release at parent meetings.(21) They even printed the news in their District Employee Newsletter.(22) They also made sure the local newspaper got a copy and of course, it made front page news. The secondary math coordinator was quoted as saying "he considers the selections of Connected Math a vindication of the districtís choice to implement it."(23)
I read the actual report that identified the expert panel system, the evaluation criteria and the statistical measurements of effectiveness. I naively assumed that it must have been an impartial process and that the criteria would be meaningful to parents. The measurement of the programís effectiveness and success in Texas was the percentage of students meeting the minimum expectation on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test. Even I know that passing the TAAS is no measurement of achievement, minimum skills competency perhaps, but certainly not math achievement. An expert panel composed of 14 "educators, scientists, mathematicians, and policymakers with extensive experience in mathematics and science education" was assembled. Let's look at some of the members. Jack Price is a former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, an organizations that promotes (you might say) reform math. James Rutherford is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. That group, partially funded by the NSF, already came out with a report endorsing Connected Math. Janice Earle is from the National Science Foundation. They partially funded the development of Connected Math. Steven Leinwand is on the NCTM Board of Directors. They developed those standards by which Connected Math is measured. Jan Tuomi is on the National Research Council. Thereís that word national again. To me at least, this was not an impartial panel.
The panel developed their own criteria. There are 8 criteria and 39 indicators. Here are a few of them.
"The program's instructional design is engaging and promotes learning." (What instructional design wouldn't purport to promote learning?)
"The programís learning goals are explicit and clearly stated." (But are the goals accomplished?)
"The programís content reflects the nature of the field and the thinking that mathematicians use." (Obviously not all mathematicians, since the California State Board of Education rejected this program for use in its schools based on recommendations fromÖ..mathematicians.)
"The programís learning goals include important concepts within the subject area." (According to a review of Connected Math performed by Dr. Wayne Bishop for the California State Board of Education, the important concept of dividing fractions "does not appear to exist" in this program.)
"The program's learning goals can be met with appropriate hard work and persistence." (As opposed to what?)
"The program's instructional design provides for diverse interests." (How about my interest that my child be prepared for higher math??)
" The program's learning goals reflect the vision promoted in national standards in mathematics education."
Oh, now I see. Millions of dollars have been spent to design math programs that align with the NCTM standards, millions more are spent by the Statewide Systemic Initiatives to "reform science and mathematics education for all of its students by reforming curriculum and assessment through changes in teacher development."(24) Then, even more is spent to issue a report saying the end product of the millions spent is exemplary. But, the effect of all of this on student achievement is a hotly debated topic. And, most importantly in my humble opinion, parents have been left out of the whole process.
You asked "what role the federal government should play in improving mathematics instruction in our schools." I would ask that much stricter controls be put into place to prevent schools from using untested programs without informed consent from the parents and students. Some of us have the fortitude to take on our local school districts, but we cannot take on the federal government as well. True local control must include from the outset, not just administrators, but parents as well. At the very least, the federal government should first do no harm.
Information from the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative website regarding Connected Math and Texas Sites.
Two letters from Marilyn Brooks, Associate Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction authorizing TEA to release individual student data.
Plano Independent School District document titled "Connected Mathematics Program: Whatís It All About?".
Plano Star Courier article titled "Input sought on Connected Math", September 5, 1998.
Dallas Morning News article titled "Math programís critics, supporters speak out" December 10, 1998.
Plano Star Courier article titled "Math program complaint filed" December, 1998.
Plano Star Courier article titled "School board says ĎYesí to Connected Math" March 18, 1999.
List provided by the Texas Education Agency showing school districts adopting the Connected Mathematics Program textbooks.
Mathematically Correct Seventh Grade Mathematics Review of the Connected Mathematics Program.
Cover pages of the Commissionerís Preliminary Recommendations Regarding Instruction Materials for grade 6, 7 and 8.
Letter dated May 21, 1999 from Superintendent Doug Otto to middle school parents.
Transcribed testimony of Deputy Superintendent Keith Sockwell before the Texas House Committee on Public Education. Provided in electronic format, not attached.
Plano Star Courier article titled "PISD says ĎNoí to alternative math program" April 2, 1999.
Copy of petition sent to approximately 5500 middle school parents.
Page 1 of California Final Adoption Report.
Letter from PISD to parent Ronni Jenkins denying 521 petitions.
Plano Star Courier article titled "Petition targets connected math" June 17, 1999.
Transcript of testimony before the PISD School Board regarding presentation of 521 petitions. Provided in electronic format, not attached.
Plano Star Courier article titled "Parents to file lawsuit today against PISD" August 25, 1999.
Middle school newsletter, Hawk Tale News detailing math lab.
Copy of hand out from Carpenter Middle School parent math meeting.
Copy of PISD staff newsletter containing article about Connected Math being designated exemplary.
Plano Star Courier article titled "Controversial math program scores exemplary rating" October 22, 1999.
NSF Award Abstract to the Texas Statewide Systemic Initiative.