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False Rumors in Minnesota
From Mathematically Correct

William Linder-Scholer
Minnesota Department of Children, Families & Learning

Dear Mr. Linder-Scholer,

It has come to our attention that at least one of your subordinates - Marlys Otis, Mathematics Project Manager - who is currently attempting to advise the Albertville School District on possible mathematics curricula has been spreading false and defamatory rumors about the authors and signers of a public letter to Secretary Riley which criticized the programs Ms. Otis is trying to promote for your department.

The claims are first that the authors of this letter are ultra right wing conservatives or religious fundamentalists, and second that virtually all the distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators who publicly signed the letter have since withdrawn their signatures. Neither of these claims is remotely true.

Of the approximately 220 top level scientists, mathematicians, and educators, including Nobel prize winners and Fields Medalists (the equivalent of the Nobel prize in mathematics), that signed the letter, exactly two later asked that their names be withdrawn. One asked before the letter was published and sent to Secretary Riley, and one afterwards. In both cases the names were immediately withdrawn, so the list of names that follows the letter on the web-site
is current.

As to the authors, most - including me - are liberals, and a few are apolitical. Not one is a religious fundamentalist, and not one is ultra-right wing. They are all professors of mathematics at top level universities in this country, and are all spending valuable time away from their main work to try to help solve the problems with K - 12 mathematics education that they see so clearly in the current generation of students attending their schools and their classes. Their motivation, as I'm sure is yours, is to help enable these students to realize their potentials.

It is possible that this may be a conscious campaign of misinformation by members of SciMath, as this is the second time we've been specifically asked about such claims by members of DIFFERENT school districts in Minnesota. Consequently, we request a public disavowal of these claims, a public apology, and appropriate disciplinary action with regard to Ms. Otis.

Before we decided to take this action, one of the signers of the letter asked Ms. Otis for clarification. I include her reply below where she claims that she was misinterpreted. (In his request, he pointed out that her reply would be considered public.) For the reasons above, her response appears to me to be disingenuous. The same exact rumor from two different districts does not fit with simple misinterpretations.

To further support my claim, I include a statement from one of the people Ms. Otis talked to. It follows the copy of her letter. I could have obtained and included statements from teachers in at least one other district in Minnesota, but I felt it might not be in their best interests to do so, since I understand that at least one of the teachers willing to make such a statement has already been threatened with retaliation.

If it turns out that members of SciMath had not originated these claims but were depending on material that they received from others in spreading them, we would also request that copies of such material be sent to us, so that we can deal with them appropriately.

An apology and the material on which SciMath members are basing their assertions can be faxed to me at (650)-725-4066.

It may seem that such issues are minor and hardly worthy of the attention we are devoting to them. However, it is our belief that programs of the type currently being promoted by SciMath are extremely weak and do not prepare students to pursue careers in technical areas - in fact may make such careers impossible for a number of them to achieve. Such beliefs, by high level scholars and educators deserve to be treated seriously and debated fairly. When the argumentation takes the form of trying to falsely discredit these people in the manner that appears to be happening here, it is clear that action must be taken to correct the situation.

Part of the statement that Mr. Hackenmueller makes raises further concerns on my part. He points out that Ms. Otis claimed to be a mathematician. Generally, the minimal criterion for such a claim is a Ph.D. in mathematics, and if a person claiming to be a mathematician does not have a Ph.D in the subject, then evidence of research papers published in accepted research level mathematics journals would be required. To my knowledge, Ms. Otis has achieved neither of these criteria.

Finally, the author of this note has deep ties to Minnesota, where he grew up. He does not like to see Minnesota making the same mistakes that were made in California 10 - 12 years ago, and that resulted in California scoring dead last among all the states in 1996 on the National Assessment of Education Policy (NAEP) exams in mathematics.

Sincerely yours,

R. James Milgram
Professor of Mathematics
Stanford University
(Ph.D. University of Minnesota, 1964)

cc: Christine Jax
Commissioner, DCFL

Mary Lillesve
Manager, Division of Systems Services
Office of Teaching and Learning
MN Department of Children, Families, & Learning

Marlys Otis
Mathematics Project Manager

Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Editorial Department
Minneapolis, MN

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