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March 20, 2005

1. Background on integrated (constructivist) math
2. Is integrated math right for your child?
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1. Background on integrated (constructivist) math
Integrated math has been foisted on our schools by federal money and policies through a system of national standards (a Federal Curriculum). Integrated, or constructivist, math is finding its way into many unwatchful private school and home school curricula, as well. A few examples below illustrate how the integrated math system has been implemented: The NSF awards millions of dollars of federal money to individual states for " teacher enhancement" grants and systemic change initiatives of  integrated math programs and standards adoptions. For example, the University of Minnesota alone has received $2.25 million since 1997 to create an "infrastructure for the development of a systemic implementation in all schools by all teachers in the Greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area and beyond" of curriculum based on the NCTM (integrated math) standards. NCTM math is also called "Standards Based Curricula."
"Those who will, from the beginning, fully implement such a curriculum, will attend a two-week intensive summer workshop on both content and pedagogy related to the new curricula followed by academic year staff development and mentoring...A parallel set of workshops will prepare other teachers to select and implement portions of a Standards Based Curricula and prepare to move to the full implementation stage in succeeding years ... These mentor/leaders will be the core of the ongoing implementation of curricula in partner school districts. A major goal of this project is to develop and implement a replicable model for large scale selection and implementation of major curriculum reform. The model is based on long-term, purposeful and planned professional development for each 7-12 participating mathematics teacher, and on the development of long-range, skilled leadership teams in every school. " [ NSF Award Abstract - #9618741, emphasis added.]
See testimony to members of the Minnesota House Education Committee on January 24th, as EdWatch worked with others to counter the Minnesota Department of Education's behind the scenes efforts to implement integrated math assessments in place of the what should have been more traditional math assessments. (See EdWatch alert of December, 2004.)

For more detailed information about integrated math and why it is being implemented, see the book AMERICA'S SCHOOLS: The Battleground for Freedom.
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2. Is integrated math right for your child?
By Matt Abe
Published in the Plymouth Sun Sailor, 3/17/2005

This school year, the Wayzata School District began a comprehensive review of its mathematics curriculum for grades K-12. This is part of a continual effort to review and improve teaching and learning in the district, and to meet the high expectations of parents, state and
federal governments, post-secondary education and employers.

How well is Wayzata preparing its students for college-level math and beyond?
Do standardized test scores tell the whole story?
What changes if any should the district make to the way it teaches math?

K-12 math education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. New academic standards in math have been adopted by the state of Minnesota. By state and federal law, schools and school districts are held accountable to these standards through a series of assessments that are aligned to the standards. In all grades, Wayzata uses the "integrated math" approach advocated by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).

One of Wayzata's curriculum review tasks is to find out how closely the district's curricula align with the new standards and make any needed adjustments.

What is integrated ("reform") math? It is a way of teaching math in which traditionally separate subject areas, such as algebra and geometry, are integrated into one course of study; and it integrates math with non-math subjects and real-world experiences.

Current Wayzata parents may recognize that integrated math also expects students to discover mathematical formulas and principles on their own, has students work in groups and direct their own work, and requires an August trip to the local office supply store for a standard-issue calculator. Textbooks are de-emphasized or not used at all.

In contrast, traditional math is offered in public school districts, private schools, home schools, and college-preparatory charter schools such as Veritas Academy, which opens this fall. Integrated and traditional math options are offered in the Robbinsdale school district, and the Minnetonka district is replacing its integrated math with a traditional math curriculum. It offers the familiar discrete algebra, geometry, trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus courses, which build knowledge sequentially. It is the math instruction that most parents remember from their high school days.

Does integrated math align with the new Minnesota academic standards for math?

When the Profile of Learning graduation standards were repealed, most of the integrated math went out with it. The new academic standards contain a balance of computing and context.

Is integrated math right for Wayzata? The district reports that 86 percent of the Class of 2004 went on to a two- or four-year college. How well have Wayzata grads fared at college-level math? The district has yet to formally study this question, but some anecdotal evidence is coming to light.

In 2005 testimony before the Minnesota House of Representatives Education Policy and Reform Committee, Wayzata mom Lynn Handberg compared the experiences of her "traditional math" daughter (Class of 2001) with her "integrated math" daughter (Class of 2003). Both were good students at WHS.

"[My older daughter] went through algebra, geometry, algebra II, trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus with As and Bs. She had a great math experience in a traditional math setting...," she said.

"During [my younger daughter's] sophomore year in college (fall of 2004), she took two weeks of algebra, did not understand it, and talked to the head of the math department to see if she could switch out of the class. He told her...she wasn't taught enough algebraic concepts during high school math to understand college algebra ..."

Wayzata 2003 grad Kevin Nelson dropped out of integrated math in middle school to take traditional math classes at the University of Minnesota. "I remember talking to some of my friends who were stuck in integrated math ... In their entire unit on quadratics, they did not learn the quadratic equation. I don't know what they could have possibly learned since quadratics was built on that one single equation."

Dr. Lawrence Gray, head of the University of Minnesota School of Mathematics, said in 2003 that university students who had taken integrated math were not learning enough algebra to prepare them for college math and were one to two years below grade-level in their math skills.

Wayzata Public Schools should survey Wayzata graduates about their college math experiences, and seriously consider adding back a traditional math option. Public input and questions may be directed to Jane Sigford, executive director of Curriculum and Instruction, Wayzata Public Schools and to the Wayzata Public Schools Board of Education.

Matt Abe of Plymouth is a parent of two students in Wayzata Schools. He edits a Web site called Minnesota Education Reform News at www.edreformnews.info.

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