In defense of the petition

Those of you who have followed the battle against Investigations in PWC are probably familiar with the petition to remove Investigations from PWC schools, which can be found here.
The petition was developed by parents who were concerned about the county math program and wanted the county to either remove Investigations from PWC classrooms or offer their children an alternate instructional track.    Almost 1500 concerned citizens have signed the petition to date.  

As expected, county officials and school board members were less than pleased with the petition. One school board member even went so far as to claim that the petition was just a bunch of lies and were any of the stuff on it true he’d sign the darn thing himself. The thing is, it’s all true.

So here’s my defense of the petition.  I’m still waiting for his signature.

From the petition:  In 2006, PWCS mandated countywide implementation of a controversial “reform math” program known as TERC “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space”.

Analysis:  True.  PWCS did adopt Investigations for all county schools in 2006 and Investigations is controversial. A simple google search will bring back hits from numerous sites where parents have organized to fight against Investigations in their children’s schools. 

From the Petition:  This mandate makes “Investigations” the only allowable K-5 core elementary math instruction program in PWCS.

Analysis:  True.  From the PWCS web site

 In January, 2006, Investigations in Number, Data, and Space was adopted as the primary textbook series for the elementary grades. Kindergarten, first and second grades began using these materials in fall of 2006 followed by third grade in 2007. Fourth grade implementation begins in the fall of 2008, followed by fifth grade in the fall of 2009.

From the petition:  Instead of teacher-led instruction for math mastery using quality traditional texts and materials, “reformist” programs like “Investigations” abandon proven approaches to the teaching of fundamentals and instead promote “self-discovery” of math concepts by children.

Analysis:  True.  Go watch your child’s math class. 

From the petition:  Renowned mathematicians, university professors, engineers, scientists, parents and individuals who use, advance, and rely upon mathematics in their careers and daily lives have condemned programs like TERC “Investigations” which abandon teaching of proven math fundamentals to elementary school children.

Analysis:  True.  See this article for links to studies by independent experts not affiliated with or paid by TERC.

From the petition:  Of all the elementary school math programs listed by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), “Investigations” least adequately supports the Virginia mathematics Standards of Learning (SOLs) and is excluded by VDOE for Grade 5 due to its inadequacy.

Analysis:  True.   Check out the list of  approved and not recommended texts from the VA DOE here.  Pay particular attention to the Not Recommended list, you’ll see Grade 5 Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. 

As for percentage of SOL’s, Investigations was approved for use in Grades K-3 and Grade 4.  As a K-3 series Investigations meets 66% of state standards.  Investigations meets 55% of Grade 4 standards.  As a K-4 series Investigations meets 63% of state standards.  Just as an FYI – Investigations meets 50% of the grade 5 standards. That’s fewer than any other approved text.

Investigations meets fewer standards in one year than other approved textbooks do in their entire K-5 series.

 From the Petition: “Investigations” has an ongoing record of failure across the United States.

Analysis:  True.  See Greece NY as an example. 

From the petition:  Math experts from Harvard and Stanford University assess such “reformist” math programs as falling short of giving students the essential mathematics skills to reason accurately, and regard “Investigations” as especially deficient – resulting in children falling roughly two years behind where they should be by the end of fifth grade.

Analysis: True.  See for transcripts of their statements.

From the petition: DOES NOT teach proven standard, simple efficient and effective methods of solving mathematics problems.

Analysis: True.   Investigations provides 4 different strategies for subtraction – counting up, counting back, changing the numbers, and subtracting one number in parts by place.  It does not teach the standard algorithm for subtraction.  Students study the standard algorithm for subtraction in Grade 5 but they are never taught to use it.  That’s 4 different strategies which each are effective in different situations which are taught and the one strategy which is effective in every situation which is not taught.

From the petition:   DOES NOT promote mastery of basic arithmetic facts.

Analysis:  True.  Basic math facts are not memorized.  Investigations benchmarks fluency with math facts but nor mastery.  To achieve fluency students are taught strategies for solving problems but mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division facts is not required. 

Many parents have noted in recent weeks that stheir children are coming home with math fact worksheets and flashcards.  This practice is not a part of the core Investigations program and is not standard across schools through the county. 

From the petition: DOES NOT teach mastery of multiplication tables.

Analysis:  True.  See above regarding fluency v/s mastery.  County staff have repeatedly referred to memorization of multiplication tables as drill and kill.

From  the petition:  DOES NOT teach simple long division.

Analysis:  True.  From Implementing Investigations, a book included in the Investigations teacher pack, “Division methods in this curriculum focus on the inverse relationship between multiplication and division”.
From the Petition: DOES NOT provide sufficient practice for children to master math concepts and applications.

Analysis: True.  Homework and practice is generally limited to 4 or 5 questions. 

From the petition: DOES overemphasize the use of calculators.

Analysis: True. Calculators are introduced as part of the curriculum in Grade 2.  Long division is taught with a calculator.  Fraction to decimal conversion is taught with a calculator.  Per the Grade 5 Investigations in Number, Data, and Space series, “repeating decimals are intriguing to fifth graders although these sessions are not focused on understanding which fractions result in repeating decimals and why.” and “Caution: an 8 digit calculator display is often insufficient for determining whether a number is a repeating decimal.”
From the petition:  DOES rely on “group think” and “discovery” by children vice individual mastery through teacher instruction and quality materials.

Analysis:  True.  Observe a class.

From the petition:  DOES progress at a remedial pace.

Analysis: True.  Grade 2 benchmarks for Investigations – find the sum of and difference between two numbers up to a sum of 45. Grade 2 VA SOL – find the sum of and difference between two numbers up to a sum of 99 (FYI – this standard was ranked as evident by the state).

From the petition: The overwhelming majority of Prince William County elementary school students were excelling in traditional mathematics prior to implementation of “Investigations.”

Analysis:  True.  Answered in the petition with the following sentence,”This is evidenced by PWCS annual average grade 3 and 5 SOL scores for the last several years and the nearly 50% of all PWCS elementary school students who, in the last two years running, scored high enough in annual SOL testing to qualify for advanced/extended mathematics programs in middle school (”


2 Responses to “In defense of the petition”

  1. Jackie4678 Says:

    Although we have over 1,400 signatures on the petition, I find it absurd that the School Board has yet to act on abolishing this substandard math curriculum! I trust that one signature is a fair representation of 100’s of other citizens who have yet to learn about the petition. We need more folks to step forward – email their respective School Board rep & speak out at bi-monthly School Board meetings. As much as PWCS touts a “balanced approach”, that’s simply PR tactics. Wake up and smell the math PWCS, it stinks!!

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