NSF EHR sends more money down the drain

The Directorate of Education at the NSF is one of the largest sources of cash for educational research and educational program development in the United States.  If your child’s school uses Investigations, Every Day Math, Connected Math, or any other such “fuzzy” math programs, you can thank the good people of the NSF Education Directorate because much of the money to develop those programs came from them.  Money from the NSF for more traditional programs, like Saxon, has been scarce.

The NSF has funded the development of virtually every constructivist / standards based/ reform math program in existence in the US.   It’s done more than just fund the development of these programs, it’s funded the development of programs to convince school districts and parents of the need for them, to train teachers on how to teach them, and to assess how effective the programs really are.

And what does the NSF Education Directorate have to show for the hundreds of millions of dollars it’s spent funding research to assess the effectiveness of the math programs it developed and sold to school districts around the country?

Little to nothing.

You see, scientific research is supposed to, well, meet the minimum standards of quality to be reasonably relied upon.  But the NSF Education Directorate, apparently, doesn’t require that the research it funds meet those standards.  The result, bogus education studies that can’t be relied upon and wasted money.

The National Math Advisory Panel (NMAP) ran into this problem when they began assessing that state of mathematics education in the United States.

“The Panel’s systematic reviews have yielded hundreds of studies on important topics, but only a small proportion of those studies have met methodological standards. Most studies have failed to meet standards of quality because they do not permit strong inferences about causation or causal mechanisms (Mosteller & Boruch, 2002; Platt, 1964). Many studies rely on self-report, introspection about what has been learned or about learning processes, and open-ended interviewing techniques, despite well-known limitations of such methods (e.g., Brainerd, 1973; Nisbett & Ross, 1980; Woodworth, 1948).”

So did the US Dept of Education’s What Works Clearing House when they attempted to gauge the effectiveness of the four most “popular” elementary mathematics programs.  The WWC’s study was hindered by the fact that:

“No studies of Investigations in Number, Data, and Space® that fall within the scope of the Elementary School Math review protocol meet What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) evidence standards. The lack of studies meeting WWC evidence standards means that, at this time, the WWC is unable to draw any conclusions based on research about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of Investigations in Number, Data, and Space®”.

Amazing, isn’t it?  Here are hundreds of supposedly scientific studies, funded by the NSF, which are supposed to gauge whether the new math programs are actually effective, and they can’t be relied upon.

Yet those studies are still being circulated and used by sales people to convince schools and parents of the need for these constructivist programs.

And it’s not just the NSF that backs bogus studies which show how wonderful constructivist program are. The textbook publishers are part of the game as well and debunking their claims is as easy as picking up the phone. Who can forget the research of one of our citizens which demonstrated that more than 60% of the schools cited as Evidence of Investigations Success by Pearson Publishing, Investigations Publisher, are no longer using Investigations.  PWC Schools own department head defended Pearson’s bogus list.

As long as school board members remain complaint and refuse to do their own research and challenge the assertions of school system employees, as long as parents and politician’s prefer ignorance to knowledge, as long as teachers cower in fear of reprisal, our children’s education will continue to suffer.


1. National Science Foundation Systematic Initiativesby McKeown, Klein, and Patterson.

2. School math books, nonsense, and the National Science Foundation, by David Klein, Guest Editorial to be published in the American Journal of Physics, December 2006

3. List of a couple of the NSF Grants funding Connected Mathematics

4.  Who’s who in the math wars – follow the money


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