Thursday, October 05, 2006

40th Carnival of Homeschooling


Interesting post at Textbook Evaluator on the DOE's apparent endorsement of controversial mathematics curriculum Everyday Math. The Evaluator follows the trail to the actual studies that are supposed to prove the program's effectiveness, and discovers (surprise) that there's no there there. (Do follow the links: this is a curriculum so bad it was rejected in California, but is used or under consideration in plenty of other states, and now has a senseless DOE imprimatur.)

Since the horribleness of public school math curriculums are one of Eudoxus' top 5 reasons for homeschooling (he flipped through one of the locally used elementary school math textbooks back when we were making The Decision, and nearly had an apoplectic fit--and they say it's hard to get your husband on board with homeschooling!), this is a subject of interest to us. Amazing that homeschoolers get to pick among the cheap and proven effective Saxon, Miquon/Key To, and Singapore Math curriculums, and the public schools are still failing to figure out how to teach math. Even with both hands and a flashlight.


Anonymous Mark Montgomery said...

Thanks for linking to my post. I just want to make clear, however, that the textbook programs you mention also lack adequate academic research behind them to prove their effectiveness. Different people have different opinions regarding the relative worth of various programs, including Saxon and Singapore, but there is a dearth of convincing research-based "proof" that either is better or worse than Everyday Math. In my post I meant to illustrate that "proof" is, thus far, and illusory goal. Until such proof exists, it will be your opinion against the other guy's. Let us hope that more and better research will help us to settle these philosophical disputes once and for all.

9:17 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Acknowledged, and I should have qualified that "proven effective" I stuck in there.

2 points regarding the search for proof:

First, as the only math teacher of my children, the best and only "proof" I can have is purely anecdotal: what I myself have discovered, after trial, error, and educated guessing, to result in my child knowing mathematics. When there's only one student involved, anecdotal success is in fact a trial involving 100% of all students.

For students in a school, though, the kind of proof must be (as you point out) based on genuine research. That this research continues to be absent, despite the huge amount of money involved (and the purported desire of schools of education to be taken seriously in academia), is unforgivable.

Second, even in the absence of research, there's self-evident inferiority of mathematics curricula when the textbooks can't be taught from; when certain concepts just aren't covered, or are explained in a way confusing to any reader, or are overwhelmed by non-mathematical material (I see plenty of this in science textbooks also).

There may be no research-based proof that a sulfurous egg is less tasty than a fresh one; but only an idiot would serve the former and pretend it might turn out to be good.

1:33 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

For the sake of full accuracy I should mention that the only math teacher of my children is actually my husband; but since he's an Opinionated Homeschooler also, I get to sometimes use the first person when in fact referring to him.

1:35 PM  
Anonymous Mark Montgomery said...

Thanks for the clarification. One quick note on the "anedotal" proof you offer. I am happy that you have found a math program that works well for you and for your child. But a single case, no matter how successful, cannot be extrapolated or generalized. What works for your child may or may not work for mine. Our differences, real or perceived, certainly do not negate the success you have experienced. But it's no more "proof" than the studies reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse.

In our business, our aim is to evaluate curricula based on objective criteria, both in terms of content and the instructional design. I agree that there are some curricula that fall down on one or another or both of these categories of criteria. Even Saxon and Singapore have their weak links, despite their strengths in other areas. What we try to do is identify strengths and weaknesses in all curricular programs so that teachers (including parents) can instruct to a program's strengths, and at the same time, shore up its weaknesses.

What I see all too often among proponents of particular curricula or approaches is that they become overly cheery about a program's strengths without recognizing its flaws. The disagreements that have led to the "math wars," in my view, come not so much from any objective view of the "right" or "wrong" way to teach math, but from philosophical differences about waht is important.

Of course, we could argue philosophy all day long and not get anywhere. My hope is that by reviewing materials based on objective, transparent criteria that we can get away from the philosophical wars and start talking about the things we agree upon: that we both want to ensure that our kids learn as much math as efficiently and effectively as possible.

Thanks for the interesting dialogue.

2:44 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...

Agreed, and sorry if I was unclear; by "proof" I didn't mean something that could be extrapolated to other students, but something that had been "proved" sufficiently for its purpose (i.e. the education of a single child). That's a standard that's ideal for a one-on-one tutoring situation, but as you say, not good enough for a system-wide use of a certain curriculum.

Thank you, also, for the dialogue. I like to keep on learning from people who know what they're talking about.

3:07 PM  

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