Meeting with College of Superintendents
Apr 28, 2016 — Dear fellow petitioners,
Today, I and the mathematician Dr. Troitsky met with the Executive Director of the College of Superintendents, Mr. Barry Litun, and two teachers Bonnie E and Robert M. Bonnie and Robert have additonal training in math education and are supporters of the "new math" curriculum. I am grateful for Dr. Troitsky who was there share his concerns of what he is seeing by the time these students get to university.
Here is the gist of the meeting:
1. I brought a large stack of names on the petition to the meeting to highlight the enormity of our concerns. I pointed out the over 20,000 names on our petitions (online & paper) and asked if Mr. Litun, as head of the College of Superintendents, would acknowledge that the 2007 revised (new) math curriculum has caused harm on our children?
Mr. Litun looked at the stack and said that he cannot acknowledge it. He thinks "harm" is too strong a word. And I indicated to him that yes, if they have turned our bright children off math, caused them to lose confidence, and potentially close doors on our children, then it is causing harm. He thinks that as with any change, there will be some people who don't like change. He thinks if the change can bring up the weak students while not bringing down the strong students, then it's a good change. I pointed out that in fact many parents had reported frustration in their bright children. The two teachers reported seeing success and having positive experiences with the curriculum in their school, and I pointed out that at the end of the day, if there are this many names on a petition reporting problems, then the curriculum has indeed caused some harm. Would he acknowledge this? After pressing him a few more times, Mr Litun said he would think about it and get back to me on that.
2. The teachers, of course, reported having positive experiences in the classroom with their students as they can see how their students are understanding math and getting number sense, as opposed to before when it's all worksheets and algorithms without understanding.
I pointed out that I don't agree that teachers previously just taught straight algorithms, eg multiplying 9x 5, without helping students understand the meaning of what they're doing. Nonetheless, I reminded them that there were revisions in 2014 that we had pushed for that stated that there should be greater emphasis on ensuring mastery of basic facts, through memory work and practice. They acknowledged the changes. I said that there were clarifications in 2014 that teachers are not obligated to teach multiple strategies if a child can understand and compute efficiently and effectively in one method, and they agree that that is the case. These teachers say their end goal to some of the strategies they've used on their students is to help their students become efficient at their algorithms. These teachers say they do let their students practice to become efficient. They feel that a part of the problem is the misinterpretation of the curriculum by many teachers when teachers think they have to teach all 4-5strategies to a calculation. Dr Troitsky pointed out how some teachers are marking things wrong when students are not using the strategies that were taught. I said that is why we are trying to get Minister Eggen to refine the "clarifications" even further, to make it explicitly clear that multiple strategies are not necessary.
3. Mr. Litun and Bonnie felt that using the word "discovery" brings a negative connotation to the math. He says he's asked a few people and no where in the curriculum does it states that its discovery math.
I pointed out that "discovery" math is interchangeable with "inquiry" math -- same philosophy. The fact sheets from 2007 supports the "discovery" push with it emphasizing "personal strategies" and disparaging the use of algorithms (standard vertical addition/subtraction with carry, long division, times table, etc). And discovery/inquiry math often discourages memory work/practice. I also pointed out that Sharon Friesen (the lead in Inspiring Education) wrote in her 2013 paper on Inquiry-Based learning that the "math program explicitly calls for students to use organizational proces and tools to manage and plan for inquiry." So Mr. Litun should no longer think that we are exaggerating when we say that the 2007 math curriculum was a discovery math curriculum. It is only this past year, 2015, that the curriculum formally reintroduced the standard algorithms into the math curriculum. The college of superintendents/school boards are doing a disservice to parents when they are bringing in discovery math proponents when the curriculum is expecting more emphasis on the basics. Again, the language disparaging memory work sets off a harmful sequelae. Memory work is an important tool for the mind. Do not discourage it while teaching understanding.
4. I pointed out that he, the superintendents, the teachers, etc ultimately work for us, the parents. They are employed by us. Mr. Litun agrees. I pointed out that we parents have no vested interests as opposed to the school boards/superintendents, etc who attend conferences where they are subjected to for-profit marketing from people who want to push their product. I pointed out the steering committee lead, Sharon Friesen, for the Inspiring Education initiative was the founder of the Galileo Network which sells the inquiry learning ideologies.
Mr. Litun says "but..." he thinks there's been great success with the curriculum...he thinks there's more students than ever completing highschool and finishing higher level math. We asked him to show us the data and he says he will find it for us.
5. When we got on the topic of Inspiring Ed, I asked where it stands, and he didn't answer that directly, but he said that many in the system like the 2013 Ministerial Order. He says that Inspiring Ed interviewed thousands of Albertans and less than 1% chose not to change the education system. He was a part or attended the IE forum.
I had to point out to him that that is an overexaggeration. Only about 3000 people participated in some form of discussion regarding education at the time (2009) and only 903 people voted for informed transformation of our education system. That's significantly less than the number on our petitions. Hence, not even representative of all Albertans. I got Mr. Litun to admit that really when the people voted for "change" there was no discussion on what exactly the change was. He agrees that the poeple did not specifically vote for our school system to radically shift over to "inquiry-based learning".
6. I asked the teachers whether they would want to be legislated to teach via inquiry (versus the traditional methods of teaching). I told them that I have many teachers telling me that they do not want to be told how to teach because they have had great success with traditional approaches. Mr. Litun says that he feels many teachers who are resistant to the changes are likely very narrowed or inflexible in their thinking. He thinks these are the teachers who are so proud that they get 70% of students to do well and ignore the other 30%. I told him I don't believe this to be the case, that I'm sure those 30% aren't ignored by teachers. Many of the students who don't do well are students who have social issues at home, etc...not because of the traditional teaching. I think the traditional ways of teaching has worked well for the majority, but from his experience, he doesn't agree. I told them that there are great value in traditional methods as it teaches students patience, resilience and respect for authority, etc. However, I am not entirely against discovery/inquiry when the teachers deem it necessary. I just don't think pedagogy or a way of teaching should be legislated when there has been so much success with the traditional system. Again Mr. Litun thinks the "traditional" ways have failed more students.
I pointed out the Fraser Scores/ PAT scores - schools that are more traditional like Mount Pleasant are at the top of the list in ranking, while schools that have emphasis on inquiry/discovery-based/problem-based learning like Michael Strembitsky school or Bessie Nichols schools are doing more poorly. He, of course, questions the scores.
I pointed out the letter that a student wrote pleading to leave the inquiry-based school she was enrolled in because she felt she was learning nothing, but he didn't appreciate the weight of that. The fact that this one student, if not many, are not learning from inquiry-based school suggest that inquiry-based learning does not work for everyone. That is, it is not all-inclusive. Therefore, they should not be making wholesale change to a school system over to inquiry-based learning. I told him about the teacher who told me to keep working at this education issue because she was in one of the inquiry-based schools and saw how lost the students were and how little of the curriculum they covered, and that she had marked math tests for the Cogito program (traditional) and the inquiry based school, and the students from the Cogito programs did exceedingly well compared to the inquiry-based school. I also pointed out the recent decline the PAT scores in mathematics, but Mr. Litun wants to hang on to the belief, that if we give it a few year, the scores will even out or be better. I pointed out that I'm not afraid of change. It's the fact that we are seeing failing scores after so many years the discovery changes that is concerning. But, Mr. Litun feels positive about what's happening in the schools.
7. Re Inspiring Education specifically, I read to Mr. Litun statements from Sharon Friesen's 2013 paper on Inquiry-based learning:
"The Ministry of Education recently SOLIDIFIED its COMMITMENT to INQUIRY-BASED learning by releasing INSPIRING EDUCATION (Alberta Ed, 2010), which sets out a longterm vision for education in the province as well as a broad policy framework to 2030."
Then the Inspiring Education symposium statement in 2014:
"The new Ministerial Order on Student Learning is a key milestone toward achieving the vision of Inspiring Education. It is a foundational policy framework that provides an overview of thh goals and expectations for the educational journey of Alberta's K-12 students, and establishes a clear mandate for Alberta Education and school authories to follow when developing provincial curriculum."
Then the statements Minister Eggen is telling our fellow petitioners in letters this year:
"Inspiring Education was an initiative of the previous government to gather the views of Albertans regarding teh suggested overall direction, principles, and goals for education in Alberta. It is not a policy document. It also does not provide instruction to teachers or boards on student achievement or curriculum."
Clearly, the statements from Minister Eggen are untruths, ie. lies, considering the previous statements from the Inspiring Educ people themselves affirming that the 2013 Ministerial order IS A POLICY DOCUMENT that directly resulted from Sharon Friesen's 2010 Inspiring Education document. Did I mention Sharon Friesen is a founder of the Galileo network, an inquiry-based learning business in Calgary? Mr. Litun hesitated and said then that he's not familiar enough with the Inspiring document to comment on that.
So, Mr. Litun will try to get some statistics for me and Dr. Troitsky to prove that the new system is yielding greater success for students, as he doesn't think all our numbers proving otherwise is accurate.
The fact that Mr. Litun won't acknowledge the potential harm of a wholesale move to inquiry-based learning for our entire school system, considering concerns with the mathematics, is quite worrisome especially when studies have proven the inferiority of inquiry-based learning. Because the schools/superintendents/boards/ministry work for us parents, ethically, they need to listen to us when we say we do not want a whole system of inquiry/discovery-based learning. I wonder how many more students would have to fail before they admit they've made a mistake? I don't believe I am an unreasonable person. I will rest my case if Mr. Litun can prove to me that there has been an actual improvement in knowledge and skills since this all started, but I have my doubts.
Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies
p.s Minister Eggen and his team continue to ignore my emails and phone calls requesting further dialogue...is this ethical?
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