school.pngThis is the second part of a three-part series on how the Prince William County School Board dealt with Math Investigations at its January 21 meeting.  In Part 1, we listed the arguments of teachers and principals in defense of Math Investigations.  In addition, we listed the comments of parents, largely in protest, on the Math Investigations program.  This post will consider the comments of the School Board.  Because this section was longer than expected, I have decided to consider the treatment of the event by the news media and to offer a few observations of my own in a third post.

What Did The School Board Have To Say?

As Chairman of the School Board, Milt Johns initiated and regulated the discussion of Math Investigations.  He began the discussion by making it clear that he put the subject on the agenda at request of several board members.  He also defined the terms of the Opt In Option for Traditional Math in Elementary Schools.  Johns proposed the following for PWCS’s K – 5 Math Investigations program:

  • That PWCS’ two traditional schools revert to teaching Traditional Mathematics in the September 2009.
  • That any elementary school where the parents of at least 25 students (same grade level) request (in person or writing by March 31, 2009) traditional mathematics instruction offer a Traditional Mathematics class for those children.   The Opt In Option would commence in September 2009.

Johns then requested that each of the board’s members offer their own comments in two rounds, allowing each member several minutes each round.  Finally, Johns closed with his own comments.

Here is a rough summary of the comments from the board’s members.

  • Dr. Michael Otaigbe: Dr. Otaigbe appreciated the opportunity to consider the Opt In Option for Traditional Math.  Otaigbe observed that PWCS is well known for offering students a choice, and he gave the example of the variety of programs offered at various high schools.  He noted that teachers and parents must work together to teach children.  If some parents do not accept the Math Investigations program, then their children will have trouble learning.   The Opt In Option would give parents — and teachers — an alternative.    Otaigbe stated he supports the Opt In Option.
  • Julie Lucas: Lucas began by addressing one of the concerns of the parents who spoke during Citizen Comments.  She said she does not have a staff, and that she was unable to respond to all the emails from parents.  She also said that she did not have any parents complaining about Math Investigations in her district.  However, she did get complaints from other districts, and she feels an obligation to listen to the concerns of all parents.   She wants parents to feel welcomed by PWCS.  Lucas advocated a work session.  She is clearly concerned that the Opt In Option could generate additional costs for PWCS.
  • Betty Covington: Covington echoed Lucas’ inability to respond to all the emails.  She said a significant number of parents in her district are unhappy with Math Investigations, too many to ignore the complaints.  She wonders why the Opt In Option would not be a win-win for everyone and did not see any reason why it could not be made to work.  “You can make what works work if you want it to work.”   The Opt In Option would not be an abandonment of Math Investigations; it would be an alternative for the parents who want one.   “Parents are our customers.”   She also said she has spoken to teachers who are unhappy with Math Investigations.   Covington support for the Opt In Option is so strong she expressed concern that the requirement for at least 25 students might be too large at the smaller schools.  She suggested basing implementation of the Opt In Option upon the percentage of the students whose parents request it.  She supports a work session.
  • Denita Ramirez: Ramirez appreciates the passion of teachers and parents and their desire to put parents first.  She has not heard many complaints from parents in her district, but has heard complaints.  She is not yet convinced that the data supports Math Investigations.  She prefers the blended Math Investigations/Traditional Math approach, but she hears some teachers are not using a blended approach — not fair!   If PWCS cannot guarantee the blended approach is consistently offered to students, she will support the Opt In Option.  However, she is concerned the Opt In Opt would be difficult to schedule and would be detrimental to disadvantaged students.    She supports a work session.
  • Don Richardson: Richardson is convinced that the Opt In Option will cost additional funds.  Busing students, for example, would cost money.  Scheduling and managing two programs would also cost, but that cost would be difficult to determine.  With the budget cuts, now is not the time for new spending.    Richardson opposes putting another burden on staff.   However, Richardson’s big objection is philosophical.  Decision-making authority should not be taken from professionals.   The school staff has earned his respect, and he trusts their judgment.  The Opt In Option would set a bad precedent.  The School Board risks other parents asking for an Opt In Option for their favored alternative in other subjects.  Further, preliminary data shows Math Investigations is just beginning to work.   His goal is to get a program that works for the largest number of students.   Instead of abandoning the Math Investigations program, the debate should be used to how to improve and make instruction more consistent.   Richardson reminded members that the board voted unanimously for the Math Investigations program.
  • Gil Trenum: Trenum appreciated the comments about students losing number sense and analytical capabilities, but that was during a steady state — when no changes were being made.  Trenum also noted that choice is common in the PWCS system, and that the reason the balanced (or blended) approach was implemented was due to complaints from parents.  He wondered aloud what he should do if a parent complains his child is not getting it.  Traditional Math does work for some children.   Trenum added that teachers should be provided the tools they need and allowed the discretion to use those tools.
  • Grant Lattin: Lattin began by reminding us of the problem that the Math Investigations was launched to address.  The children of the U.S.A. are rated only 19th in math.  The relative loss of math skills in this nation has profound implications for future prosperity, and the decline occurred with Traditional Math.  Math Investigations is not the cause of the decline.  He reminded parents that the first couple of years were expected to be difficult; people have to be convinced.   He believe Math Investigations is working; he has talked to all the principals in his district, and they support the program.  He said it would be a shame to abandon the program just as it is beginning to work.  Lattin supports a blended approach and said teachers should be encouraged to use both Math Investigations and Traditional Math techniques in their instruction.
  • Milt Johns: Johns began his comments by thanking Superintendent Walts for his tolerance.  He noted that the Math Investigations program in PWCS predated Walts.  Walts did not initiate the program; he implemented it.  Moreover, Walts pioneered the blended approach.  Johns made it clear that the Opt In Option would not end Math Investigations.  The Opt In Option would not deprive any parent who want their child to have Math Investigations.  Nonetheless, Johns felt the need to respond to the criticism which he feels is extensive.  He had two or more emails from parents from each of 26 elementary schools.   Johns is not worried about setting a precedence with the Opt In Option and sees no slippery slope.   He also sees no additional cost.  The Traditional Math program would use textbooks that have already been purchased and an established curriculum.    No work session is needed, and budget process will use up most of the available time.  What is needed is a decision.  However, Johns agreed to poll board member on the need for a work session via email.

Johns also responded directly to some of the Citizen Comments and the email has received.  He defended the integrity of the staff from the comments of some parents (something Richardson did as well during his comments).   At the same time he indicated some disappointment with the comments and email from a minority of the teachers.  Some teachers began attacking the Opt In Option before they even knew what it was.  Further, he felt the criticism of parents and their right to be involved in curriculum choices was unwarranted (a point also made earlier by Covington).  Of course parents have the right to determine what their children learn.  The School Board itself is a parent-run institution.

Still More to Come

As their comments demonstrate, the board is split on the Opt In Option.   Fortunately, the members of the School Board usually work well together.  Hopefully, they will find a compromise that works well for everyone.

The next post will consider the value added by news media coverage.  In addition, I will explain what I think the average citizen has to learn from the School Board’s dilemma.

Part 3 of this series is here.

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Just For Fun






By now everyone who wants to know knows the House approved President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

In a swift victory for President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled House approved a historically huge $819 billion stimulus bill Wednesday night with spending increases and tax cuts at the heart of the young administration’s plan to revive a badly ailing economy. The vote was 244-188, with Republicans unanimous in opposition despite Obama’s frequent pleas for bipartisan support.

“This recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years,” the president said in a written statement released moments after the House voted. Still later, he welcomed congressional leaders of both parties to the White House for drinks as he continued to lobby for the legislation.  (from here)

Is this a good thing?  What is in this $819 billion dollar bill?  What have Obama’s excuse-makers in the corporate news media not told us?  What have they let slip?  This morning I read another article in the New York Times — no less.

The economic stimulus plan that Congress has scheduled for a vote on Wednesday would shower the nation’s school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education’s current budget.

The proposed emergency expenditures on nearly every realm of education, including school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students, would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II.

Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.  (from here)

In addition to taking us further down the road towards socialism (and serfdom), Obama seeks to erode the power of state and local government.  Because the hand that pays the bill welds real power, if the Federal Government pays for the education of our children, the Federal Government will control the education of our children.

How will this power be used?  Could it be used for tyranny?   Don’t tyrants seek control and to maintain control by any means necessary?  Consider this legend from ancient Greece where one tyrant asks another tyrant a question.

The Anecdote on Thrasybulus

Periander sent a messenger to Thrasybulus to ask for advice on ruling Corinth. Thrasybulus did not answer, but took the messenger out for a walk in the corn field. As they strolled along, Thrasybulus idly swatted the corn with his stick, so cutting back the stems that stuck out above the rest. The messenger returned and told Periander what had happened. Periander deduced that Thrasybulus’s advice was to kill the most outstanding citizens. Any student of modern tyranny knows that Thrasybulus’s advice is followed to this day. The most outstanding citizens are likely to be the prime challengers of the tyrant’s power.  (from here)

There many ways by which the most outstanding citizens can be cut down.  One is to never allow potential challengers to be educated to their full potential.  Is it an accident that the rich elite send their children private schools?

What is worst, however, than any individual tyrant is the tyranny of the majority.    Imagine the society we are creating, one ruled by a powerful central government that makes the rules and sets the standards of morality.  Imagine a government that educates every child and adult from cradle to grave.  If at the instruction of our leaders we insist everyone think the same and do the same, what will our children become?

Imagine what a devil from hell might think of such a place as we are creating.  See here.


elephantgop.pngIn spite of many problems, this was a surprisingly upbeat meeting.  In week that preceded it, we had inaugurated a new president, a Democrat, and our new president had swiftly begun his unraveling of the accomplishments of the last administration.   Moreover, as the economy totters and slips into recession, the new Democratic Party regime threatens a ferocious expansion of government.   Nonetheless, Republican Party members smiled and joked good-naturedly.

From the Candidates

Representatives from Bob McDonnell‘s, Bill Bolling‘s, and Ken Cuccinelli‘s campaigns spoke.

  • McDonnell is gathering steam.  He has raised $2 million in his campaign to be our next governor.
  • Bolling’s fund raising is also going well.  Bolling will kickoff his campaign at our state’s Republican Party Convention in May (See here for details.).  He is asking for our support.
  • Milt Johns, Chairman of the School Board, spoke up Cuccinelli.  He reminds party members that Cuccinelli is a strong Conservative.  He also pointed out that as a state senator representing a northern Virginia district Cuccinelli has demonstrated he as the capacity to run for and win elected office state-wide.

Treasurer’s Report

This was Bert Buscher’s first meeting as our new Treasurer.  Buscher did what he was suppose to do, and most folks seem relieved to have him in charge of the budget.   Buscher allowed the committee to focus on how the committee spends its money instead how it tracks its money.

Discussion of the budget focused on one item, the March 14th Republican Convention in Prince William County.  Since the upcoming elections in November of 2009 are for statewide offices only, the county convention ordinarily would be a pro forma exercise.  The convention would only be needed if more Republicans applied to attend the state convention than the county is allowed to send.  That is not expect to happen.  So ordinarily the county convention would be canceled after processing the applications to attend the state convention.  However, the executive committee felt this year should be different.  They proposed using the convention as a rally and for party building.

Reaction from committee members varied.  Some expressed puzzlement.  If the convention would serve no specific purpose, why have it?  Most, however, thought the executive committee worthy and supported it.

Author’s note:  The PWCRC leadership probably hopes that the initiatives being carried out by Democrats will have the contrary effect of rallying Conservative oppostion.  If so, the PWC Republican Party Convention could serve as a local rallying point.

The details (or the call for the convention) are not yet on the PWCRC‘s website, but they should be soon.   What is known is that the convention will be held at Stonewall Jackson Senior High School in Manassas, Virginia, on March 14, 2009.  Applications for the convention must be received or postmarked by March 7, 2009.  To get a copy of the Official Call and application for the Convention, please contact the PWCRC.

Feedback on the General Assembly Provided by Del. Bob Marshall

To post committee members on the progress on the latest meeting of our General Assembly, Del. Bob Marshall spoke.   Virginia’s projected budget is in the red.  Marshall said Kaine is underestimating the deficit in order to maintain spending.  Governor Kaine is looking for $2.9 billion in cuts, but Marshall expects the deficit to be significant larger.  He said 39 other states had more accurate budget projections than Virginia.

Marshall also highlighted bills he is sponsoring (See here for Marshall’s bills.).

Because they allow the donor to remain anonymous, Marshall want to limit some types of on-line donations.   HB 1658 would prohibit candidates from accepting campaign contributions through a “stored value card.”  Why?

Unlike traditional credit cards, the prepaid plastic doesn’t require extensive identification, address and financial information verification for approval. That allows anyone anywhere in the world to influence elections for Virginia state offices, Marshall argued.

“I could do this all day and no one would ever know what’s going on,” Marshall said. “Cash cards don’t allow for a system for verifying the address or identity” of a giver.

That’s a particular hazard in Virginia, Marshall argued. The state is one of only five with no limit on campaign contributions; it relies instead on disclosure to hold candidates and donors accountable.  (from here)

For some reason, Governor Kaine opposes Marshall’s bill.  Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the current occupant in the White House raises lots of money from donors using pre-paid credit cards.

HB 1587 provides that the Commonwealth will not participate in the compliance of any provision of the federal Real ID Act and of any other federal law, regulation, or policy that would compromise the economic privacy or biometric data of any resident of the Commonwealth.   Marshall claims that the Real ID Act does not protect individual privacy.  He explains the issue in detail on his own website (here).

On the other hand, Marshall is concerned that citizens provide proper identification when appropriate.  To ensure the integrity of our voting rights, Marshall is sponsoring HB 2509HB 2509 would toughen the requirements for voter ID and prevent the illegalities most associated with ACORN (See here.).

Special Election Bid

Supervisor Michael May asked committee members to lend their support to Pat Herrity in his special election bid to serve as the Chair of the Fairfax Board of County Supervisors.   The election is scheduled for February 3rd.  As turnout will be the major factor in winning this election, volunteer support in getting out the vote will be critical.

Endorsement of Michael Steele for RNC Chair

When one of members made a motion for the PWCRC to endorse Michael Steele, the hottest debate of the evening ensued.  The essential problem was that PWCRC members had not anticipated giving this endorsement so they were not prepared.  Nonetheless, because Michael Steele is well known to the committee, he received the PWCRC‘s emphatic endorsement.

Nonetheless, some members voiced specific reservations.  In spite of his pro-life stance, Steele has associated with the RLC and pro-abortion Republicans (see here).

Editorial Comments by the Author

Because no one knows what the future holds, we can never rightly give up.  We always must strive to do our best.  To sustain our optimism, it is always delightful to see signs of hope.   Given that this January and November is still many months away, I was pleased to see a relatively large turnout for the PWCRC meeting.  In spite of a last minute venue change, the specific announcement that members had only to attend January’s or February’s meeting to remain current, and impending bad weather; people showed up.  In addition, lots of new members arrived to turn in their applications.    This was good to see!

In every cloud there is a silver lining.  As Del. Bob Marshall pointed out during his presentation, our new president, Barack Obama, is our best weapon.   Because Obama’s policies are clearly both socially and fiscally irresponsible, he serves as a rallying point.   Nonetheless, the Republican Party must offer a clear alternative vision.   Instead of competing with Democrats to provide pork to favored constituents, Republicans must emphasize limited government and individual responsibility.  Unfortunately, with the exception of a few brave souls, elected Republicans have done little more than define themselves as only slightly less porky and nosy than Democrats.

We are still a federation.  Our politics still begin at the local level.  We can still support and raise up the good men and women amongst us and elect them to national office.  We can replace the political opportunists we have elected, but it will take time, hard effort, and fortitude.

On March 14, PWC Republicans will rally.  Then in May we will meet in Richmond, VA in convention.   If you are a conservative and you care about the future of your community and your country, please join us.

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