elephantgop.pngDuring the March 4th School Board meeting (see here), Math Investigations served as the primary topic of debate.  The board voted on the Opt In Option for Traditional Math and in an evenly split decision scuttled the proposal.  Then the board voted again and reaffirmed its support for a balance/blended approach.  With the balance/blended approach, the School Board promised once again to supplement Math Investigations with Traditional Math.  Thus, for the moment at least, the board set aside Math Investigations and moved onto the school budget (see here).

Did the School Board do the right thing?  Should the board have voted for the Opt In Option for Traditional Math?   I think so, but not because I claim the wisdom to judge whether or not the School Board’s balance/blended approach is superior.  I just think that decisions of this sort belong to parents.

We live in an ethnically diverse society.  What unites us is the notion of freedom.  The essence of a free society is that each citizen make choices for him or her self.  To be free, we each must be allowed to run our own lives.  That includes educating our children as we each see fit.

What confuses issues of choice?  Because it gives them greater control, those who would lead often point to the advantages of all conforming to the will of the majority.  So called experts point to their degrees and experience and self righteously proclaim their way is best for all.   What is funny about all this rigmarole is how few recognize it for what it is.  This is proselytizing and forced conversion.  Its clerics offer us new gods, new paths to salvation, and strange theologies, but the danger of their ideology is old as civilization.  They believe the Almighty State knows best.  Because of the power it gives them, such clerics would make a god of government.

Consider what it means to proselytize.

proselytized; p. pr. & vb. n. Proselytizing.]
To convert to some religion, system, opinion, or the like; to
bring, or cause to come, over; to proselyte.

Proselytizers do not have to advocate a belief in god.  What we call a religion does not even require a belief in God.  Buddhism, for example, requires no such belief.   A proselytizer may also be pure and loving or grimly evil.  Nazis and Communists butchered millions seeking converts.  All one needs to proselytize needs is a sincere belief, one that drives him or her to convert others.

In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with proselytizing.  We all have had occasion when well-meaning people have knocked upon our door and asked to talk to us.  Sometimes these folks are Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses.  At other times they are Republicans or Democrats.   Some of us may find these people annoying, but few of us think of such proselytizers as dangerous.

When does a proselytizer become dangerous?  That occurs when a proselytizer refuses to take “no” for an answer.  Therein lies the problem with Math Investigations and the public school system.   Because Prince William County Schools (PWCS) is a government-run institution, it can continue to teach Math Investigations without taking “no” for an answer.  In fact, when the PWCS educational staff gets it into its collective head to proselytize for a particular set of beliefs or a mode of education, even the School Board has a hard time saying “no.”   And such a situation now exists.  Almost all the people who spoke before the School Board in defense of Math Investigations were either teachers or principals.  Moreover, the folks responsible for instructional support and development strongly support Math Investigations.

Why do the teachers defend Math Investigations?  When there is so little hard evidence that proves Math Investigations works, that is not immediately clear.   Fortunately, the School Board, once strongly supportive of Math Investigations has by degrees slowly backed away.  That is because parents have complained, and the board has seen no substantial evidence Math Investigations is working in Prince William County.

Yet half of the board continues to give Math Investigations its support.   Some on the board clearly side with the PWCS staff.  Others have doubts about going against the “advice” of the PWCS staff.

  • Consider how Grant Lattin (School Board member for the Occoquan District) defended Math Investigations.  He pointed to this study, Rising Above the Gathering Storm:  Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.  This study shows a relative decline in the United States science and engineering capabilities.  Lattin said if we turned back from Math Investigations and returned to Traditional Math we may never recover our lost status.   Based upon his own personal experience, Lattin apparently has a heartfelt belief in Math Investigations.  Nonetheless, he conceded that many PWCS elementary schools are having trouble with Math Investigations.  He attributed the troubles at these schools to their failure to embrace Math Investigations.
  • What we should find more worrisome is the justification Dr. Michael Otaigbe gave for voting against the Opt In Option for Traditional Math.  Otaigbe worried that the PWCS instructional staff does not support the Opt In Option for Traditional Math.  He stated that if the board voted for the  Opt In Option for Traditional Math the instructional staff could not be held accountable because they had effectively advised against it.

My first reaction to Lattin’s remarks was that he was blaming the victim.  However, in one sense he may be right.  Whenever people try as hard as they can to make something work, they do stand a better chance of making it work.  What I question, however, is the need, right, or efficacy of forcing people to embrace Math Investigations.  Similarly, I could see the logic of Otaigbe’s position.  At first blush, Otaigbe’s position seems very much like a refusal to accept responsibility, and I suspect he has lost sleep over this choice.  Nonetheless, there is also truth in what he said.

From my perspective, this situation well demonstrates the limits of government and the need for School Choice (see here, here, and here).  When parents should be in charge of the education of their children, we have “experts”  running the show.  Even elected officials fear to go against the expert’s “advice.”   This is not a healthy situation, and Milt Johns is justified in calling attention to it (see here).

We must reconsider what it means to have government-run education.  Government-run schools means depending upon the judgment of people we do not know and did not choose, complete and utter strangers.  When we would not allow a stranger to choose our house or our car, why should we force parents to depend upon strangers to choose a school for their child?



  1. By your definition, Tom, the biggest proselytizers in this county are the members of the BOCS. Talk about not being heard and not having choices!

    That said, I think Gil Trenum’s idea of an opt-in was a good one but maybe not logistically practical. I don’t know how the numbers would work–he would have to tell us.

    Incidentally, I HATE when parties call me for money. I won’t donate to them, so they might as well just stop calling. It’s annoying, especially when they try to convince me I have more money than I do. Believe me, my spare change isn’t going to any of them.


  2. Perhaps I’m being thick, but I don’t understand why an alternate instructional track would be logistically impractical. Students rotate for classes now, in Elementary School. They rotate for PE, for Science, for Music, Art, Spanish, etc. They even break up so that half the class will go to science with on group and the other half will go to PE with a different group. How is rotating for math any more difficult from a logistical standpoint than rotating for encores?

    I also don’t understand the concern about costs. Yes, materials cost money. But the opt in would have reduced our need to purchase Investigations materials and those savings could have been netted against the cost of purchasing materials for the alternate program. Investigations has a heavy professional development requirement and costs us an arm and a leg. An alternate program with a lower professional development demand would reduce those costs. And then there’s the additional $1.3 million in salaries the county is set to incur to support the TERC math specialists.

    So you’ll have to explain the logistical and financial concerns a bit more.


  3. Ed

    Tom failed to mention that Ms Ramirez said MI was working in her district when it is not.
    She apparently got the idea that it is working from the math department and we are still waiting for the figures proving that.
    The SOL results for each school are public information; we can see that they were not being truthful.

    They are terrified that only the non-AYP students will take up the traditional track and widen the gap further so instead, they all get dumbed down.


  4. I don’t KNOW what the logistics would be, PWC. I DO know moving classes, teachers and books around would be difficult and perhaps expensive. I would have to see the breakdowns.


  5. How would it be expensive?

    Schools would buy the textbooks and materials students need. Teachers in the same grade level would have math at the same time and then the kids would move to which ever classroom they need to go to.

    So teacher A may have 12 kids who follow the math program she provides and 12 kids who follow the math program teacher B provides. During math 12 of her kids would leave and go to teacher B’s room and 12 of teacher B’s students would come to her room. They’d flip back to their homeroom teacher at the end of math.

    I’m not sure where the additional expense comes in. You’ve got the same number of teachers teaching the same core topics for the same period of time every day.

    So where’s the expense? What’s so complicated about that? It seems pretty basic to me.


  6. Pingback: Traditional Math in Elementary Schools « Citizen Tom

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