Monday, April 13, 2009

Enlightened exchanges with Reform Math defenders

Recently I came across a blog by a math educator named Michael Paul Goldenberg who expresses a degree of skepticism about some of the criticisms of Reform Math. The purpose of his blog, he has written, is

to provide direct replies to entries on other blogs where the blogger invites feedback but refuses to post negative responses, critical comments, uncomfortable questions, etc., of ANY kind, regardless of how polite they may be. What do such people fear, I wonder?
I posted a query on his blog, which led Mr. Goldenberg to post a comment on my blog, which led me to post a comment on his blog, which led him to post a comment on my blog. Our back and forth, I believe, says much about the heights of intellectual honesty, ethical consistency, and mutual respect to which the Math Wars have soared. Here's the conversation, unedited, in its entirety:
Lefty: [commenting on this post]

How do you feel about the content and pedagogy of Singapore Math?

If more U.S. schools were to use Singapore Math instead of Everyday Math, Trailblazers, or Investigations, do you believe that would lead to an improvement, or a further decline, in U.S. math education?

My blog ( gives regular comparison problems between Singapore Math, French Math, and Reform Math.

Micheal Paul Goldenberg: [commenting on this post]

Ah, Lefty, I see what you're about. Do you seriously propose that you've offered a balanced sampling of the two curricula? Why not just state outright that you are choosing to trash CMP? Not that your tactics are at all subtle.

Love those extra credit problems, too. Lovely propagandizing. Just nothing to do with what this debate is really about. I'd hoped for better when you left your link on my blog, but all I see thus far is predictable, dull, and utterly useless.

I'm sure your fans, however, are VERY impressed. Too bad those of us who actually have seen all the CMP materials know that you are stacking the deck, loading the dice, and, like most anti-reform ideologues I've met, trying to rig the game entirely to favor your own prejudices.

Lefty: [attempting to comment on this post, but "moderated out"]

Given that you find my blog, in your words, "predictable, dull, and utterly useless," I can't expect you to return and read my reply to your post there. So I'll copy my reply here, and see if you publish it. (The language of your comment, btw, suggests why you've chosen to moderate comments on your blog.)

Here is my reply:

The devil, I like to say, is in the details. Please cite some specific 6th Grade Everyday Math percents problems that pose a (mathematically) conceptual challenge similar to (or greater than!) the 6th grade Singapore Math problem cited [on the post you commented on]! I, myself, have been unable to find anything like the conceptual challenge offered by Singapore Math within the corresponding grade levels of today's Reform Math. But I am OPEN, yes, OPEN, to being proved wrong! Please do so, with specific examples.

Let me add that I know many, many kids who say they are under-challenged in their Everyday Math and Investigations Math classrooms, and who go on to say that they love Singapore Math once their parents start using it at home. In our "debate", as you call it, let's not ignore these many, very real children, at least some of whom I suspect are telling the truth.

Michael Paul Goldenberg: [commenting on this post]

Oh, Lefty, you're so clever. More snide cracks about calculators and EM users! How very witty.

I would love to "play" your silly games, but my time is very short just now. You should have come onto my blog a few weeks ago when I had a lot more time for this kind of thing. For now, let me simply point out that your "dare" (you were, in essence, "daring" me to allow your last post on my blog) was a sure-fire way to ensure I would not let it through. Schoolyard tactics are not any more appealing to me now than they were when I was actually a schoolboy.

Further, I don't think my blog is the place to discuss what obviously is YOUR agenda: after all, you've got your audience here. If I decided to post some similarly loaded comparisons of SM, EM, and INVESTIGATIONS, your comments would be welcome. But that wouldn't be the way I would do things. I don't play the rigged games of others, nor do I rig games in my own favor.

Clearly, you dislike progressive ideas in mathematics education (or at least some of the books that emerged from the early waves of the reform movement of the last two decades). Of course, that's your prerogative, though if you wanted to do SM proud, you shouldn't be so arch about its "competitors." I very much doubt that ANYONE in Singapore thinks about the national curriculum there with the same sort of snide chauvinism that its American supporters evidence when they try to bash specific US programs with it. The Singaporean mathematics educators with whom I've met (wonder which ones you've met with, Lefty) were modest, reasonable people who seemed to have a great deal of respect for US mathematics education (but not blindly so). It's odd that the Mathematically Correct and NYC-HOLD folks who drool over Singapore Math don't seem to be able to countenance the SLIGHTEST criticism of it. That strikes me as fanatical, almost religious. On the other hand, I've openly critiqued things about many progressive textbook series, not for political or ideological purposes, but in order to suggest ways to improve matters. That's one major difference between me and the right wing anti-reform bashers I've had to deal with these past 17 years or so of the Math Wars.

Ironic, then, that you call yourself "Lefty." Everything about you and your blog suggests quite a different political and social viewpoint. Again, your prerogative, of course. But it is ironic.

When you have something new to say, something I've not heard from the more well-established reform haters, do visit my blog again. Especially visit if you're interested in intellectual discourse rather than winning rigged contests. I'm too old for that sort of nonsense.
Lefty (informing Mr. Goldenberg of this post):

I fully understand why you would choose not to post a comment that quotes you calling another blog "predictable, dull, and utterly useless." However, fyi, I've posted our exchange on my blog, for all to see: [url]

It amuses me, btw, that you would attempt to infer my political leanings from a single page of my blog that featured two entries about a comic book assignment, one about an after school math club, and two Singapore Math-comparison math problems. Is that really what this debate is all about?

Michael Paul Goldenberg (no relation to E. Paul Goldenberg):

Lefty, I'm here to amuse you. It's my main purpose in life. And to provide you with fodder for your blog. Should you prove to be worth more of my attention, I might return the compliment here, but you seem a lightweight based on what I've seen of you thus far. I hope your many fans enjoy your continued straw-man "battles" between Singapore Math and the least mathematical problems you can find in EVERYDAY MATH and/or INVESTIGATIONS. You didn't invent this trick: the Mathematically Correct and HOLD folks were WAY ahead of you on this front.

I don't believe I called your entire blog predictable, dull, and utterly useless," though it wouldn't shock me to discover that the rest of it is no better than what I saw when I went to where you pointed me in your previous comment on a previous thread here. As is typical of anti-reformers, you think you can take potshots at reform authors and texts with impunity, but when someone calls you on what you're doing, suddenly you become very aware of "offensiveness" and profess yourselves to be above such "dirty" tactics. Those of us who've been in this fight for close to two decades now find the irony of such nonsense highly rich.

As for "debate," your blog post that I looked at wasn't a debate. It was your "clever" mocking of texts you dislike. You're free to do so, of course, but the snide nature of what you wrote was obvious. You shouldn't be ashamed to admit it. Stop posing as some sort of fair-minded, objective person, because anyone with more brains than a hammer could see after 60 seconds on your blog that you are deeply prejudiced and uninterested in learning a thing that you don't already know is Absolute Truth.
This exchange reminds me of an earlier one I had with a doctor who treats autism with ear tubes.


Mrs. C said...

I kind of thought the interchange was odd myself. I didn't find your comment on his blog inflammatory at all...

As you know, we use both EM and SM in our homeschool. I like the idea that the types of problems in EM can vary, whereas in Singapore Maths you pretty much know that, say, right now you're doing "perimeter," so you need to solve the problems for perimeter, etc. In EM, they mix up the problems so much that you need to recall what TYPE of problem you are dealing with and THEN solve it.

This is a plus as well as a weakness in the curriculum. Sometimes, it's not easy to compare apples to apples when one's an orange and is written for an expressly different purpose. EM seems to be more about daily application, etc, but involves more "scaffolding" especially in the younger grades.

FWIW my son Patrick says there is a BIG BIG jump from EM to sixth grade curriculum in middle school, when our district uses something else. He is "gifted" and had a hard year math-wise.

In terms of getting those concepts down and preparing students for higher level maths, I don't think you could beat Singapore. Then again, I do appreciate the review EM can give my children.

Mmmm... so I'm not getting why this guy seemed so *angry.* Interesting that he has not as yet answered your question.

PS. All kinds of things "cure" autism; I oughtta know. The one I hear most often is that if only I were more consistent with my discipline... yeah.

Niels Henrik Abel said...

Well, obviously he is omniscient (since he can read your mind, discern your motives, and divine other "facts" about you), so he is automatically right and you are wrong! How silly of you to think otherwise, you peon! You should count yourself lucky that someone like him would consider even the briefest of exchanges with someone from the unwashed masses.

People like Mr. Goldenberg suffer from an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

Funny. We have two anonymous people (the blogger and one of the his sychophants), slapping each other on the back while neither has the guts to post anything under his own name. If "Lefty" was so interested in a responsible exchange of ideas, he'd post under his real name. I don't waste time with cowards. Offer a real name and a reliable e-mail address (e.g., not web-based and untraceable) so that you are accountable for what you write, and I'll worry about what you have to say.

Let's recall that you came to MY blog and started in about Singapore Math on an item that was NOT about that. You then returned to "scare" me about your public posting of our exchange (and maybe you need to read a bit more of my blog before labeling me a defender of "Reform Math"; not to mention that I am one person, not multiple people, so your claim of exchanging with "defenders" is as phony as your pseudonym).

I guarantee I've written more words criticizing specific reform books than you have written criticizing any aspect whatsoever of Singapore Math. True believers NEVER find flaws in those books, though I've met with Singaporean mathematics educators who do, oddly enough. That's because they don't have religious blinders on. Too bad the same can't be said for you, "Lefty."

You may just want to get the other side of your brain engaged, because the one you claim to favor isn't doing such a wonderful job. And that book you're promising on "selected" reform math problems? That should be one interesting example of selectivity.

jd2718 said...

So I think that the idea of engaging in any sort of dialogue was probably a mistake.

I don't see much math. I do see long polemics.

This is someone who has been paid to promote Everyday Math or CMP; I don't think it was reasonable to expect dialog in the first place.


Anonymous said...

G. goes by a number of AKA's. This character is also one of the fellows who doles out NSF grant money to the MSP PI's - so yes he does feel omniscient at times...and very sensitive about any criticism that would slight reform math, particularly IMP. He's been laughed off a few blogs, including one where he was defended a superintendent's removal for adopting methinks Everyday Math. Reform math is a slippery eel. Eventually it will eat itself up, although US kids will never grow up being taught math properly. You can thank the prejudices and the arrogance of the folks who spawned the DOE's list of exemplary textbooks. I'd rather buy stock in GM, than buy a core plus textbook. With GM I'm throwing away money, with core plus I'm throwing away my kids' futures.

Anonymous said...

Funny G. should mention religious blinders - part of the twisted sordid history behind reform math includes TULIPS and the Maharishi.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Bishop, you were close - G. is Markov Cheney. Case closed.

Posted by Markov Chaney February 9, 2008
Isn't it grand to have the likes of Greg Goodknight, whose biggest claims to expertise on matters of teaching mathematics are a degree in engineering and a marriage to a math teacher (not exactly the same as, say, actual experience working with students), and Wayne Bishop, whose last experience teaching K-12 students was somewhere during the Johnson or Nixon administration, here to advise everyone on matters pertinent to math curricula in Cambridge?

Oh, wait: they've not comment on either, but rather have joined to attack me personally. Their agenda? Committed opposition to the sorts of math programs currently in use in Cambridge. Just what the doctor ordered (though I'm not sure who the doctor is, in this case, if it isn't Mr. Cochran)

So first Cochran, now Goodknight and Bishop, mount a convincing argument against the superintendent and the math programs she helped bring to town by leveling person attacks on me Swell stuff Real high-level intellectual discourse Teach ME to disagree with or simply question what's what in the fervor to remove the superintendent from office. I'm now so fearful (still waiting for Mr Cochran's complaints to U of M to reach me via anyone at the University; of course, I've been waiting since about 1996 for Greg Goodknight's similar ploy to get some legs, so I'm obviously very, very patient), that I wonder if I'll be able to post here or anywhere else again. I guess I keep waking up with the bizarre fantasy that this is the USA and free speech and public debate haven't gone the way of the Geneva Convention. Of course, Goodknight and Bishop may want to try water boarding as a way to discourage me from speaking. False accusations of my posting under the name "Buck Turgidson"notwithstanding, the Goodknight and Bishop duo has contributed nothing to this conversation.

Cambridge Schools superintendent receives directives from board
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Dan Davis/The Daily Jeffersonian
January 9, 2008
Following two consecutive, closed executive sessions Tuesday, the Cambridge City School District Board of Education unanimously approved a resolution of written directives to Superintendent Martha "Martie" Moore-McConnell.

"The last [resolution approved by the board] was a list of directives to the superintendent of items that the school board would like to have her complete or comply with," said boartd President Dan Carpenetti.

The directives, as outlined in documents provided to The Daily Jeffersonian by the district's legal counsel, Attormey Greg Scott, focus on five specific areas of professional performance: Attendance and whereabouts, communication with the Board of Education, interpersonal relations, collective bargaining and general.

Under "attendance and whereabouts" the board directed Moore-McConnell to:

* Obtain approval from the school board president before using any vacation leave

* Obtain approval from the school board president before using any personal leave (except in times of emergency)

* Unpaid absences must have prior board approval

* Notify the board president by 7 a.m. if she intends to use a day of sick leave, or by 11 a.m. if intend to be absent during the afternoon in whole or part

* Sick leave forms must be completed upon return from a period of sick leave absence

* Obtain approval from the school board president before using any professional leave

* Dishonesty in use of leave or failure to comply with directives may result in disciplinary action, including termination

* Observe regular office hours, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and keep a daily work log divided into 15-minute increments.

Under "communication with the Board of Education" the board directed Moore-McConnell to:

* Direct communication regarding the day-to-day operations of the district exclusively to the board president

* Notify the board president within two hours of any decision to expel a student, discipline an employee through demotion or suspension, deny a grievance from any union or employee under a collective bargaining agreement, notify the board within two hours of learning of actual or threatened lawsuits, unfair labor charges against any administrator or board member of the district

* Do not consult with the school board's legal counsel without first notifying the board president of the need to do so and of the general subject matter discussed.

Under "communication with the Board of Education" the board directed Moore-McConnell to:

* Refrain from swearing

* Refrain from leaving meetings with staff or board members

* Refrain from interrupting others

* Return telephone calls no later than the close of the next day school is in session.

Anonymous said...

I keep a collection now of MPG's quotes. Its very entertaining.

This is post where MPG is defending a comment posted on the Math Forum about Everyday's use of non-traditional algorithms. Particularly, the use of lattice multiplication as an alternative to the 'traditional' long algorithm. 'When algorithmically both are the same.'

It makes no sense to replace one with the other when students have to make the lattice first in order to multiply two numbers. The majority of middle schoolers raised with Everyday math have no conception what in deuces a decimal point is (nor fractions, nor area...)

"Re: Everyday Math - Multiplication Algorithm
Posted: Oct 30, 2006 7:43 PM Plain Text Reply

The lattice method is one of those shown in Everyday Math. Having worked with 4th and 5th graders for two years in an urban district in southeast Michigan, I can state with some confidence that of those methods shown: lattice, standard, expanded notation/partial products,
and area models, in this district the lattice method was the most
popular amongst students. By my second year of working with teachers there, most of the teachers in those grades seemed to prefer it.

My take: the second phenomenon is pretty easy to fathom. Kids like
the lattice method and get good results with it. Why would teachers
NOT like something like that???

Why do the kids like it? It's easy to use. "Carries" only come into play during the addition phase of the method. Each multiplication is,
of course, a single digit times single digit operation. However, the advantage over the standard method is that it's very clear to
students where to write each digit in the partial and final answers.

If the child knows the multiplication tables, it's hard to go wrong with the lattice method.

[Now arrives the 'I take it back a notch apology' in order to begin lambasting teachers]

So am I an unabashed advocate for this method? Not particularly [??????]. I don't like it or dislike it any more than anything else when it is taught as it was for the most part in the district where I was working. And therein lies the rub, of course.

[The Merlino Defense - I am a SANE educator - its the teacher, not the textbook's problem - and everyone is against me!!!]

I realized very quickly that none (as in NONE) of the teachers who
were teaching this method in any of the five elementary schools where I served as a math coach had the slightest idea how the lattice method works.[This is an example of the typical reform arrogance that slights teachers and one hears from the reform movement over and over. I call this the Merlino defense]

That's unsurprising, of course: few, if any [har har], knew how
the standard algorithm works, either. When asked if they knew why or how the lattice method worked, every teacher I asked looked at me quizzically or proceeded to demonstrate how to use the method, as if
I had said I didn't know how to get the answer with it. What was
striking was how uncurious most seemed about the way the methods they taught worked. If they could make 'em work, they were happy. If not, they were nervous. As to understanding, that seemed like some oddball notion that wasn't important.

Subsequent observations of the teachers seemed to show that the
teachers went through the multiplication unit presenting each lesson pretty much as if any and every method for doing multidigit multiplication was: A) a black box; and B) unrelated in any way to the other "black boxes" they were asked to teach. As you might imagine, the kids saw it the same way. Why wouldn't they?

I guest taught a lesson or two during this period in most of the
classrooms during which I reviewed the whole concept of
multiplication, with a focus on place value, expanded notation, the distributive property, and how these were the underlying principles that made each method work AND which connected them to each other. By the end, there was both verbal and written evidence that some students were seeing the connections between two or more methods. I encouraged the classroom teachers to think further about these
connections and to revisit them and reinforce them over the course of
the year.

From my perspective, any method taught as a black box is a waste of time. Calculators are much more efficient, accurate black boxes than are kids. If your goal is mindless calculation, give everyone a calculator and be done with it. If your goal is mathematical understanding, be prepared to help students go a little deeper."

No difference between algorithms, except I know of nobody who bothers to use lattice multiplication and if you did as a college student or as an adult, you'd be laughed out of the room. Equally funny is the person who has to use a calculator to do lattice multiplication or can't draw the grid to get started. Colleges and high schools seem to be filled with 'anal' math educators instead of mathematicians. MPG has a degree in English. We seem to have reached our capacity for intelligence in this country.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

This is some funny stuff. Wish you folks would keep me in the loop so I could offer a few facts to counter your baloney. One of the typically anonymous posters above shares that I have a degree in English (actually, I have two: a bachelor's and a master's). What s/he doesn't bother to note or doesn't care to know is that I have a master's in mathematics education from the University of Michigan and earned certification in secondary mathematics from the State of Vermont (same state I from which originally earned certification in secondary English after graduating college). I took and earned A's in all the usual undergraduate mathematics courses expected of a highly-qualified high school mathematics teacher, from basic calculus through advanced calculus, abstract algebra, number theory, mathematical probability, linear algebra, and differential equations. But leaving those facts out is so much more fun than telling the full story.

Self-congratulating people who care more about dogma than truth make such excellent companions, on-line and off. Why bother with truth and facts when truthiness and factoids are far more gratifying?