Alpine School District's controversial math programs are in the cross hairs of a Capitol Hill big gun.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, is targeting the programs with proposed budget bill language that essentially would require school districts receiving state funds use "proven methods and not the disaster that has been described here today," he told the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday.
Alpine has dodged the first bullet but is not out of range just yet. The subcommittee voted unanimously to have the Education Interim Committee study math standards following the close of the 2006 Legislature session. Alpine's elementary school Investigations of Space and Data program and its middle school program called Connected Math will be specific targets of the study.
Alpine School District officials defend the programs, noting they are used in conjunction with more traditional math programs, district spokeswoman Jerrilyn Mortensen said.
"We're confident that our test data will show increases in student learning and understanding in basic and advanced mathematical understanding," Mortensen said.
Parent Oak Norton criticized the programs during his committee testimony, saying the math programs leave students years behind academically because of their unconventional approach to the subject, which he deemed "pitiful."
Norton has been discussing the math programs with other parents for months and operates a Web site critical of them.
State curriculum director Brett Moulding said its likely Alpine's programs can meet the state math core curriculum using supplemental materials. He said state standards don't need to change, and that Norton's problem is with the district, not the state.
Senate Majority Assistant Whip Beverly Evans, R-Altamont, agreed.
"It's uncomfortable for me as a legislator to dictate to my local school district that you will adopt a certain curriculum," she said, directing Norton to address Alpine District an effort Norton said he believes will fall on deaf ears.
Investigations math has been controversial since it began as a pilot program in fall 2001.
Barry Graff, the district's administrator of K-12 educational services, described it as a program in which students use discussion and group work to solve problems rather than relying on rote memorization. He used multiplying 22 by 44 as an example.
"The first thing you'd do (is) go through the whole thing about sets," he said. "You've got 22 sets or 44 sets with groups of 22."
Students divide into groups to discover methods that lead to the answer. Each group presents its method before the class. The teacher also presents the algorithmic way to solve the problem, which Graff called most efficient.
"Besides teaching efficiency, you're giving them flexibility," he said.
Following the pilot program, investigations was implemented school-by-school as teachers were trained. Seven of the district's 44 elementary schools currently do not use the investigations program, Mortensen said.
"It was pure investigations in the beginning," Mortensen said. "We studied it and found the loopholes and supplemented it" with traditional math.
In November 2005, the Alpine Board of Education publicly advocated that investigations be balanced with traditional math approaches. Mortensen said the board issued the November statement in response to its promise in 2002 to further study the program and announce conclusions."We do not believe, nor is there evidence to support, that there is one single program that ensures success for every student," the 2005 statement said. "We rely on teachers to make professional judgments and use appropriate strategies, activities and practices that meet students' needs."