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Ms. Metzenberg: Now it's my pleasure, since we have detail in the book here, biographies,
we won't take of time for lengthy introductions for our wonderful speakers. It is
my pleasure to introduce Marianne Jennings from Arizona State University. Please
Ms. Jennings: You can take us out of the classroom, but you can't take our overheads
away. I am indeed a Professor at Arizona State University, but that's not really
why I'm here today. Most importantly in my life and for the purposes of this conference,
I'm the mother of four children ranging in age from 4 to 16. It is my 16 year old
who brought my here today. About 4 years ago when she was in the 8th grade, she asked
for help with her algebra homework. When I opened up her algebra book. I want you
to see some of the things I saw.
This would be the beginning of chapter 3. I saw lot of color. And when I asked her
what she did in class, they measured their wingspan for 15 minutes and compared it
to their height. This is AP algebra by the way. And this was also in the book, astronomy.
This was one of my favorites, was the hot chili cooking contest to raise money for
charities, describes some organizers to raise money for the cook off. That would
be for algebra.
Remember, they were counting the words in different languages in parts of the book;
figuring out how many words it took to say the same thing. This was unstable domain,
we had a little bit of carbon dioxide discussion here. And the map of South America,
of course,, and location of Bolivia, all part of algebra. A little poetry down here
at the end, President Clinton, Maya Angelou. We had that. Then, of course, this put
me over the top --.
Audience member: Oh, my god.
Ms. Jennings: When I saw this, I said what we have here is rain forest map, I believe.
And that became my term. [Rain forest algebra]
And this is one of my favorite, the Beatles, based on the song, "Taxman."
And these are the icons to tell you what you were studying in addition to that. And
it's the fine arts icon. No matter what, even with the white album, the Beatles are
not fine artists.
This was my daughter's book. And when I opened up this book, it was a complete shock
to me. Please understand I was a parent of a straight a student, thinking I was raising
an Oxford scholar and unconcerned because of her straight A's. When I saw the book,
I knew something was dreadfully wrong, and I took the opportunity to follow the line
of authority and do what someone in my profession would do. I went to the teacher.
I know she was no more than 24 years old. I went in and said "I'm Sarah Jennings'
mother and I have to tell you I'm worried about the approach to algebra in this book
and everything that goes along with it." She looked at me and said, "Mrs.
Jennings, I'm afraid you just don't understand education." (Laughter) I said
"Maybe so." I don't think that she understood when she told me that, how
right she was -- that I was just beginning a long quest. So we began a discussion
at that level. I got nowhere. From there I went to the head of the math department,
from there to the principal, from there to the school district and on and on until
I have become I think forever known as the "National Math Mother", the
"Rain Forest Mother".
I was very concerned. And I want you to understand something very important about
this quest. My husband and I are perfectly capable of fixing what was wrong with
our oldest daughter's education and have learned for the remaining three. We can
take care of that with Sarah with a lot of kitchen table teaching and so on and her
scores are phenomenal, although the initial test came back with weaknesses in algebra
because they didn't figure it out until November. We are capable of fixing that and
we have and will continue to do so with our children. So you have to ask the question,
why care? I know as I sat around my kitchen table that year and taught her real algebra
that I had a following in the neighborhood who came to our house every afternoon.
You have heard of the kool aid mother, I'm the math homework mother. I helped them
because their parents were not capable of helping them. And there are many parents
who are not capable of sending their children to private schools or teaching them.
When you undertake this quest, it truly is a quest for the public good, because you
fix what's wrong, and why should you care? Because these are the folks your kids
will interact with and these are the folks that will take care of me when I'm in
my old age, and you care for the sake of society.
What began is just some questioning of the teacher about the approach, really turned
into a quest at the district and then at the national level. And I just want to give
you some safety tips along the way, and I know the other parents will have some discussion
on this as well. One of the things you have to recognize is that as a parent, there
are different levels of involvement, and the number one responsibility of all parents
is that hands-on involvement with your children. There's no substitute. Those who
grew up in a different era knew that our parents did that with us. If they don't
have homework, you need to ask questions about that.
The second level of involvement is at the school, and I have found that despite what
goes on in the global view of things, I can often say to a teacher, particularly
a teacher who is a veteran. In fact, after this evolved with my daughter, I wanted
to switch her to another class at mid-year after I learned what was going on with
the book. The principal said, to whose class would you like her to go? I said give
me your teacher most resistant to change (Laughter). And they said "Well, that
would be Mrs. ___" and I said "Please put her in there." And this
teacher was a traditionalist and did supplement the book and did a terrific job with
those kids. I have also found it is important to ask questions. When Sarah got to
Algebra II and they had a portfolio project, if I just said to the teacher, "Why
do you need her autobiography for purposes of teaching Algebra II?" All of a
sudden the portfolio project and autobiography disappeared.
The third level of involvement is at the district level where the textbook decisions
are made in some cases. In some cases, statewide. At any rate, I think you can have
impact there. And I'm happy to report that by the time she got to Algebra II, that
those in our district had pretty much seen the folly of approaching math in this
way. So we returned to the more traditional approach until this year, when she was
taking Pre-calculus, there was not a photo in the book -- can you imagine? -- I was
delighted to have that. On the district level we have been able to nudge it.
And I think probably what you all are facing here and what we see nationally is,
what I think is the real thing that's driving this nonsense. Where I have been is
at the microlevel with some success, but what is driving my individual problems is
standards-based education. And I don't have a problem with spelling out a standard
and say by a certain age, kids should be able to add and subtract. Although I don't
see those words add and subtract in Arizona Standards and that makes me nervous.
I don't understand how you set standards for kindergartners when the parents don't
understand what is there. So that is what is fueling it. You have the standards and
tests to go along with it.
For example, one of the things I found in one of the pamphlets on strategy for standards
based education, I thought this was sort of interesting. They have the roles assigned
to the participants in the program, and you have at the top the policy makers. Then
you have the programs where you have colleges and practices. And then down here,
I want you to see where parents are.
They're classified as political support. We are not political support. I am at the
top. I am the policy. And that's where parent need to -- in other words after it
is said and done and after we have already decided on implementation, then we will
involve you. This is an upside down approach. Parents need to be at the top in the
If you look at the history of public education in this country, that's who started
this and that's who was responsible, and that's to whom teachers were responsible.
So it is a bizarre way to approach things.
And then I wanted you to see one of the diagrams that I ran across here -- interpretation,
dissemination, evaluation, implementation -- I don't think you should look at this
alone because I think it would be dangerous (Laughter). You notice, revision, I don't
know where this fits. But the thing that strikes me about this overall is, what if
it does not work. And that's the biggest gripe I have about the new education approaches
that were imposed on my daughter and her peers. And that is that nobody could show
me why or how this back implemented. I felt like Cuba Gooding, Jr., For four years
except with a different word -- "show me the data!" Show me the data that
tell me this is the right approach. If I am wrong, I will apologize until the day
I die and you can carve it on my tombstone. But if I was right, haven't we helped
a generation of kids? That's the biggest problem I see with implementation.
Just a couple other things I noticed. This spells out the chart they have for their
Getting it right, evaluation, revision, and again notice this last goal here -- doing
it all again. Well (Sigh) you shouldn't have to do it all again. I taught my daughter
algebra from a textbook copyrighted in 1925 and I brought along about 5 or 6 kids
with her. Math does not change. It is not multicultural; it is universal. If we keep
that in mind as we take this approach.
The thing that really concerns me and where I think parents have to be more vocal
is on the standardized testing used for supporting these new models that come in.
My young son, who is, came home the other day with his standards scores -- he is
8. By their standards, he is post high school in grade 3 on reading and math and
those things. Something is terribly wrong because I love him dearly and he is a bright
lad, but he is not post high school. But I think this is probably a good example.
This is taken from one of the 8th grade tests we adopted in Arizona, the Stanford
test, the picture and then I wanted you to see an 8th grade math program.
This is the problem, pictures and all. This is what I worry about. I'm not opposed
to standards and meaningful standards and in plain English -- this is a layer telling
you I want plain English. I think that's a wonderful thing, but I worry that the
parents are not involved enough to understand what those standards mean and what
measures are being used for those standards. So if I had to sum up, I would say this
is a lifetime task for those who have a passion for education and who care deeply
about the next generations coming up. This is a task that is relentless. I always
say that what I do is apply pressure in a consistent fashion, and that takes time
and it takes effort. But it is a cause for which I have seen some movement and some
results. And I know that there are panelists here today who have been of great assistance
to me in my quest. Without them, I probably would have thought I had lost my mind
during this quest. But with their support, I have been able. For they show you the
strength of numbers and organizations and the great credibility. So it now becomes
my job after that introduction to allow them to speak.
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