Cal State

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K-12 Education

California State University Northridge

Transcript of Martha Schwartz
(edited by the speaker)
biography of speaker


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Return to transcript of Marianne Jennings

Ms. Jennings: I'm just a typical mother. Our first speaker, and once again I know the information is in the bio, we are going in the order of the panel here and I'll introduce them one by one. She is a dear friend and tremendous support. When her first e-mail came ever I had written about this, it was just the most rewarding thing because I can remember standing up from the keyboard and saying to my husband, "I'm not nuts!" It was quite refreshing. This is the woman who told me I am not crazy, Martha Schwartz, co-founder of an organization that has had tremendous impact and help -- Mathematically Correct. Martha


Ms. Schwartz: Good morning. I'm not sure I'm a good reference for not being crazy. And I'm thrilled to be here and especially proud to be representing mathematically correct. I thought I would give you some history of my own learning curve, as Marianne did with hers, and some history of some of the parent activism in California of which I'm aware.

But before I do that I want to answer comments made yesterday. First of all, in reference to Professor Hirsch, although I am in agreement with some conservatives on curricular issues, I myself am a Democrat ,a nonreligious Jewish person and geology teacher, which I think pretty much establishes a relatively liberal background. Secondly, to the gentleman yesterday who described himself as the enemy and then proceeded to explain why he was not, I hope that what I say today will give him some insight into why moderate people suddenly wound up looking like reactionaries. And to the lady who mentioned the -- the dichotomy between text books and test tubes in a science lab, I'd like to point out I'm a research scientist by late profession, my mid-life career change, and the interplay between textbook materials and experiment is very intimate in science. We go back and forth between old knowledge and creating new knowledge in a seamless fashion. All of that is part of the process, and should be part of the process of children being taught science as well.

Strictly speaking, I did not enter the education battles in my role as parent, except in a figurative sense. I became particularly aware of what I consider bizarre happenings in education in 1994, when my 3 sons had finished with the school system. At that time I was busy teaching on a CSU campus and working (playing, really) on a Ph.D.. In geophysics.

I think I'm a pretty good teacher but my husband is a spectacular one, one of those special people who can lay a solid science background and inspire students to excellence at the same time. My first hint of trouble came when Rick reported to me that one of the high schools in his district had scrapped biology as a course and initiated something called "Science 1" for all 9th grade students. To say I was surprised is an understatement, especially as the details emerged. There were to be no textbooks because "teachers might use them;" no laboratory manuals, although the syllabus called for activities 4 or 5 days of the week; assessment was to be "authentic," not by ordinary questioning on exams. We had instead things like portfolios, presentations, and posters, which I call the "three P's" of education. All teaching was to be collaborative with everyone on the same "page" on the same day. And student knowledge was to be "constructed" by students. Teachers were to be "facilitators," designing and doing experiments using whatever equipment the school could afford to supply to about fourteen sections simultaneously. The so-called curriculum was advertised as "deep and connected" but it really flitted anywhere and everywhere, one day blowing bubbles and the next filling out bootlegged worksheets on clouds. Remember, this was supposed to be college preparatory. I was perplexed.

Hints started arriving in the form of isolated statements which astounded me to silence. I had started on a steep and confusing learning curve, one doubtless also experienced by many of the parents, teachers, and community members in this room and all of America. Here's some memorable (approximate) quotes from that first learning year -before Mathematically Correct came to be.

  • From a teacher, "all you university types care about is skills and knowledge."
  • From a science educator, "content? You worry about content?"
  • From the district superintendent, "but we have always done okay by our top students."
  • By an assistant district superintendent to my husband, "if you don't shut your wife up, we will do what we have to do."
  • From a mom on the bus, "when I volunteered at my little girl's class, my job was to bar the door so they could hide the phonics material when the principal came."
  • From a district curriculum specialist, "see the great assessment done my our middle school students, on fractions - coloring flags of imaginary countries. See, this flag is one-third red, one-third green, and one-third yellow."
  • From an assistant principal to my husband when he wondered about teachers having content knowledge to teach all the sciences, "don't worry, the level is so low anybody can teach it." (Remember again, this was supposed to be college prep.)
  • From a teacher's "authentic" assessment, a one question test which would run for three days, "write a poem that expresses the concept of mitosis and why you are studying mitosis."
  • From about anyone that I might complain to, "gee, that's strange, you are the first person to have a problem with this program. Everyone else just loves it."
  • From an assistant principal at a science department meeting, "there will be no discussion. This is a done deal."
  • From a local education reporter, "teachers are calling me and telling me things but are afraid to be quoted. I can't write a story from all anonymous sources."
  • From the teacher's union executive. "Look at the state frameworks. This is the way the state is going." (Turned out it was not just California, but everywhere.)
  • From a parent at Rick's open house, "you better not tell me everything in this class is done in groups too! "
  • From all sorts of local educrats, "we are teaching for meaning, not just those "factoids."
  • From the CPM math book, "don't ask your teacher any question until you are sure your group can't answer it for yourselves."
  • From a CPM developer to the school board, "we don't need to teach children fractions any more now that the TI model (whatever) calculator can do it for them."
  • From a math educator at the same board meeting, "I would prefer there were no math books at all."
  • From a teacher's work sheet supporting endless hours of the game "SIM Life" as a science unit, "now drop insects on your (Cambrian) island, and then see if the atmosphere has any oxygen in it."
  • From an excellent English teacher, "the principal came into my classroom over the summer and threw all the grammar books into the dumpster."
  • From that principal's dissertation, "language should be kept whole and never broken into component parts, such as phonics, grammar, spelling, punctuation."
  • From somewhere at state level, "this is a California distinguished school."
  • From a good teacher, "becoming a California distinguished school is easy, just do the reforms as fast as possible."
  • My favorite, the conversation-stopping clincher, "research shows that..." - Only no one would ever show me any research.

My first naive notion was that once other educated people heard this crazy stuff they would be as astounded and outraged as I was. I spent about a year "spitting into the wind" - taking every opportunity to try to get even a letter into the local and Los Angeles newspapers. Education was decidedly not a hot topic in those days.

I see I only have 2 minutes and I want to go on to the fact we finally hooked up with a group called the "Concerned Parents of Torrance", and I would like to tell you some of the things they did. First of all, they arranged with the city to use a recreation building for meetings and met often. They organized speaking groups to monitor and speak at the school board. And since they only got 2 or 3 minutes each and they organized their message and played tag team. They found and ran their own school board candidates, and won. They volunteered for every parent opportunity in the district, putting in lots of time and effort even when it turned out to be a sham. They went to shopping centers, athletic events and door to door and collected petition signatures; they got about a thousand in a week in favor of math choice. They monitored the information sent out by the district even after choice was supposedly won. For example, the information on algebra vs. CPM didn't exactly get represented fairly on the material sent home by the counselors. They went to all the district dog-and-pony shows trying to get words in. They wrote universities around the country describing the curriculum and asking how it would work for admission and admission to technical majors. They flooded newspapers with letters on the district follies. Their successes encouraged us when we started Mathematically Correct. In the first year of Mathematically Correct, we began to hear from other groups of people, within California - we heard from Palo Alto, Escondido, Davis, and more, then Arizona, Oregon, Alaska, Georgia, Michigan, and as far as away as Israel, where the same things were going on. I made wonderful friends and tried to support all parents, everywhere in the religious and political spectrum, who wanted good content and effective education for their children. Those still fighting zealot schools, take heart. California has standards now. You can ask if the curriculum meets the standards, and so you have much more support than we had.


Go to transcript of Diana Dixon-Davis


Contact the organizers

Postal and telephone information:

1999 Conference on Standards-Based K12 Education

College of Science and Mathematics

California State University Northridge

18111 Nordhoff St.

Northridge CA 91330-8235

Telephone: (Dr. Klein: 818-677-7792)

FAX: 818-677-3634 (Attn: David Klein)