Reaching Higher NH is actively involved in pushing the federal education reforms in New Hampshire.   Developed by State Board of Education Members; Tom Raffio and Bill Duncan, this organization was set up to promote the federal education reforms that are now facilitated through Governor Hassan’s Department of Education.

Reaching Higher NH was the organization who said that they needed “beat back parents” in New Hampshire who wanted better quality public schools for their children. They are also the same organization caught promoting illiteracy in some of their blog posts.

One would think that an organization set up by members of the NH Board of Education, would be more thoughtful in promoting education reforms for our children who attend public schools.  Unfortunately, they are now promoting teaching methods that do not take into account the cognitive abilities of children and have been shown to lower academic outcomes. 

From their facebook page: “Sal Khan knows a thing or two about competency and deeper learning. Check out his latest Ted Talk on teaching for mastery.
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I’ve suggested to students in the past, to use the Khan academy tutorials because he does a great job of explaining a math concept step by step to solve a problem.   Khan has been a huge help to students who’ve been placed in math classes where “inquiry based learning or student centered learning” has been used.

Inquiry based learning in math has been a disaster for many students who simply cannot figure out a math concept on their own or through minimal instruction.  It was obvious to many that while Khan was a solution to a problem, the problem of poor teaching methods persisted in many classrooms.

Reaching Higher NH took the Ted talk by Khan and used it to promote Competency Based Education (CBE). CBE is another fad from the 90’s and there no evidence it’s improved academic outcomes in New Hampshire.  In Maine, CBE is proving to lower the literacy rates.

I decided to respond to their assertion that Khan approved of CBE because he understands the value of mastering math concepts:
Ann Marie Banfield : When I asked Prof. W. Stephen Wilson, Math Professor at Johns Hopkins Univ., to look over the Algebra I competencies in some of NH’s schools, along with the competencies listed on the DoE web site, here is what he said:

Per the Rochester Algebra 1 Competencies:

Prof. Wilson said: “The “Curriculum Outline” is weak. It is tech heavy. In the very first “Description of the Course” we get “verbal, tabular, graphical, and symbolic forms.” Sorry, yes, learn other stuff, but algebra is about “symbolic forms.” The way this is phrased, symbolic stuff comes off as 25%.

Further down, in the “concepts,” there is some thought process, and then some serious vagueness that should be most of algebra, i.e. M:G&A:HS:2 and M:F&A:10:2. Those two could equally be used to describe a rigorous calculus course.

The next 3 sections M:F&A:HS:3, M:F&A:10:3 and M:F&A:10:4, are good.”

Per the Litchfield Algebra 1 Competencies Prof. Wilson said,

…”the first 2 are real sort of algebra, but really middle
school….. The next 2 problem solving, i.e. no content. Then we have 3 for “communication” that could be summed up by “show work,” except that they mean more than that.

Finally, the truth comes out. The “suggested text” is Discovering Algebra. Oh well, that says it all. See page 3 of:”

http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/ED/SThs.pdf
or the more lengthy discussions in:
http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/ED/wahighschoolwsw.pdf
Any curriculum that wants to use this text must be flawed.

What did Prof. Wilson have to say about the Algebra Competencies listed at the New Hampshire Dept. of Ed Web site?

“It is quite an interesting document full of compromises. There is some real content mixed with blather. The “competencies” and “process skills” are so general and vague that they are meaningless. A reasonable person would just ignore them because of that. (An unreasonable person, however, might not.)

Then, when it comes to content you have great things like:
Add, subtract, multiply and divide polynomial and rational expressions and
Determine solutions to quadratic equations (with real roots) by factoring, completing the square, or using the quadratic formula and demonstrate equivalence of methods.

Both of which are great! There is real content.

On the other hand, even in the content section there is incoherence of the sort:
Generalizes a nonlinear relationship using words or symbols or generalizes a common nonlinear relationship to a specific case.

How you generalize to a specific is beyond me! I always thought you generalized from a specific. This is just nonsense.

The point is that I’ve seen worse. The two good things I quote above are really good, and unusual for their clarity and specificity.

This is balanced out by the utter nonsense that is all over the place.

I wouldn’t want to buy this, but I don’t believe in standards for competencies and process.”

Where is the data academic outcomes have improved using CBE in NH?

In other words one of our nations top mathematicians offered a negative review on the Algebra I competencies in some of New Hampshire’s public schools.  To make matters worse, the Algebra I competencies listed on the NH Department of Education, were even worse.

Mastery is critical as Khan describes, but to make a leap that Khan somehow approves of Competency Based Education in NH schools, is misleading.

Reaching Higher NH then posted this in reply:
Reaching Higher NH : The idea the active learning the kind the NH competency education promotes is ineffective has long since been discredited, including by this major study: http://www.pnas.org/content/111/23/8410.full

I’ve looked at numerous studies on teaching methods when it comes to the areas of math and science k-12. Why would they post studies on students at the college level and not k-12 to justify their advocacy for failed teaching methods in these core subjects? College students should not be compared to 7, 11 or 15 year old children but Reaching Higher NH seems to be making that case.

Math tutoring companies have been flourishing across the country due to poor (fuzzy/ Common Core math) curriculum and failed teaching methods. (inquiry/ constructivism) However for parents who cannot afford private tutors, some of those children are falling through the cracks and being left behind.

I then responded with this post:

This is interesting, your link relates to college students, not students k-12. In fact, I asked Heather Gage for any evidence that CBE was improving the academic outcomes in NH and she said there is no evidence.

I would also argue that taking a leap from college to k-12 is extremely misleading if not completely wrong when it comes to STEM teaching methods.

For instance, in this article from Science Daily: Structure is more effective in high school science classes: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090326114415.htm
“Self-led, self-structured inquiry may be the best method to train scientists at the college level and beyond, but it’s not the ideal way for all high school students to prepare for college science. That’s according to findings of a new study.”
“That’s according to findings of a study conducted by University of Virginia professor Robert Tai and Harvard University researcher Philip Sadler. Their study appears in this month’s International Journal of Science Education.”

According to this article referencing a Harvard Study, http://educationnext.org/harvard-study-shows-that-lecture-style-presentations-lead-to-higher-student-achievement/ “8th grade students in the U.S. score higher on standardized tests in math and science when their teachers allocate greater amounts of class time to lecture-style presentations than to group problem-solving activities. For both math and science, the study finds that a shift of 10 percentage points of time from problem solving to lecture-style presentations (for example, increasing the share of time spent lecturing from 60 to 70 percent) is associated with a rise in student test scores of 4 percent of a standard deviation for the students who had the exact same peers in both their math and science classes – or between one and two months’ worth of learning in a typical school year.”

Finally in: “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching” http://www.cogtech.usc.edu/publications/kirschner_Sweller_Clark.pdf “Evidence for the superiority of guided instruction is explained in the context of our knowledge of human cognitive architecture, expert–novice differences, and cognitive load. Although un- guided or minimally guided instructional approaches are very popular and intuitively appeal- ing, the point is made that these approaches ignore both the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and evidence from empirical studies over the past half-century that con- sistently indicate that minimally guided instruction is less effective and less efficient than in- structional approaches that place a strong emphasis on guidance of the student learning pro- cess. The advantage of guidance begins to recede only when learners have sufficiently high prior knowledge to provide “internal” guidance. Recent developments in instructional research and instructional design models that support guidance during instruction are briefly described.”

Then there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence from the number of students who need additional tutoring when they are left to discover or inquire their way through these core academic subjects.
As a math tutor, one way to increase private tutoring among the student population is to force this kind of misguided pedagogy on teachers. A good teacher/ tutor will engage the student in learning but this idea that teachers should be forced to use constructivist pedagogy k-12 is misguided at best and harmful at worst.

The “Math Wars” have been going on for decades now and the same people who’ve pushed these fads in the past are doing the same thing now.

Not only did Prof. Wilson identify the problems with the core competencies in Algebra I, there is significant evidence and studies that show your advocacy for teaching methods that lower academic achievement, indicates that Reaching Higher NH continues to promote illiteracy for NH students.

It’s also interesting that Sal Kahn uses direct instruction in his tutorials when teaching students how to learn a math concept. NOT Inquiry or constructivist learning.

Reaching Higher NH was not set up to advocate for better quality public schools in New Hampshire, but to sell the federal education reforms that have been proven to lower literacy rates in the STEM fields.  These are the same people who tell us that teaching students to think critically is important but never manage to analyze the federal reforms with a critical eye.

This is why it’s important to elect a governor who is willing to push back against the federal education reforms and appoint a Commissioner and Board Members who will do the same.

Ann Marie Banfield currently volunteers as the Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire. She has been researching education reform for over a decade and actively supports parental rights, literacy and academic excellence in k-12 schools. You can contact her at: [email protected]