MMSD Paid Math Consultant on Math Task Force

Click to view MMSD Accounting Details.
A number of questions have been raised over the past few years regarding the Madison School District’s math curriculum:

  • West High Math Teachers:

    Moreover, parents of future West High students should take notice: As you read this, our department is under pressure from the administration and the math coordinator’s office to phase out our “accelerated” course offerings beginning next year. Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

  • Dick Askey:

    Madison and Wisconsin 8th Grade Math Data

  • Math Forum Video, Notes and Links.

The Madison School Board’s most recent Superintendent evaluation process included the requirement (board minutes) that a math task force be formed to review the District’s curriculum. Details. The Board discussed this requirement on April 16, 2007 (Video and links) (Minutes)
The Task force includes David Griffeath, who, according to this document, provided by a reader, has been a paid math consultant for the Madison School District.

35 members of the UW-Madison Math Department sent an open letter to Madison School Board and Superintendent regarding the District’s math coordinator position.
Related: Take the Math Homework Survey – via Joanne

16 thoughts on “MMSD Paid Math Consultant on Math Task Force”

  1. I would like more information on this post. Is David Griffeath acting as a parent? Is he acting as a member of the district? Is this a real conflict of interest or the appearance of one? I appreaciate the post and would like more information.

  2. Relevant here is the absolute priorities for the SLCP grant, also under consideration.
    “(5) Increase opportunities for students to earn postsecondary credit through Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, or dual credit programs.”
    Therefore, we should be able to ensure accelerated math as part of the MMSD grant submission.
    Unlike that last two SLC grants, one for Memorial, a second for West, the current grant allows the District to submit a proposal for all high schools — the grant proposal will nicely elide with the high school redesign.
    Other important points to the grant is

    Quality of the Project Design (25)
    In determining the quality of the design of the proposed project, we will consider the extent to which–
    (1) Teachers, school administrators, parents and community stakeholders support the proposed project and have been and will continue to be involved in its development and implementation;
    (2) The applicant has carried out sufficient planning and preparatory activities to enable it to implement the proposed project during the school year in which the grant award will be made;
    (3) School administrators, teachers, and other school employees will receive effective, ongoing technical assistance and support in implementing structural and instructional reforms;
    (4) The applicant will offer all students a coherent sequence of rigorous English language arts, mathematics, and science courses that will provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in postsecondary education and careers without need for remediation;
    (5) The proposed project is part of a districtwide strategy for high school redesign and strengthens the district’s capacity to develop and implement smaller learning communities and improve student academic achievement as part of that strategy.

    (1) says all the stakeholders must be involved at the outset and continue to be involved in the implementation — a significant change from how MMSD has always done business.
    (5) force alignment with the high school redesign.
    In addition, in other parts of the grant proposal, the Feds require measurable objectives, including baseline to show improvements. We must ensure that we finally get some relevant data on effectiveness of the current curricula — information that has been and likely to be nonexistent.

  3. It sounds like a good appointment to me. It looks like Prof. Griffeath made a grand total of $6,000 in consulting fees two years ago. Is there some reason the post has a provocative headline?

  4. Jim, thanks so much for reminding us — once again — of the astute, if not prophetic, words of the West High School math teachers. That courageous April, 2004, Letter to the Editor of Isthmus was signed by a full 10 of the 18 West math teachers at the time (several of whom will, sadly, be retired by the end of this school year).
    For those who might be interested, here is a fuller excerpt from the letter. Surely the analysis and argument it contains are applicable well beyond the area of math.
    “Rather than addressing the problems of equity and closing the gap by identifying minority math talent earlier, and fostering minority participation in the accelerated programs, our administration wants to take the cheaper way out by forcing all kids into a one-size-fits-all curriculum. It seems the administration and our school board have re-defined “success” as merely “producing fewer failures.” Astonishingly, excellence in student achievement is visited by some school district administrators with apathy at best, and with contempt at worst. But, while raising low achievers is a laudable goal, it is woefully short-sighted and, ironically, racist in the most insidious way. Somehow, limiting opportunities for excellence has become the definition of providing equity! Could there be a greater insult to the minority community?”
    I would hope that the spirit of these wise words — as well as real live hard data — guide the current high school redesign effort.

  5. Okay, I looked up Prof. Griffeath and found this article on his role in training teachers to teach connected math:
    What is says is:
    The first course sponsored by MMSD’s Title II Wisconsin Math Science Partnership (MSP) Block Grant, tailored to support SCALE-aligned middle school math content instruction, begins August 2004 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The class focuses on statistics and probability, and claims, UW-Madison Mathematics Department Chair Dr. David Griffeath as its instructor. Forty teachers from MMSD plus four surrounding school districts are registered. The course modules are designed to enable any teacher to produce proficient standards-based curriculum regardless of chosen textbook.
    Through the Math Masters project, the Madison Metropolitan School District, School District of Beloit (SDB), School District of Juda (SDJ), Sauk Prairie School District (SPSD), and the University of Wisconsin Madison Department of Mathematics (UW) will join forces to raise mathematics achievement via an ongoing, intensive, program of content-based teacher professional development that will bring the partners’ middle school mathematics teachers together in courses taught by UW-Madison mathematicians and applied mathematicians. In addition to content knowledge, teachers will receive content-specific pedagogical instruction and other forms of pedagogical support and modeling that will help them create standards-based mathematics classrooms and effectively utilize the “Connected Mathematics Project” (CMP) curriculum.
    The goal of the project is to increase middle school students’ achievement in mathematics by strengthening the quality of mathematics instruction through the provision of content-based professional development linked to Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Mathematics and professional development on high leverage research-based strategies to develop student understanding. Project objectives are: 1) to increase the content knowledge of 150 middle school mathematics teachers; 2) to improve these teachers’ understanding of how students learn mathematics; and, 3) to enhance implementation of the CMP curriculum within participating teachers’ classrooms.
    So, having the person who is paid to train teachers how to teach math, on the math task force, which will determine how math will be taught, is a conflict of interest. Are you all saying that some action should be taken?

  6. What data has Dr. David Griffeath produced to document how the course has achieved its goal “to increase middle school students’ achievement in mathematics.” Not one bit, I’d bet.

  7. I have a question. Since this math initiatve must involve ongoing staff development and evaluation of progress – as would be any effective “innovation” in curriculum and pedagogy – how was progress affected by the October 2006 budget ban on all staff development expenses? It seems that this reactive budget “band aid” would thwart progress toward meeting objectives and waste the money already invested in implementing changes. I have been wondering about this for quite some time. Does anyone have any information on this?

  8. I believe that David Griffeath was paid under the SCALE grant for services and duties specified by the grant. It is not uncommon for federal or state grants to provide some salary support for time devoted to grant activities. 15% to 20% of UW faculty are paid under grants at any given time. It is part of how the university is able to afford its staffing levels.
    Before we assume what participation in SCALE means about his perspectives on math education one way or the other, perhaps it would be good to find out what his position is on math curriculum and pedagogy. Perhaps someone should find out before the finger pointing starts.?
    Having attended the discussions on the Math Task Force and its potential activities, it was my experience that Griffeath flagged critical issues of math training and licensing for middle and high school teachers, and the impact of those issues on the quality of math education. That seemed sensible, practical, and helpful to the discussion.

  9. One other note:
    David WAS the chair of the math department when the SCALE grant was written and received. Leslie Smith is the current chair. He is on the steering committee of VIGRE, a 5-year federal grant to promote research and training in mathematics.

  10. Right, was, not is. Sorry.
    David Griffeath is a research mathematician, not a math ed guy, like Terry Millar, who you see listed on that document just above, the guy who brought us connected math, or an MMSD CMP/discovery math dogmatist, like Brian Sniff, also listed further down on the document for other expenses. Of all the people on the math team, David Griffeath is probably the one to worry about the least. He is certainly a supporter of rigorous math curriculum. But he is more of a consensus builder than a hard-nosed draw-a-line-in-the-sand kind of guy.
    Most of the professors who teach these courses are primarily concerned with raising the level of math education among teachers and do not support watered-down curricula. My husband was considering teaching one of these courses last year, and was unaware that it fell specifically under the CMP rubric until I read this post and informed him.
    It is my husband’s impression that the math prof. teaches the content in these courses and then Mr. Sniff is there to impart the ‘teaching philosophy’ aspect of things.
    David Griffeath has grown children who attended Madison schools.

  11. Thanks for the information Lucy and Celeste. I was thrown by the subject line of the post which seemed to imply that something was not right with this appointment.

  12. Thanks, Laura and Celeste. Celeste, you said it better than I could have.
    From where I sit, David is not the problem. If anything, he is one of the rays of hope in the proposed Task Force. The two proposed co-chairs are cause for optimism, too, if this thing gets off the ground. Both bring a lot of experience to the table and asked some very good questions during the introductory sessions.
    The big questions are: a) what role will Terry Millar play in the grant. He is not formally on the proposal but was very much present at the Task Force meetings in Spring. b) will there be a Task Force? all of this hinges on NSF funding, meanwhile nothing is happening on the original district goals. These are substantial issues and bear watching by all – board members and citizens alike.

  13. Laura – you are correct. I should have used a different headline. Lucy and Celeste raise many legitimate questions about where the Superintendent’s math review requirements are going, if anywhere. It is useful for the public to keep an eye on who is on these task forces and what their interests might be, including the proposed High School Redesign group.

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