Full Disclosure

I’m a subcontractor of a subcontractor of Pearson Foundation on this project.

I’d been waiting to mention it until after we finished negotiating our long-term contract but I’ve been on a short-term contract long enough to feel icky writing about the publishing industry without disclosing that it keeps the lights on at Meyer Manor.

I don’t check the imprint before I criticize a textbook. Pearson basically owns all of them anyway and since they’re all printed on paper, they all share some of the same fundamental flaws. In any case, no one I work with has ever sent me a note asking me to back off. They hired me because of my opinions on curriculum design, not in spite of them.

More:

Those are the basics, the essential disclosure. If you feel invested in my story, though, here are some more personal details including a) how the offer came up, b) why I picked this project, and c) what it all means for the curricula I post here:

How the offer came up

I don’t like to think or talk about how drastically a single 11-minute talk altered my professional landscape. I remember talking to The Jose Vilson afterwards. He was really kind about the talk and I was like, “Yeah, but this isn’t anything I haven’t written about a million times, right?” I’m still befuddled by the reception, so I’ve been treating every workshop I’ve been asked to facilitate, every talk I’ve been asked to give, and every person who’s asked to meet up with me, as if it’s the last one ever. TEDxNYED put a gust of wind in my professional sails and for that I probably owe David Bill a Christmas ham for the rest of his life, but I am trying hard not to squander that momentum and stagnate.

Having called out the publishing industry in front of what is now, in the YouTube era, a very large stadium, I was equally befuddled by the reception from editors. I took calls and meetings with the three majors and several smaller imprints. They all expressed awareness of a problem. In many cases, the problem they were aware of was “the industry is bleeding and digital is coming after us like a shark.” Meanwhile, the problem that interests me is “print media makes math applications boring and hard for students.” Still, it seemed like we could help each other out.

A reader asked in an e-mail about the irony of going to work for an industry I criticize. I replied that I didn’t see the irony. “They’re hiring me to fix things I don’t like about their product,” I said.

Why I picked this project

There were several interesting offers but time is short and I’m still enrolled in a very challenging doctoral program so I took on the Pearson project for several reasons:

  1. The people involved are top shelf. Phil Daro chaired the math side of the Common Core State Standards and he’s the project lead. The international design group includes a bunch of people whose baseball cards I’ve been collecting since I was a new teacher. Basically, this project puts me in a position to learn a whole lot from a whole lot of very interesting people. That, plus the advice I receive from Jo Boaler and Pam Grossman at Stanford, has me sitting on an embarrassment of intellectual riches.
  2. They get my vision, they appreciate it, and they offer great criticism. I’ve submitted maybe a dozen tasks already. They’ve accepted some. They’ve waved off others. We’ve debated some. Those discussions have always been productive. They’ve also welcomed my thoughts on what the platform itself should look like.
  3. I don’t have to make problems I don’t care about. I don’t have to draft pages on pages of factoring exercises. They want me to make tasks I want to make.
  4. The scale of the project is huge. A lot of people I admire have a lot of concerns about the scale of this project. Me? I want as many students as possible working on tasks I find worthwhile.
  5. The headquarters are thirty minutes away. The subcontractor’s, not Pearson’s. Some of the other projects would have had me traveling around the country and there are a lot of reasons why I need to do less of that right now.

Those are the biggest reasons.

What it all means for the curricula I post here

Currently I license all my writing and curricula CC-BY which means anyone can do anything with it (including sell it) so long as my name is attached. The terms of the licensing of my work to Pearson are still under negotiation but I don’t want to do work I can’t write about or share freely here. So I’m offering Pearson an exclusive commercial license for my tasks. I’ll still make those tasks freely available to you but they’ll be licensed CC-BY-NC, which means no one but Pearson can use them commercially. I hired an attorney to protect those particular interests.

The biggest difference, I suspect, will be more math problems and better math problems. I’ve had to upgrade the Flip camera and the point-and-shoot and I have to make a lot more tasks now. Fingers crossed. Hopefully we’re all walking away winners here.

2011 Aug 08: Edited “Pearson” to “Pearson Foundation”

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.

21 Comments

  1. Before I get into the meat of this post, let me just say that the difference between the blog and the video presentation is that I actually had a chance to visualize what you did versus just reading it. No, the movie isn’t better than the book, but everyone likes to see a good rendition of what they’re reading, right? I think I said something like that to you during TEDxNYED.

    Second, and to address this post, I see no contradiction between the two. Bill Schmidt, who I respect, has also been doing some work around the CCSS, and I respect his work tons. He’s also advocated that we not buy anything Common Core tagged until 5 years from now since there’s still so much to be developed around the Common Core that those companies who put CCSS on their textbooks really have no idea what they’re talking about.

    I don’t understand why there’d be a conflict here. You keep doing what you’re doing. If someone’s asking you to help make it better, then you offer your opinion as best you can. I’m sure people will try and be Puritan about it, but I’m a little more real about it, I guess.

  2. Not that you need my approval, but I’m excited about this. I have no problems with textbooks, it’s just that they usually suck. I don’t even have problems with scripted curriculum, except that again, they suck. If someone gave me daily lesson plans that were better than something I could come up with, it’d be free hugs for life.

    I appreciate the lengths you took to CC things so we can still use them free of charge.

    Also, you having an actual budget opens up new and exciting awesome.

    Congrats.

  3. George Haines

    August 7, 2011 - 8:03 pm -

    Dan,
    I was in the crowd for your TEDx talk and I thought it was terrific. It actually embarrasses me deeply that you’d have to justify anything in this post.
    If anything I respect you more for a few reasons.

    1. You are doing what other people are not talented enough to do: fix the problems you see. People in the education world live to spout off but they are arm-chair QBs. You’ll be able to tell who they are easily now by the passive aggressive comments here, on twitter, etc.

    2. This proves to me that your critiques of textbooks are not motivated by some romantic, dreamy sense of “fighting the power” but by intelligent, reasoned issues with missed opportunities to make them better.

    As a side note: sounds like Pearson has some bright people. I wouldn’t expect a textbook company to have someone like you on their radar, but they obviously are serious about education, unlike people who will judge you.

    Kudos to you for being real and never let someone on the stands lecture you about your play on the field.

  4. Terry Kaminski

    August 7, 2011 - 8:08 pm -

    This is really exciting! Glad to hear you are involved in this project. It will not only help to get your vision front and centre but will go a long way to transforming how Mathematics is learned by students.

    I will look forward to following your commentary on this project. At times it will be frustrating but I know you will push forward.

    Is the material created in this project going to be online for everyone in the world to use or just teachers in the USA? I would hate to see this work restricted. It should be out there for us all to use.

    Hopefully, there is a creative commons license attached so that we can all modify the material for oyr students in our schools.

  5. Neat. (I guess that Print Job task wasn’t marked as 6.RP.3 for nothin’…)

    It’s probably not possible with ongoing work, but it would be great to hear more about the tasks and how they fit into the wider landscape of the curriculum.

    Also, I like the back-and-forth that helps improve tasks posted on this blog, and hope that won’t change as a result of Project X. You may need to post some boilerplate saying that contributions and comments might be used in a published work.

    Good luck!

  6. DM –

    I appreciate the shout out but as I have told you before, all we did was give you a platform. You deserve every bit of your current and future successes. Your work before TEDx and definitely after has brought a light upon issues that need the greatest of attention.

    Your insight will bring amazing results to the larger world of EDU and if it keeps the lights on at the Meyer manor, all the more reason why your current project is a VERY good thing for all of us.

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to seeing the results of this project and beyond!

    p.s. i’ll be expecting that ham come dec 25. that or at least a beer at some point… ;)

  7. Dan,
    Knowing that you’ll be involved in the fleshing out of how these Common Core State Standards roll out puts my fear to rest that we teachers won’t be sold of bill of goods that’s been wrapped up in the usual bureaucratic misunderstanding of education.

    Full disclosure? C’mon, your reputation is beyond reproach. You’ve got an army of followers who would probably say the same. Any haters out there who question your loyalty to genuine math education are misguided.

    Congrats on yet another feather in your cap!

  8. The whole rights thing appears to be very cleverly negotiated. Well played, man!

    Perhaps that’s the answer to the question that comes from my heart…are you at all worried about the long chain of command between you and the published product? Are you worried that you end up in the situation Steve Leinwand outlined in the comments recently?

    You’ve put yourself in the right position w/r/t this question-even if your problems are the light spreading of mayo in a Khan-Academy sandwich (not idle speculation, considering the respective funding sources), you still get to represent and construct around your work.

    Very well done.

    And I’m guessing they bought you the cameras?

  9. I think you’re great and agree with all of those above who say that you don’t have to justify your position on anything. I also agree that you should keep doing what you’re doing, your talks are terrific, and that knowing you’re involved can put to rest many fears regarding teachers who can be at the mercy of administrators who are uninvolved and have an alarming lack of vision. I am new at teaching, new at teaching math, and am well-entrenched in my 50s and you have been a true inspiration to me. Keep demonstrating your enthusiasm in showing how you help students become real-world problem solvers and your fearless pursuit of teaching excellence.

  10. Christopher: Perhaps that’s the answer to the question that comes from my heart…are you at all worried about the long chain of command between you and the published product?

    Sure. That’s one item in a long list of worries. I’m sure there are also things I should worry about that I haven’t even considered yet. This is my first rodeo. I have a lot of good counsel — legal and otherwise, your own included. I’m trying to keep my eyes up, learn a lot, trying not make the same mistake twice, etc. We’ll see.

    Terry: Is the material created in this project going to be online for everyone in the world to use or just teachers in the USA?

    My work will be available to anyone with an Internet connection. The rest of the project is out of my hands, though.

  11. “How can I help the poor if I’m one of them? So I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win.” – Jay-Z

    Glad to have you on the inside. Go get ’em!

  12. Debbie Ziegler

    August 14, 2011 - 4:21 am -

    Wow! Congrats Dan. I look forward to seeing the fruits of your labor.
    I do have one comment and I’m not sure it’s appropriate to share on your blog, or not. But, here it goes … You wrote, … I want as many students as possible working on tasks I find worthwhile. I would have felt better if you had written, … on tasks they find worthwhile. And this is the very issue I have with the negative comments about the Khan product. All of what we do as math educators needs to be about students first – bottom line. It follows then that our approach to teaching and learning needs to recognize that students learn differently and need choice in the way they negotiate the math. Our challenge to offer up creative, mathematically sound choices that encourage deep understanding.

  13. I disagree with Debbie here. It is nice to have students choosing their own tasks, but if the tasks are useless for learning what the students need to know, then time is being wasted. Debbie seems to expect that students will always make good choices (and thus that they need no guidance and no teacher). Dan, more reasonably, wants students to be doing things that he finds worthwhile—that is the role of the teacher, to help students make good choices.

  14. Congrats Dan!
    There is nothing in the world wrong with working with any organization, so long as you continue to be mindful of your personal beliefs. I’m sure you won’t have trouble with that.

    Have fun improving education for many, many people!

    Debbie, I think Dan was right (and you were too). As I teacher, when I think of worthwhile tasks I have to take into account the student’s input. It was my understanding of what needed to be learned/demonstrated, what has been done in the past, their current understanding, and their personal buy in that informed my decisions.