kitchen table math, the sequel: math night coming right up

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

math night coming right up

About a month ago two parents posted an online petition addressed to our Superintendent requesting a district meeting to discuss math curriculum and pedagogy in Irvington schools.

The superintendent did not respond.

It seems that math in Irvington is on her mind, however.
Dear K-5 Parents,

As you know, the mathematics Trailblazers program was adopted by the Board of Education in 2004 and is in its final phase of implementation this year in Grade 5. The District has provided strong support to teachers to ensure excellent initial training and ongoing professional development, and the results to date, are very positive. [ed.: time to take a listening tour of Irvington!] As with any new initiative, however, it is imperative that we continue to monitor children’s progress and to provide ongoing opportunities to keep parents informed as well as to continually evaluate the program’s effectiveness.

As part of our commitment, there will be a Math Information night for K-5 parents on January 22, 2007 at 7:00 PM in the Dows Lane Library hosted by staff from Dows Lane and Main Street Schools. Teachers will present information about the Trailblazers program, and parents will be able to ask questions to which they will receive responses that evening or soon after the session. [ed: how about parents provide information while teachers listen?] As the date draws near, a separate flyer will be sent home by building principals requesting confirmation of your attendance.

In addition, since students in the current elementary program are not tracked and those in the current Middle School program are in leveled classes, the staff recognizes that the transition to 6th grade is a valid concern [ed.: as opposed to an invalid concern] on the part of parents and one that will soon be addressed. Therefore, parents of current fifth graders will have an opportunity to attend a meeting in February 2007 to discuss this topic. Once again, information will be sent home later this month.

I hope that you will make every effort to attend these important parent meetings.

As always, we value the input of parents and look forward to these opportunities to hear from you and to be able to respond and work collaboratively with you as we move forward.

Thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation and best wishes to you and your families for a healthy and Happy New Year.

Superintendent of Schools


Asking questions and receiving answers is not the same thing as "working collaboratively" and "moving forward."

In case you were wondering.


email to the Board:

I am disheartened by this communication from our superintendent.

The wording suggests that the administration draws a distinction between valid and invalid parent concerns.

Valid concerns will be addressed; invalid concerns will not.

You may be aware that our superintendent has refused to acknowledge an online petition signed by 34 parents requesting a district meeting to discuss math curriculum and pedagogy.

This is our problem.

The administration stages “Information” meetings to address issues it wishes to address; it dismisses out of hand direct requests for meetings from parents whose issues it wishes to ignore.

And yet all of us are expected to provide “ongoing support and cooperation” to the administration come what may.

Support and cooperation cannot be assumed or commanded. Support and cooperation are precious forms of good will that can only be earned by listening to and acting upon parent goals for our children’s education, not by “explaining” district practices.

Our district’s mission statement opens with the words, “The mission of the Irvington School District is to create a challenging and supportive learning environment in which each student attains his or her highest potential for academic achievement.”

If this mission is to mean anything, parents must share with the administration a clear understanding of what each student’s highest potential actually is.

When it comes to math, a first answer can be found in the international standard for achievement, which is algebra mastered by the end of 8th grade for at least 80% of students.

At the KIPP Academy in the Bronx 80% of graduating 8th graders, all of them disadvantaged black and Hispanic children who enter the school two years below grade level, pass the Regents Math A examination.

Here in Irvington only 35% of our students are prepared to take Regents Math A before entering the 9th grade; few or none of these students are black and/or Hispanic. I can think of no way to increase these numbers using the spiral curriculum we currently inflict upon accelerated middle school students, their parents, and their tutors. If we wish Irvington students to be on par with their same-age peers in Europe, Asia, and the Bronx we will have to adopt:
  • a curriculum such as Saxon Math that is built upon the principles of cognitive science
  • a pedagogy that stresses formative assessment, distributed practice, and above all district responsibility for individual student learning
Many parents are aware that their children are not learning what they could and should be learning in Irvington schools. It is essential for the administration to solicit, respect, and act upon parent concerns where curriculum and pedagogy are involved.

Thanks much --

Catherine Johnson

thank you for your ongoing support and cooperation
thank you for your cooperation and support in this endeavor
today's form letter from the school


SteveH said...

Great email to the board. Do you know what happens to letters that get sent to the board? Is there a formal process?

Catherine Johnson said...

I doubt there's a formal process.

The Board appears to forward everything we send on to the superintendent, which means that we can't have a private conversation with our elected representatives.

That's another problem.

The Board does appear to read emails.

My sense is that nothing will happen until we have a new superintendent. Even then it will be difficult.

I'm tentatively arriving at the conclusion that one should avoid wealthy schools unless the school has a reputation for high academic achievement backed by actual evidence of high academic achievement.

SusanS said...

I've heard our board speak of an Open Meetings law or something like that where they have to share everything with the group and town at the same time. No private conversations. That includes with teachers who might have a problem with their bosses.

I think school boards get dependent on superintendents because they tend to be regular citizens or parents and it's the superintendent who tells them how to do everything and when the next big vote to raise taxes is coming up. They are supposed to be independent, however.

Every potential board member should be asked who they answer to first. The answer should always be the taxpayers and citizens of the town.