kitchen table math, the sequel: math night

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

math night

Trailblazers Math Night happened last night.

Apparently there were some walk-outs. Parents had been told they would be able to ask questions; instead they were treated to the standard "Math Night" dog and pony show that appears to be the main fuzzy math marketing tool. No questions were taken, though parents who wished to do so could write a question on a Post-It and attach it to board that had been set up outside the auditorium.


cross-posted at the Irvington Parents Forum:

Hi all---

Some background on “Math Nights” ---

Math Nights appear to be a constructivist innovation. Traditional math curricula don’t urge schools to host math nights for parents; nor do innovative curricula such as Primary Mathematics & Saxon Math.

The stated purpose of math nights is to head off parent complaints. Publishers know large numbers of parents will be unhappy with these programs, so they create marketing materials and events for districts to purchase along with the curricula itself.


The main Trailblazers document advising schools on how to manage parents can be found here, here (pdf file), and here.

My favorite passage:

Be pro-active with parents. Don’t wait until complaints hit. People have done a lot of things to involve parents, from math nights to big math carnivals, where the kids teach the activities to the parents. There are letters in the program that go home to parents. In one district, the coordinator ran a six-week course for parents and taught them mathematics, essentially. It depends on what will work with your audience. Teachers need to communicate with parents, making sure that the parents see the math facts practice and that the arithmetic they value is visible.


Don’t wait until complaints hit!

I love it!

I propose that the Board adopt as a matter of policy a rule barring the district from purchasing curricula whose supporting documents say things like “Don’t wait until complaints hit.”


Another favorite:

The math nights have helped [with parent complaints] a lot. I took one of my math nights and just addressed Trailblazers. I actually took them through the steps of how they teach addition and subtraction, using all the base-ten blocks and the manipulatives and how it flowed into the algorithm. After that, I did not have another negative letter. There are still a lot of parents who are worried that, at the end of 3rd grade, kids haven’t memorized all of their multiplication facts. The focus of the math night that I just had was on games that parents and children could play at home to work on math facts, just using decks of cards and things. These are things they can work on with their kids that are fun and easy to do. I don’t want to spend a half hour in class memorizing multiplication. We have far greater things, bigger things to think about.



We have far greater things, bigger things to think about!

If you were wondering why it’s up to parents to discover how to help their children commit math facts to memory (not easy to do), this is it.


Last but not least, here’s a report from Barbara Martin, principal of the Holmes Elementary School in Chicago (“The Holmes school has 772 students in grades pre-K through 5; the student body is 100% African-American, and about 95% of the students live in poverty.”)

We invite parents to an orientation where we talk about all our programs early on in the year. Our math coordinator speaks to the group about math lessons. Math Trailblazers has parent letters that go home all the time telling about what’s going on in the math program. We do also have a math day, and on that math day, we invite parents to be in the room. The kids do math all day. In order to get the parents in the room, I offer them a little stipend.


I offer them a little stipend.


I looked up Ms. Martin’s test scores:

math
Third grade: 32.5% of the kids meet state standards
Fifth grade: 19.7% meet standards
Eighth grade: 15.7% meet standards

Look at their reading scores:
3rd grade: 18.5% meet standards
5th grade: 16% meet standards
8th grade: they're up to 43.5% meeting state standards


Reading scores are harder to raise than math scores, and yet this school is raising children’s reading comprehension while at the same time math scores fall.

Kendall Hunt doesn’t mention Holmes’ scores.

Instead, Ms. Martin is quoted:

Wherever students go into in the middle grades, if they’ve had a sound foundation in the primary grades, they will be prepared..... For some of my children, our feeder schools are saying, “Please, please send us more like these.”

Catherine J


letter from the superintendent

January 6, 2007

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. 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. 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 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 [ed.: no more input] 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.

Sincerely,

Superintendent of Schools


The polite term for that is chutzpah.*

I wonder how much longer things can go on this way.

___________

*Dictionary.com defines chutzpah a bit differently.

math night part 2
trailblazerspublicrelations
trailblazerssupportingdocuments

13 comments:

Parentalcation said...

I looked up Ms. Martin’s test scores:

math
Third grade: 32.5% of the kids meet state standards
Fifth grade: 19.7% meet standards
Eighth grade: 15.7% meet standards


burn

Catherine Johnson said...

lol!

Catherine Johnson said...

AND SHE'S PAYING PARENTS MONEY TO LIKE TRAILBLAZERS

Anonymous said...

I went to "Family Math Night" at the my daughters HS. They had former students, the head of the Math Dept from the Colorado School of Mines, currents students, a few parents (!) and a problem to solve.

Everyone spoke highly of CMP math, especially for the Professor whose daugher had done well in a different school on what I assume was a similar program. It seemed like all the parents had trouble in math when they took it so they were enthusiastic about the program.

The teachers were so bold as to state that even in the standard math series (supposedly there is a conventional math path and a CMP path) they were using as many of the CMP principles in their teaching as they possibly could.

Everyone was all smiles (i.e. brainwashed). All I could think about was "what the hell was in the water"? I now bring my own water bottle whenever I enter the HS.

The experience also left me wondering how the school system could possibly change how math is taught in the district. The teachers have embraced CMP/NCTM methods so wholeheartedly that there would be a virtual rebellion if they were told to return to a traditional lecture approach to teaching math.

Chris Adams

SteveH said...

"...that there would be a virtual rebellion if they were told to return to a traditional lecture approach to teaching math."

I think a more general rule would be that it doesn't matter who is on the school committee, you can't force a school to do something it doesn't want to do.

Do you think these people really believe what they are saying at Math Night? You would think that they would have the courage to tell parents that they understand that there are different ideas about teaching math, but this is what the school chose to use. Instead, they put us in little kids' chairs and preach to us like we're stupid. I've been there. They know that there are doctors, scientists, and engineers sitting in those tiny chairs.

To this day, I still can't decide if they are ignorant or arrogant. Both, I guess.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think a more general rule would be that it doesn't matter who is on the school committee, you can't force a school to do something it doesn't want to do.

That's the stumper for me.

Ed and I can actually make a lot of waves, garner a lot of attention, and persuade many parents that we need reforms in our district.

Making those reforms is another matter.

Catherine Johnson said...

The math chair is belligerent, antagonistic, and dug-in.

(Campaign of harassment here!)

She's not going to make any changes parents want under any circumstances.

We could have every single student in Ms. K's class flunk the class; it wouldn't matter.

Nothing matters.

Catherine Johnson said...

Charter schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

I just felt like saying that.

LynnG said...

Ed and I can actually make a lot of waves, garner a lot of attention, and persuade many parents that we need reforms in our district.

Making those reforms is another matter.

Why is this? I am in largely the same situation here, and I am stumped. We asked for something simple -- just give students the same amount of lab time in chemistry and physics as ever other school district in the state. You'd think that would be a no brainer.

Why is it that these kinds of reforms are impossible regardless of how much support exists behind them, but crazy reforms by educrats are implemented every year no matter how much we protest?

Is it arrogance? "If it isn't my idea it must not be any good?"

Help me.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's just the basic issue of not being able to force people to do things they don't want to do.

Teachers (I'm told) are very good at resisting reform, which is as good for students as it is bad.

Think how often you hear about teachers "closing their doors and teaching."

I don't understand structural factors well, but apparently when "new management" comes into a business planning to make changes the first thing they do is fire somebody.

After that everybody falls into line.

So I'm told.

New administrators can't fire teachers with tenure, though they can make their lives miserable in various ways. They probably have to find other ways.

I wish I knew more about institutional reform. (One of these days.)

From the little I've read I gather that to change a school you need a leader - this will be the superintendent or a principal - who takes reform and change as his central job.

That leader then recruits "early adopter" type teachers to sign on for his changes.

If all goes well, those teachers then become leaders for other teachers.

This is the only thing I "know" about institutional reform.

This is one reason why I believe in offering choice within schools -- I don't think it would be possible to impose a wholesale change like everybody does Saxon Math!

I think the most likely-to-succeed way of creating changes of this kind would be to find out which teachers are interested in teaching a different curriculum, giving them a lot of leeway and suport, and then seeing how things go.

Julie said...

I just found this blog and I want to say THANKS. My kid is in Kindergarten with developmental delays and I fear what he will have to learn. He's okay so far, just counting and adding. But when I'd like to get involved early in his school career, but I can't go to these math nights because I have babies. My husband is in school for El Ed and just started student teaching in a rural school district where he is dreading having to teach "Touch/Dot math" to 2nd graders. They are obviously bored out of their minds with all this scripted teaching and the teacher seems to be a zombie whose heart is not in it. I'm not in the thick of things like my husband so I'm fumbling around here trying to find out what the schools are trying to teach. If you know anything I can do to help kick NCLB and the new math, please let me know. I fear all kids who are not fortunate enough to have lucrative PTAs will be stupid through NCLB's reforms and the gap will widen between rich and poor/minorities.

SteveH said...

Hi Julie,

Welcome to KTM. I'm not sure how to get you up to speed really fast, but www.nychold.com is a good place to start.

My own view is that everything revolves around a fundamental difference of opinion over philosophy and assumptions in K-8 education. We at KTM set much higher and specific expectations for mastery of content and basic skills than most schools, even for LD kids. For math, we always use the goal of real algebra in 8th grade as our standard. This is the only path to the college math track in high school.

We are (mostly) parents here at KTM and our kids cover the complete ability range. There are many problems to deal with and unfortunately, if it were easy to solve, KTM wouldn't exist.

The main point you can get from KTM is that you have to take responsibility for your own kids, at least for the foreseeable future. We all would like to change the schools, but we have little or no power. Math Nights are not about sharing power. They are used just to tell parents the way things are.


"I fear all kids who are not fortunate enough to have lucrative PTAs will be stupid through NCLB's reforms and the gap will widen between rich and poor/minorities."

I wouldn't say that it's a problem of poor PTAs or NCLB. There are other forces going on here. If you read KTM for very long, you will see exactly what many of us think about the problems.