kitchen table math, the sequel: pluses and minuses equal division

Thursday, January 11, 2007

pluses and minuses equal division

I came across this article on the math wars in the Oregonian. As usual, it's false dichotomy-ariffic and is chock full of he-said-she-said nonsense; however, this blurb caught my eye:

Some parents want to do away with reform math. Others want both reform and traditional math offered, so parents and students can choose the one that works for them.

This is what I don't understand. Any school with enough students to support two classes can offer both kinds of math classes. This would conveniently put an end to all the tensions and offer parents a real choice. Parents could choose to have their kids taught in a "drill and kill" or in a "rainbows and lollipops" class. It's not like this would cost any extra money or effort on the part of schools.


Barry Garelick said...

There's more to the story than appears in the Jan 11 edition of the Oregonian. Check out the story in the Jan 10 edition:

I know the person leading the fight in Beaverton. And this is with a school board that actually is listening. This gives an inkling of how difficult it is to try to rid a school district of a bad math program. Worse than termites.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hear! Hear!

I favor choice across the board.

School districts are authoritarian by nature; to offer choice would be to "serve" the community.

Remember last year when I told the math chair that teachers "work for us"?

Her answer: "I find that insulting."

Direct quote.

At the time I didn't fault her for this because I had spoken in an angry tone. It's true, of course, that the codes of professional behavior would rule her response out of bounds no matter how provocative the parent.

I have since learned that this is her view no matter how friendly and cooperative the parent.

School personnel do not "work for" the people who pay their salaries.

They do what they do.

They are the deciders.

Instructivist said...

Talking about cliche-ridden, false-dichotomy and ultimately disinformation newspaper ed articles, textsavvy cites an article that can take your breath away:

"There's more than one way to solve a problem, and American teachers have started incorporating that into their curriculums.

Harry McQueeney, a teacher at Red Sandstone Elementary, said that Everyday Math, the adopted elementary program, was developed after researching how Asian and European countries that excel in math instruct their students.

What they found was these countries taught a more holistic approach to math. Teachers focused on number concepts and showed students different ways to solve a variety of problems.

It's a sharp contrast to how many of us were taught math, a system that McQueeney said involved drilling, memorization and exercises that focused on only one approach, an approach a student may not understand and often holds them back."

And then there is this praise for the spiral:

"In Everyday Math, you don't stay stuck in not knowing how to do something," McQueeney said. "We instead move to [sic] onto other concepts like graphing or measurements, things that don't necessarily rely on that one skill they didn't understand. And when the light finally comes on for that one, five or ten lights go on."

So the fuzzies were inspired by the Europeans and Asian tigers.


Tex said...

"They said that the district has new policies that require parents to be involved in choosing new curricula."

They now have plans to include parents, but based on comments in the in the preceding post there may not be much reason for optimism. It seems many schools simply pay lip service to parents and then proceed to do whatever they want.

Tex said...

I noticed the curriculum generating so much uproar is TERC Investigations.

My school is test piloting Investigations and Growing with Mathematics this year with the expectation of adopting one of these to replace SRA Math Explorations & Applications. I have voiced my concerns to the school board and to the curriculum director.

This article gave me some ideas for further action, including requesting parental involvement in curriculum review. Currently, a committee composed of math teachers from all grades chooses new textbooks. From what I can tell, the school board doesn’t get very involved.

And I’ve never heard of a “math night” at our schools.

Tex said...

My district has two elementary schools with about 100 students per grade in each school. I think that would be sufficient to offer parents a choice.

But I have to disagree about choice not costing extra money or effort. I don’t know much about how to run a school, but considering that some economies of scale would be lost and all the miscellaneous logistics would become more complicated I can see how a school would balk at offering choice.

Instructivist said...

"In Everyday Math, you don't stay stuck in not knowing how to do something," McQueeney said.

The smart thing to do would be to get unstuck by actually mastering something. But that's too much to ask for from educationists. Instead, they shove it under the rug and spiral forth.

Catherine Johnson said...

Choice absolutely costs money, IMO.

I'm happy to pay for it.

I have zero interest in inflicting a top-down "cog sci-based math" on parents who don't want it.

Mark Roulo said...

One problem with choice is that you might have some teachers needing to switch back and forth between "traditional" and "constructivist" approaches. I wonder how well that would work. I don't think I would do a very good job teaching a "constructivist" approach to math. A large part of this is that I don't believe that it works. I wouldn't be surprised if many "constructivist" teachers would have the same problem teaching a traditional curriculum.

Isn't there also the problem of finding enough teachers who actually *understand* fractions? A traditional approach (with more or less direct instruction) kinda depends on the teacher understanding the thing for which he/she is providing instruction. If the kids are expected to discover how fractions work on their own, this is much less of a problem.

-Mark Roulo

PaulaV said...

"I noticed the curriculum generating so much uproar is TERC Investigations."

At my school, parents don't seem to mind TERC Investigations. Of course, I'm wondering how many know what it is. I saw one flyer on it at back-to-school night and haven't heard another word since. However, it was not called TERC, it was called Math Investigations.

My third grader's teacher says she teaches to the Virginia SOL test by using the Pearson math textbook and using the investigations as a supplemental. One could assume this would be called a "balanced" approach to math.

However, it concerns me that the Fordham Institute gave Virginia a C in math. In previous years, Virginia scored better.


TurbineGuy said...

I predict that any school that used two types of math curriculums would quickly find that one of them becomes more and more favored, especially if they did the right thing and published test score results for each classroom.

Richland School District 2 in Columbia, SC actually has a choice of magnet schools at the elementary school level that used different curriculums. One is an inquiry based, one uses core knowlege.

KDeRosa said...

Righto, let the market prevail.