kitchen table math, the sequel: the cost of spiraling

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

the cost of spiraling

in Canada:

Reading and math are the two crucial elementary school subjects required for high school and life beyond, but British Columbia's elementary math curriculum is crippling learning, especially among disadvantaged students.

B.C. has used what is called a "spiral" curriculum since 1987, following a tradition of emulating U.S. educational practice.

A spiral curriculum runs a smorgasbord of math topics by students each year, the idea being that they pick up a little more of each with every pass. In reality, the spin leaves many students and teachers in the dust.

Ideally, the curriculum should cover fewer topics per year in more depth.

Presently, teachers face having Grade 4 classes who still cannot add 567 + 942 nor multiply 7 x 8 because the Grade 1, 2, and 3 teachers were forced to spend so much time on graphing, polygons and circles, estimating quantity and size, geometrical transformations, 2D and 3D geometry and other material not required to make the next step, which is 732 x 34.

And because elementary math fails to provide a solid foundation, many basically capable students simply give up when faced with the shock of high school algebra, which would be the doorway to advanced technical training at all levels. High school math teachers cannot make up Grades 1 to 7 while teaching Grade 8.

Alarm bells about the math curriculum have been ringing in B.C. since the United States, which used spiralling almost exclusively, registered a dismal performance on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a test that comparatively evaluated more than 500,000 students from 15,000 schools in 40 countries, first in 1995 and again in 1999 with the same results.

The B.C. ministry of education, to its credit, realized right away in 1995 that the U.S. performance on TIMSS suggested weaknesses in B.C.'s curriculum.

Also aware of some then-emerging data indicating that students in Quebec -- which had retained a sequential curriculum when B.C. went to the spiral -- were outperforming other Canadian students in math, Victoria commissioned researcher Helen Raptis, now a University of Victoria professor, to compare B.C. and Quebec test results and curricula.

In her report, submitted to the ministry in late 2000, Raptis showed that the average B.C. student was more than two years behind the average Quebec student in math by Grade 10, and explored the extent to which curriculum might be responsible.

Things Don't Add Up in B.C. Math Classes
by Bill Hook and Karen Litzcke

My own district philosophically opposes acceleration for gifted students and does not discuss time costs of curriculum and pedagogy with parents.

I've been copied on emails from administrators stating that they do not feel it is important for students to "rush" through the curricula.

As a friend of mine said, "What is rush? There's rush as in race around frantically, and then there's rush as in you've got some place to go."

School defines rush.

Not parents.

Although I think this may begin to change.

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