kitchen table math, the sequel: comments needed

Friday, February 27, 2009

comments needed

One recent morning, seven parents left their homes and jobs and drove to an administrative office here to sit through a two-hour tutorial on addition and subtraction.

They were not seeking a refresher on arithmetic, but rather a better understanding of the mathematics lessons their sons and daughters were studying in class and bringing home with them every night.

The adults from the Prince William County, Va., district, located in the suburbs of Washington, were taking part in a school-sponsored math workshop for parents—the sort of forum that has become a fixture in districts across the country. Schools and districts arrange the events to encourage parents to take an active role in their children’s math learning, as well as to answer questions and concerns about what students are being taught.

That outreach takes many forms. Some schools and districts organize family math nights, which bring students, teachers, and parents together, in the hope of making the subject less intimidating and more fun.

Other events, like the one in Prince William County reach out to parents through day, evening, or weekend workshops, and focus more specifically on math content.

[snip]

The district uses an elementary math curriculum called Investigations in Number, Data, and Space [TERC] that has roused strong objections from some parents, who say it sacrifices traditional arithmetic strategies for what they see as less appealing methods for building students’ math reasoning and problem-solving ability.

[snip]

One contributing factor has been a requirement by some schools that parents sign contracts to help their children with homework or take an active role in their academic work, Ms. Barber said. The introduction of new and unfamiliar math curricula, sometimes called "reform" approaches, has also compelled districts like Prince William to connect more with parents, she said.

"There's a recognition that we need to bring parents along in that way," Ms. Barber said.

Parents Schooled in Learning How to Help With Math
By Sean Cavanagh

I'm pretty sure schools can't "require" parents to teach math.

But if they're going to "require" it, they better let us in on the curriculum selections.

Here's Barry's comment:
Parents are working with their children to teach them the math that is not being taught in schools. Compounding the problem is that a child still has to turn in homework, so the parent has to figure out what is going on in the classroom. Since Investigations, (and Everyday Math for that matter) do not have textbooks, if a child didn't understand that they were supposed to do, then the parent is in the dark as to how to approach the homework. This is very common in Everyday Math which would give students problems for which they had not had instruction, like 8.75/0.5. What they had learned to do in class was solve it as 875/5, and then using deduction and some "number sense", figure out where the decimal point would go in the quotient.

Such a cart before the horse approach to math education is tantamount to throwing a kid in a swimming pool and telling him or her that now would be a good time to learn some basic swim techniques.

School districts and publishers spin what's happening as "parent involvement" and isn't it just wonderful. What's really happening is parents are involved because the schools have totally abdicated their responsibility to teach math. And one can't really blame the schools: NSF funded these atrocities and their imprimatur seems to convince otherwise intelligent people that this total garbage has some merit.

And, from another satisfied customer:
The reason they are holding workshops is to try and diffuse the fury over math investigations. Our children are not learning the basics and without being able to add, they cannot get a deeper understanding.

The math department has created a massive divide in our county and destroyed our childrens math abilities at the same time; nice going.

As for the Evidence for Success brochure that they tout as research, most of those districts have dropped or are dropping MI and the rest are heavily funded title 1 districts or only have a few schools. A parent contacted every one of them.

Note that there were no comments from dissenting parents in that article; totally biased. We look forward to returning to real mathematics so we don't have to teach so much at home.

12 comments:

SteveH said...

"One recent morning, seven parents left their homes and jobs and drove to an administrative office here to sit through a two-hour tutorial on addition and subtraction."

This sounds like the start of a word problem!


Then how many hours will it take to tutor parents when they get to fractions? How many hours for algebra? What is the shape of this curve? (Hint: Can you say "exponential"?)


Bonus question:

How much steeper will the curve be if the school uses discovery methods during their parent tutorials?

Please use your critical thinking skills.

C T said...

What is the point of school if the learning isn't taking place IN SCHOOL? Regular, large homework assignments for young children weren't necessary when I was in elementary school. At most, we were told to read some each night and have our parents sign off on it. What is going on during school time now? I might as well homeschool fulltime if the schools are just going to turn me into an afterschooler! (Actually, I'm already planning to homeschool for a few years to avoid "creative" methods of reading and math instruction that would hinder my children's development of academic skills and clarity in thought. Creativity is greatly overrated in elementary education, IMHO.)

Allison said...

More evidence for my hypothesis that no teaching resulting in learning occurs in school. Whenever there is learning, it's outside, but at least the gains will be attributable to the public school this way!

Laura said...

To be fair, at the beginning of the year (1st grade) we were given a (very glossy and colorful) Investigations textbook to take home with us (the only "contract" we had to sign was an agreement that we would be responsible for the textbook and return it in good condition at the end of the year).

I've heard nightmare stories about time-consuming Investigations & Everyday Math math homework, but fortunately so far, it only takes about one minute (Sally picked 18 apples. She made applesauce with 9 of them. How many does she have left? Show your work).

palisadesk said...

This is partly a difference between high and low-SES school communities. In very low SES urban neighborhoods, especially with many families that do not speak English, the expectation that parents will help with work at home to any significant degree simply won't wash.

My district does not permit using homework for school grades -- all work used to evaluate student learning must be done in school. The expectation is that all the teaching required will also be done in school. Our primary division is really quite strong on the teaching side of things, with the vast majority of kids meeting or exceeding expectations for their grade and a lot of support and good instructional practices (if not curricula) are in place.

Unfortunately, with high mobility and transience, by the middle school years there is a huge influx of students lacking the preparation "our" kids received and the achievement is much more varied and the task confronting classroom teachers almost impossible.

Nevertheless, a *lot* of learning does take place at school, and despite the odds, a number of our students are successful in getting into competitive secondary schools (usually these are students we have had from the beginning).

We have a long way to go, but the focus is certainly on teaching the kids *in school* and not on relying on parents or tutors to do it -- that is just not going to happen.

Barry Garelick said...

I've heard nightmare stories about time-consuming Investigations & Everyday Math math homework, but fortunately so far, it only takes about one minute (Sally picked 18 apples. She made applesauce with 9 of them. How many does she have left? Show your work).

The Everyday Math homework is not time-consuming. It's just that if the child doesn't understand what is to be done, there is no textbook to look at for any clue. Sometimes the procedures they have worked on in class are very good--but the kids just don't remember them. And the parents have to guess. Sometimes the procedures are extremely bad, out of sequence, and the child has had no preparation or instruction on how to solve it.

Karen said...

School districts everywhere took away the vocational arts programs: wood shop, cooking, sewing, drafting, etc. They did this for two reasons. One, they were considered costly, and two, they were considered to be inequitable since many 'low performing' students landed in those classes.

Now the school districts spend a lot of energy and money trying to implement hands-on uses of mathematics in the math classroom. Since there is not enough time to teach math and the vocational classes in the time allotted for math, the districts 'train' parents to do hands-on math projects at home.

This system might work for the family that has enough income to support a stay-at-home parent (that parent usually doesn't need the training) but the parents that have two jobs and are struggling to survive are not going to have enough time to get trained or do math with their kids. So who gets hurt? The kids that originally landed in the vocational arts classes.

And, as a parent that read to my kids every night and did math with them every day (captive audience in the car), I really resented when teachers sent home an assignment that I had to do.

Secondly, as an educator, I don't believe in homework assignments for children who are not old enough to be responsible for the assignment themselves, i.e. no homework for children until they are at least in the third grade.

Anonymous said...

YES, the car. Math facts, spelling, parts of speech, state capitals/flowers/birds, geography, history, civics, inventions, famous people etc. etc. LOTS of time spent in the car, but not wasted; lots of time on academic stuff not taught/stressed in school and lots of great conversations with the kids.

For long trips, we had tapes of patriotic songs, folk songs, cowboy songs/classical music etc. that used to be part of the school experience. With no music and art teachers, my regular classroom teachers provided real education in music and art appreciation. Sadly, none of my kids' music or art teachers did any of that - it was all performance. No mention of our fine arts heritage.

I apologize for the digression

Mia Zagora said...

Our school still uses Everyday Mathematics. Just one of the many reasons I decided to homeschool. Some schools may have tutorial nights for parents, and I believe EM even has a web site where parents can go, but only the brightest students and the students with the most involved parents are going to get it. Even though many school districts across the country are dropping EM and other such reformed math programs, some continue to hang on tooth and claw. I just don't understand. From what I understand, it's extremely expensive to implement and time consuming - especially with all of the special teacher training and parent tutoring you have to do.

Catherine Johnson said...

What is going on during school time now? I might as well homeschool fulltime if the schools are just going to turn me into an afterschooler!

A couple of years ago I sat next to a man who had headed the Jet Propulsion Lab at one time (I wish to heck I could remember his name).

He'd had all kinds of battles with his school district.

At one point he went to a board meeting and said, "You have the kids sequestered here 6 hours a day and you're teaching them nothing in that time."

Catherine Johnson said...

School districts everywhere took away the vocational arts programs: wood shop, cooking, sewing, drafting, etc.

[snip]

Now the school districts spend a lot of energy and money trying to implement hands-on uses of mathematics in the math classroom. Since there is not enough time to teach math and the vocational classes in the time allotted for math, the districts 'train' parents to do hands-on math projects at home.


I routinely tear my hair out over this one.

If you want the kids to have hands-on learning, BRING BACK SHOP.

BRING BACK HOME EC.

Catherine Johnson said...

no homework for children until they are at least in the third grade

I agree.