kitchen table math, the sequel: Singapore Math pilot in New Milford: SPED students ahead of general ed students

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Singapore Math pilot in New Milford: SPED students ahead of general ed students

Steve H's question - whether any of us knows a district that has replaced Everyday Math, TERC, Trailblazers, etc. with Singapore or Saxon - has prompted me finally to post the material I saved on New Milford, CT's 2006 pilot program comparing Everyday Math, Saxon Math, and Singapore Math. (I can email copies of the various reports produced by the district cijohn @

My favorite line from the Pilot summary:
The pace of [Singapore Math] ... is quicker than anything we do and quicker even than our curriculum calls for. As a result, some sped students actually perform AHEAD of their non-special education peers in successfully handling content -- almost by definition becoming non-sped students!

April 10, 2006
Pilot Summary
page 3
The result of New Milford's admirable -- and unusual -- commitment to piloting a math curriculum before buying it?

A recommendation from the assistant superintendent that the district not adopt the curriculum that produced the best results:
The recommendation regarding the mathematic materials to be used to deliver
New Milford’s mathematics curriculum is as follows:

The district would use the following mathematic materials:
Kindergarten - Saxon Mathematics
• Grade One – Saxon Mathematics
• Grade Two – Saxon Mathematics
• Grade Three – Saxon Mathematics and Everyday Math (all classes)
• Grade Four – Saxon mathematics 1/3 – 2/5 of classes
- Everyday Mathematics 2/3 - 3/5 of classes
• Grade Five – Saxon mathematics 1/3 – 2/5 of classes
- Everyday Mathematics 2/3 - 3/5 of classes
• Grade Six – Saxon mathematics 1/3 – 2/5 of classes
- Everyday Mathematics 2/3 - 3/5 of classes
TO: Dr. JeanAnn C. Paddyfote, Superintendent
Members of the Board of Education
FROM: Thomas A. Mulvihill, Assistant Superintendent
DATE: April 10, 2006
SUBJECT: Recommendation Regarding Math Materials K-6

p. 1

Parents and other bystanders often assume that schools are interested in 'what works' but repeatedly fail to come up with what works because of fads. A school adopts the latest fad, the latest fad fails inside the classroom, and the school moves on to the next fad. Which also fails to work inside the classroom.

The 'pendulum' idea -- an educational pendulum swings back and forth from one extreme to the other -- is a variant of this idea.

In my experience, neither of these accounts captures what goes on inside the black box. Not that I know what goes on inside the black box. Still, I know enough to state as fact that public schools don't generally 'evaluate' success one way or the other. Every new initiative that is rolled out is assumed to be good and successful right up to the moment the next initiative comes along 3 years later, according to plan, and is also assumed to be good and successful.

In some ways, the New Milford pilot program is the ur-example of public school indifference to results. In New Milford's case, the district actually did evaluate three programs, found one program in particular to be startlingly successful -- and then decided not to adopt that program.

Westchester County

Here in Westchester, Scarsdale & Dobbs Ferry have adopted Singapore Math, and BOCES is sponsoring Singapore Math workshops (pdf file). I believe my town will adopt Singapore Math within the next couple of years, too, though we'll see.

Whether or not Singapore Math in Westchester will bear a close resemblance to Singapore Math in Singapore remains to be seen.


Anonymous said...

Hello Ms. Catherine Johnson,
I'm studying to be a future teacher and was interested in your post about the schools adopting the latest fads. How do you deal with this in your classroom? It seems to me to be very frustrating to see the school jump from one way to another just because it sees success somewhere else. As a parent I'm aware of the Saxon Math and loved it. We moved school districts and I don't have any idea what "program" they use for math now. I know that I'm not a fan of it because it isn't drilling the facts in the kids. (multipling, adding, subtraction) Do you think that the schools are switching programs more and more because of the schools fear to meet the AYP for state testing? They want to succeed so they will do anything to meet the state standards. Just wondering. If you have any thoughts on that I would love to hear.

Jane Sevacko
Future educator

SteveH said...

I would be glad to have Catherine as a teacher for any subject. Then again, I don't believe in the "just one thing" solution that says that all we need are good teachers.

I don't see it as a pendulum from one pedagogical extreme to another. There is a philosophy behind all of this. I think the problem is that ideology drives everything. When reality doesn't agree with their ideas, they don't change their ideas. They change to the next big thing.

In math, many educators can't reconcile their ideas of education with the need of mastery of the basics. Rather than attack the problem directly (bottom-up), they dance all around the goal with thematic learning and real world problems (top-down).

When kids don't master the basics, it's too easy to point to those kids who have. Even if they want to improve, they don't change their basic ideas. They just look for a new angle, and there are many companies out there that are more than happy to tell them what they want to hear.

I suppose you could say that our schools switched from MathLand to Everyday Math because of the need to improve AYP. It's going in the right direction, but it's not nearly enough. The state standards may be very low, but at least it forces schools to accept some level of accountability.

There is also the pressure from high schools. Our school got rid of CMP in 7th and 8th grades because kids needed to be prepared to take Geometry in 9th grade. They needed the same algebra course that was taught in high school. This pushes the nonlinear jump in knowledge and expectations back to the beginning of 7th grade pre-algebra. They haven't dealt with this yet.

AYP is not a bad thing even though I don't like a lot of the test questions. Our schools are going in the right direction, but I can't quite see how there could be a breakthrough to offering Singapore Math. Even if they did offer it, I can't imagine that the lower grade teachers will do what is necessary to enforce mastery of the basics. As I've said before, I think a lot comes down to low versus high expectations. It's a different idea of what education is all about.

Anonymous said...

Katherine Beals linked to a story about Gainesville schools' new math curriculum. It was a great example of the cluelessness of education reporters. This particular one homed in on the use of manipulatives in Singapore Math, missing Singapore' structure and emphasis on basics; and s/he also reported on teachers who enthused about using songs/raps to teach math facts and algorithms, missing entirely that educators who tend towards the constructivist, progressive end of things are supposed to disapprove of drill.

Anonymous said...

I do not understand the link that says that they do not use manipulatives in Primary Math. One of the basic methods, stated at the beginning of each textbook, is concrete to abstract to pictorial. Homeschoolers may have left out the abstract because that was not in the textbook. Teachers in Singapore did use manipulatives, and from what I have heard students had access to manipulatives when they wanted them.

Plus, there is the letter to the editor complaining that who knows whether the material will be taught anything like it is taught in Singapore. Singapore is now headed towards reform math. Primary Math is an older curriculum. The new stuff in Singapore has calculators by grade 5, more puzzles and "critical thinking" and writing about math...

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant I think some homeschoolers left out the concrete because it isn't in the textbook. The fact memorization isn't in the textbook either, but I am fairly sure it is done in Singapore. Or used to be, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Every new initiative that is rolled out is assumed to be good and successful right up to the moment the next initiative comes along 3 years later, according to plan, and is also assumed to be good and successful.

This really does seem to be the crux of it - change for the sake of change, because change is always good.

Lion said...

I am from Singapore. Introducing calculators ...true but i don't think we are changing. Core emphasis is understanding the fundamentals. Pretty traditional still. Some discussion and problems and with some solutions here :