kitchen table math, the sequel: help desk - questions for management

Monday, March 7, 2011

help desk - questions for management

A friend of ours who sits on the board of a private school watched the Terc Investigations video a couple of weeks ago. Until he saw it, he believed boards should leave curriculum decisions up to school administration. Now he wants to write him a list of questions to ask "management" about the school's math curriculum.



Catherine Johnson said...

I don't want to say too much because I don't want the school to be identifiable.

But there are a couple of interesting elements here.

First, the school uses one of the constructivist curriculum & states on its web site that the entire program is inquiry based. (All subjects, not just math.)

That's a bit droll because I have the impression that the people who sit on the board are fairly conservative personally and politically. I doubt any of them has ever heard of constructivism -- or even of education schools.

Second: the school has had many complaints about its math teaching and has apparently made some major personnel changes as a result.

It sounds like the question of whether the math curriculum might be the problem, as opposed to the math teacher(s), did not come up.

Of course, in this case it's likely the math teacher(s) were the people who chose the curriculum.

Still and all, it's an interesting situation.

I'm going to give him the Singapore Math tests, and advise him to ask the school whether its students would pass the tests.

I'll be grateful for any other suggestions.

Catherine Johnson said...

Funny thing: our friend didn't really believe that the video was genuine. He thought it had to be a set-up.

People who don't have kids in the schools can't imagine what's going on --- and have trouble believing it when they see it.

Allison said...

Here are some questions (though a good editor would firm these up):

Is this school a standards-based school? If so, what is its method for coming up with standards? What is its method for coming up with curriculum? Where does the textbook fit into their curriculum? How often do they re-evaluate their standards, their curriculum, their textbook?

If they are not a standards-based school, or don't know what standards are, then do they define what they should be teaching? How do the grade X teachers know what grade X+1 students need as prerequisites? How do they keep track of changes in national /regional /local expectations of their student needs?

How do they know that
a) all classes of the same grade have taught the same material
b) all students have made at least 1 year's progress over last year?

How do they "close the loop" ? How do they assess students, and how does that assessment match up against their standards and curriculum? (Meaning, it does not do a lot of good to use a test that doesn't match what you said you were teaching that year.)

What kind of formative assessment do they use? How often?

What does a successful child who has completed their math program know? How would they know if their math program achieved that?

How would they differentiate what the school taught from what the child learned elsewhere (afterschooling, tutoring, etc.)?

What is their professional development program in general for elementary ed in terms of subject material? How do they support their teachers' learning of mathematics? What training have they received? What math content have they been taught?

How does the school handle differentiation in the classroom for math instruction? e.g. does the school ability group in math? If not, why not? (you'd be amazed at some of the answers I have now heard. The most common of which is *scheduling a common math block is effectively impossible.*)

If so, how high can the highest group go? How far below grade level does the lowest group fall? What is done to pull the lowest students up to grade level? What is done for the highest performers?

What is the overall philosophy re: the role of the teacher in the classroom and the role of the student?

Allison said...


What was their evaluation criteria for math textbooks? What were the top 3 characteristics that led them to make that choice? What else did they consider?

As a sidenote, you should point this friend to the NMAP recommendations have him get up to speed and then ask whether or not the math curriculum is designed to meet NMAP's recommendations.

SteveH said...

In Everyday Math (and, I believe in TERC, also), the assumption is that kids will learn when they are ready. So, if the kids don't learn, do they know whether that is because of the kids or because of the school and curriculum? If kids DO learn, do they know why? When they see kids get to algebra in 8th grade, do they know how much help those kids got outside of class? It's easy to ask the parents. In our schools, the good students allow them to get away with little self-analysis.

I always tell people to look at the actual test questions and results. It's too easy to talk in generalities about balance and understanding, but if many kids don't know what 6*7 is in fifth grade, then that is a tangible place to start. Why did those kids get to fifth grade? My son was in a private school fifth grade with kids like this. The teacher had to schedule remedial classes for them, but amazingly, it caused no self-examination by the school. Schools want to talk about philosophy of education, but the real problem is competence, and it's staring them in the face.

Don't let them point to the good students.

lgm said...

How are students placed?

Are they grouped by instructional need?

How is acheivement determined?

Catherine Johnson said...

Thanks you guys!!!

I really appreciate it -----

fyi: I need the same help on a set of questions re: reading instruction.

(Both for this friend & for a member of another board.)

Will get that posted at some point.