Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Just Saying "No" To Fuzzy Math

After a number of parents and teachers objected, the school board of Olympia, Washington, has ignored an administrative recommendation to adopt a constructivist math program for their middle schoolers:
The Olympia School Board indefinitely delayed a proposal Monday to adopt a new middle school math curriculum after receiving a swell of objections from some parents and teachers.

The move means that middle school students will continue to use the same math textbooks in the fall and that any new curriculum won’t be adopted for at least several months if not a year.

District administrators and the vast majority of a committee made up of teachers and parents had recommended purchasing the Connected Math Project (CMP) textbooks — a curriculum for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders.

The textbooks use an approach — known as constructivist — that focuses more on problem solving and critical thinking and less on mastering basic math skills and formulas. That approach would line up with the Trailblazers curriculum used in Olympia’s elementary schools.

However, nine parents asked the board Monday to delay a vote on the issue. The board also received some 150 signatures from other parents seeking a delay as well as a letter voicing concern about the curriculum from a majority of teachers in the Olympia High School math department.

There wasn’t an official vote on the issue but board members Russ Lehman, Michelle Parvinen and Bob Shirley said they favored delaying the curriculum adoption — meaning a vote to adopt the new textbooks likely would have failed. Board members asked the district to recommend a new timeline and process for discussing the issue.

“No one expressed doubts about the curriculum,” said Peter Rex, a district spokesman. “They wanted to have greater buy-in from parents and teachers.”

Proponents say the proposed new middle school math curriculum would improve learning and test scores among Olympia School District students who have consistently struggled in the past.

“I have a lot of years of teaching experience, and I have yet to experience in all of those years what I’ve experienced with this program,” said Bob Hughes, a Jefferson Middle School teacher who has piloted the program. “As these students put these concepts into place, they truly own them. These are your lowest performing students that see this” improvement.

Opponents say Connected Math would be a bad move for students who are excelling with the existing program.

“This would be a serious step backward from the achievement the district has now,” said Olympia parent Frank McCormick, referring to the district’s high math scores compared with others statewide.
Amid quite a bit of fanfare, our district here in California adopted imposed a constructivist mathematics program a few years ago.

The teachers who worked with it, the kids that were subjected to it, and the parents who were frustrated by it, intensely disliked the program.

It was allowed to die a quiet death when it was discovered that standardized test scores weren't going up but were headed down.
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