LET THE TEACHERS TEACH MATH  

4/3/07

This edition of TeacherTalk is taken from the body of a  letter that I recently wrote to parent leaders in our community. The very positive responses I have received suggested that I share it more broadly. MR

            The school community is buzzing about math.  Should we keep Investigations?  Should we purchase a traditional math program?  Should we go to the Singapore Math Program in that students in Singapore outscore their peers in the rest of the World?   

            The PCT believes that to a very real extent the math discussion in our community is wrongly focused on math programs.  We believe that our focus should be on what we believe children have to know and how well they learn what they are taught.  In our view, teachers have been asked to spend too much of their time and energy talking about how we teach math instead of what we teach our students about the subject.   

            There is absolutely no question that there are substantial gaps in our current elementary and middle school math curriculum.  There is also no question as to why the gap exists.  The Investigations program while it has a number of worthwhile elements, does not support the development of basic math facts and methodologies that parents of young children expect them to know and which their peers throughout the world do know to a greater degree.  Well aware of these gaps and having few other math materials, often lacking support from their building administrator, teachers have been forced to individually supplement the program, expending considerable time and effort in the process and in the end often being left to feel that they could have done a better job if they had the tools and support they needed.  

            The present situation in math is not acceptable to the PCT members.  It is not acceptable to a very large segment of the parent community who are very publicly demanding change.  What needs to be done?  

            The PCT is proposing a four pronged approach to getting our elementary and middle school math instruction to align with New York State requirements and, more importantly, with common sense.  This approach was developed by the PCT Math Committee made up of the teacher representatives of the District Math Committee plus additional teacher representatives from each building.  Our approach was also approved by the PCT Executive Board, two thirds of whom are teachers in our elementary and middle schools.  

             Here’s what we propose:  

                        1 - Clearly written curricula be developed, aligned with New York State    standards and made available to staff and parents in each grade, K-8, delineating what students are required to know prior to the yearly state assessment and by year’s end.  These curricula should combine the development of basic mathematic concepts and facts as well as higher order mathematical thinking exercises.  

                        Students in a particular grade should be exposed to the same mathematical facts   and concepts regardless of the school they attend.  This has not been the case and must be   corrected.  Parents have a right to be aware of what their children are expected to learn  and to know that the same expectations exist for all children in the district.  

                        This work can begin immediately and be completed over the summer and ready    for implementation in September.  Much of this work has already been done in the recent mapping project, although there clearly needs to be revisions and refinements.

                        2 - Retain the current edition of Investigations.  While we do not support a complete “Investigations” approach to the teaching of mathematics, that does not mean that there aren’t some very useful things in this program that teachers want to and should be encouraged to continue to use.  In our view, the current edition of Investigations should be retained.  There is no need, however, to purchase the new edition which while   it corrects some of the defects of the original is still not as useful as other materials we believe to be preferable.  

                        3-  Immediately establish a professional committee, with representatives from each building, to recommend the purchase of traditional math materials and texts to be supplied across the grades in each building.  Every teacher needs to have available materials to support instruction in basic math facts and concepts.  These need to be the same throughout the district to ensure that students are taught the same curriculum.  

                        4- Purchase a test prep booklet for each student in each grade to provide review materials to better prepare our students for the state assessments.  Experience at the Parkway school where this approach has been taken suggests that it is an important step in improving the district’s scores on state tests.  

            The PCT believes that if all of our recommendations are adopted, we will be able to ensure that all children in a grade will be taught the same concepts and that their teachers will have access to the same library of resources to facilitate math instruction.  Additionally, each teacher, whether new or experienced, will know what they are minimally expected to teach and will have the materials necessary to do so without having to spend inordinate amounts of time searching for materials, often being encouraged to pirate copyrighted materials.  Most importantly, they will be freed from the constraining grip of “Investigations” orthodoxy and able to tailor their math instruction to meet the needs of the students in front of them and their own skills and imagination as teachers.  

            Parents will have the deserved comfort of knowing that their children know basic math facts and processes and will be better able to appreciate some of the more interesting aspects of the Investigations program. They will have renewed confidence that their children are not falling behind so that they will not do poorly at high school math and the SAT.

 

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