Saturday, January 22, 2011

Out with the new, in with the old.

Georgia's state school superintendent had a press conference late Thursday where he announced his opinion that school districts should have the option of going back to traditional math.  Now we wait to see if the state board concurs.


The clunky, spiraling, grazing new math program does NOT work. Students barely grasp a new concept before they spiral away to something else. They return to that concept in another year, by which time they've forgotten how, what, and why. We've had to resort to private tutoring for our daughter, who has been a strong math student. But the spiral has caught up to her this year.

For example, her teacher spent a scant two days on intersecting slope equations. Then spent a a few more days on parallel and perpendicular equations.That's it. Time to move on. If students don't understand, it's up to them to "figure it out for yourself."

We have seen a troubling trend of poor retention of basics such as figuring percentages, remembering how to simplify fractions in multiplication and division, complete lack of understanding of negative integers, and others.

Something ain't right.

Please, please, PLEASE DeKalb Schools. Why wait for the state? Other school systems have already figured out how to dump Kathy Cox's pet math project and get back to the basics colleges expect on that almighty high school transcript. Put traditional math back into the curriculum. Read your own scores, trending quickly downward just as they are across the state. Schedule our rising Freshmen for Algebra in 9th grade, not Math 1-2-3-4-Button-My-Shoe-Close-the-Door on mastery. Imagine the challenges facing next year's graduating class, the first in a long line of guinea pigs for this experiment, who will have to explain to out of state colleges what the heck Georgia's math program means. Understand that while you're shuffling students from one facility to another, your business is education in the classroom, a fact that I fear will get lost in that shuffle.

Do it now, while high schools are building schedules for next year, so the staff doesn't have to redo those schedules again over the summer because your timing isn't reasonable.

It's broken. Fix it.


  1. So frustrating! Still have ringing in my ears from the state board of education a few years ago: "cutting edge program", "best in the country", blah blah. In today's paper, "didn't talk enough to math teachers" before creating/implementing it. If they go back to traditional, what would our 8th graders start with in 9th grade, Geometry??

  2. Algebra (I? II?), which is "9th grade math." But our 8th graders aren't really ready for that, are they?

  3. Back in the "dark ages" when I was in school in DCSS, when high school was 8-12, we started in 8th grade with Pre-Algebra, 9th was Geometry, 10th was Algebra (if my old, confused brain remembers correctly) and quite frankly I don't remember what the 11th and 12th grade Math options were as I stopped after Algebra - believe it or not that was all we were required to take back in my day.

    I have to be honest, I found all of this new Math confusing, but my husband did not see a problem with it. His comment was "Math is Math, it never changes", but then again he was a Math major, so maybe we should ignore his opinion - LOL.

  4. I'm not an expert on the new math curriculum, so I have questions, rather than answers. The traditional approach, which most of us are familiar with, is to learn a concept then apply it--lots of drill and kill involved... The new math curriculum, from what I understand, takes more of an inquiry-based approach: as kids try to solve a problem, they learn the concepts along the way that will help them devise a solution. (I could be a bit off. I've read a bit about the curriculum, but haven't looked at it first hand.)

    My questions:

    Are kids having trouble because they are being forced to flex new mental muscles? Some kids are great at learning concepts and applying them, but when learning in an inquiry-based setting, they have to think in a new way. They have to use different parts of their brain. That could explain why former A students are now struggling. The new system maybe doesn't reward them in the same way the old one did. I have a beef with our current ed models that nurture and reward memorization and analytic thinking, but do little to also foster other types of thinking, such as creative, practical, and ethical. I wonder if the new curriculum is actually a step in the right direction, but I need to learn more before I make my verdict.

    Does the new model actually better meet the needs of a diverse learning population? I read somewhere, and I'm sorry I can't find the link, that the new curriculum helps close the achievement gap. Kids labeled "at risk" actually do better in academic settings that teach to multiple intelligences, not just memory and analysis. That translates to better scores on achievement tests.

    Big One: Did the teachers get adequate training before rolling the new curriculum out? The first year teaching a new prep is tough. We have practically every teacher in the state with all new math preps. Based on comments I've read in news articles, it sounds like many were unprepared.

    Change can be hard. Does this new curriculum just need more time to work out the kinks? (I do completely sympathize with the kids who are worried about graduation because the transition has not been smooth! I realize what a big stress this could be for them.)

    Like I said, these are questions, not answers at this point. I'm curious to see how my questions get answered on this blog and elsewhere.

  5. The most chronic issue I see with my student is instruction and materials. Step 1 (Day 1): introduce a new concept. Step 2 (Day 1): assign homework. Step 3 (Day 2): Move to next concept. Mastery? No. And by the time the material spirals back, students have forgotten what little they learned. When a teacher has to resort over and over again to "You'll figure it out for yourself," there's definitely something out of kilter. As for multiple intelligences and the achievement gap, that assumes students equally have the same initiative to get outside help ... and that simply is not the case. The math scores over the past few years bear out the distressing trend that not only are more students failing, the achievement gap is the same, if not worse.

  6. I need to read more about the spiraling nature of the curriculum to better understand the pros and cons. My certification is in 6-12 English, not Math, and I haven't taught in five years. A lot has certainly changed in that time!

    I'm sorry your daughter is having a tough time right now. Not fun at all, for her or you. I hope things get better.

  7. I forgot to ask this: Are the teachers following some sort of mandated calendar? If so, that might be part of the problem. When I taught, if my students hadn't mastered a concept yet, I worked with them before moving them forward. Likewise, if the class easily mastered a concept, then we zip ahead of the calendar. Luckily, my principal gave me the flexibility to shelf the canned calendar and pace the class as I saw fit, which seemed to work because most of my students earned 5 on the AP exam.

    Hmmm. Something is definitely wrong. I just wonder what exactly. Is it the actual curriculum, the delivery, the rushed calendar, lack of teacher training? I don't know. Wish I did.

  8. The pace and content are structured FOR the teachers. Ironically, the veterans are using carefully stowed-away Alegebra and Geometry textbooks because the current books are shallow at best.


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