By ELLEN MANDEVILLE
The new mathematics-textbooks implementation by the Blaine County School District is perplexing at best and illegal at worst. It's not a "new mathematics curriculum" implementation because, according to Patty McLean, the district's director of curriculum, teaching and learning—there is no new mathematics curriculum written and approved by the board of trustees.
According to district policy, first a curriculum is written and then textbooks are chosen "to contribute toward continuity, integration and articulation of the curriculum." (district Policy No. 602.3). This policy also addresses textbook selection committees, stating, "Membership on such committees shall include representation of teachers who will use the texts, administrators, other staff members, community members, parents and students." On the recent committee, there were no community members, parents or students. District Policy No. 602.3 references Idaho codes 33-512A and 33-118A. If the current district administration has indeed violated school district policy, then it has also violated Idaho law. Approximately 15 parents of district students attended last week's board of trustees meeting; the request was made for the trustees to obtain independent legal review of the administration's compliance with this policy and these Idaho statutes.
Regardless of the legality of the textbook committee, the new textbooks with their drastically different mathematics pedagogy have caused much confusion for students and parents alike. Many parents appreciate that the administration brought Jon Brendefur, director of the Idaho Mathematics Initiative, to speak about developing mathematical thinking. He gave great insight into the spectrum of mathematics teaching. He emphasized the point that math must not be taught at one end of the spectrum or the other. Rather, students need a comprehensive mathematics curriculum that teaches concepts, processes and facts with plenty of practical application. "Sounds great!" many have said.
In a morning meeting with Dr. Brendefur, he stated that a school district needs three main accomplishments for a reformed mathematics curriculum to be successfully implemented. Has the district fulfilled these needs?
( Well-trained teachers. Teachers are being trained in conceptual math teaching through professional development provided by the district administration, which does a great job hiring excellent teachers.
( Informed, educated parents. Carla Scanlon, the district's math coordinator, spoke of new textbooks purchased without mention of their drastically different math teaching at Hailey Elementary's open house and a Bellevue PTA meeting—hardly a comprehensive attempt to inform most parents about the significant changes in math teaching. Parents uneducated in conceptual mathematics are stumped and frustrated by their children's homework. BlaineParents.org has been created to discuss concerns.
( Comprehensive materials that teach math concepts along with facts and processes. Mr. Brendefur stressed that students need plenty of practical application to become fluent in what they are learning. The new textbooks are not comprehensive as they mainly teach math concepts. Mr. Brendefur hasn't found any single series of math textbooks that teach a good, comprehensive math education. Any textbook will need complementary material. The old math textbooks, which taught understanding of standard math algorithms, math facts and procedures, have been boxed for storage.
The district administration has not written a new mathematics curriculum, did not provide comprehensive math textbooks (only this past week have they spoken publicly about supplementation) and did not attempt to educate parents or gain their support. Had the administration followed district policies and informed parents better, much of the current frustration could have been prevented. Perhaps the best of the old and new textbooks will be used to write a comprehensive mathematics curriculum.
Come to www.BlaineParents.org for more information or BlaineParents.org on Facebook to express your interest in these matters.
Ellen Mandeville is editor of blaineparents.org and has two children who attend Hailey Elementary School.