Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Where’s the math curriculum?

Currently, math teachers in the Blaine County School District are forced to construct buildings without blueprints. District administrators recently purchased new "reform math" textbooks, but failed to first write a revised board-approved mathematics curriculum—a direct violation of district policy.

Without a written curriculum there are no benchmarks of specific skills that students must master. Teachers are currently left to instruct from new textbooks that teach math concepts in depth, but do not develop computational fluency using standard methods—known as standard algorithms. These algorithms were in the first printed arithmetic book in 1478 and are the way most Americans learned to add, subtract, multiply and divide.

A balanced mathematics curriculum has three pillars: computational fluency, conceptual understanding and problem-solving skills. Take away any one of these three pillars and the structure of mathematics learning falls apart. Since the new elementary and middle school textbooks do not develop computational fluency, students cannot then develop conceptual understanding, and therefore do not develop good problem-solving skills. Problem-solving skills come from repeated practical application, rather than repeated "discovery of math concepts" that these textbooks focus on.

Was the interdependence of these three pillars considered when the School District purchased the new textbooks? Many other school districts across the country have either rejected these reform books outright, removed them from their schools after dismal results or integrated them with traditional textbooks to get the best of both worlds.

Given the questionable textbook selection process, will the new mathematics curriculum, yet to be written well into October, be balanced? Will it put the students' best interests above all else?

I would like to thank all the concerned parents who have attended a meeting or visited to get informed. Please write to your school board representative with your thoughts.

Kathy Baker


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