Friday, November 11, 2011

District defends math program

Parents continue to complain about textbook selection

Express Staff Writer

Patricia McLean

The Blaine County School District has acknowledged that it violated its own policy in adopting a new mathematics textbook series this year, but also defended the selection Tuesday as the best choice to help students learn "21st-century" math skills.

District Director of Curriculum Patricia McLean spent more than an hour at Tuesday's school board meeting explaining and defending selection of "Investigations in Number, Data and Space" as the new textbook series for grades K-12.

"Investigations," as it is usually called, places emphasis on teaching children math concepts, which some parents argue is to the detriment of teaching basic mathematical procedures.

Parental complaints, publicly aired first at an Oct. 18 school board meeting, continued Tuesday during the public comment portion of the meeting.

"Like several other people here, I'm concerned about how math is being implemented without an approved district protocol," said Erik Ruggeri, a consulting engineering with Power Engineers in Hailey. He further explained that his success as an engineer was the result of learning basic math procedures or algorithms.

"I can say with certainty that I would not have been able to achieve what I did with this kind of education," Ruggeri said, referring to the new district math program. "I am adamant that the standard algorithms must be learned before there is a shift to conceptual."

Hailey resident Paul Hartzell, a mechanical engineer and former Major League Baseball player, said that in both sports and in math he learned that "repetition and following procedures" is an ingredient for success.

"I'm a process-oriented guy," Hartzell said. "In the process of feeling good about learning mathematics, we've lost our way. Mathematics is not meant to be fun, and sometimes it's a grind. I think you can make a better choice for your math curriculum."

McLean argued during her presentation that children are learning both math concepts and basic procedures in the classroom, with the new district program relying on "Investigations" to help with concepts and on teachers to explain procedures.

"I believe in the teachers in this district," she said. "[District] teachers have excellent knowledge, skills and experience teaching procedural math and will have no difficulty supplementing this as part of a balanced math program."

McLean said the textbook selection process was started last year. She said seven text series were initially evaluated and three of them, including "Investigations," were piloted in district elementary schools last spring.

Twelve district math teachers were on the text selection committee, and after thorough evaluation and piloting, the committee voted unanimously to select "Investigations."

McLean said not including parents on the selection committee was an oversight. She apologized and said "I take full responsibility for it."

District Superintendent Lonnie Barber acknowledged that parents should have been included but said their exclusion was "not intentional."

Nonetheless, Barber said, the process of selecting the new math texts was done carefully and thoroughly.

Trustee Kathryn Graves said she researched the subject prior to Tuesday's meeting and found that the Aspen, Colo., school district has been using "Investigations" for 10 years.

"They're very happy with it," she said. "They said it may take a little while for parents and teachers to get used to it."

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