(Letter to the Editor)
To the Scotch Plains - Fanwood Board of Education:
I am writing today in an attempt to forestall a "rush to judgment"
on the merits of updating a Math Curriculum based on "Everyday Math".
My personal disdain for the program is no secret. I have no doubt
that is is both easier and less expensive to implement an update
as to install a completely new program. Moreover, I have come
to the conclusion that there is actually a certain amount of
parental support for "Everyday Math". Finally, by all appearances
our students are testing in a satisfactory manner.
It is precisely because of these factors that the accompanying
report by the Bridgewater-Raritan School District is so interesting.
If one reads the first twenty or so pages of the report one might conclude
that everything is fine. Yet its conclusions mirror both my own common sense
as well as what I see in my own household: The limitations
of "Everyday Math" in the early years result in Math students
"hitting a wall" when it comes to actual application in Middle School;
more-numerate students eventually work around it while less-
numerate students continue to have difficulty.
(my thanks to Barry Garelick, who posted this link on the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Patch)
I call to your particular attention to several points:
1) Neither "Everyday Math" nor the concepts associated with so-called "Progressive Math"
were dismissed out of hand - many people see value in the "spiraling" nature of "Everyday
Math" and that is given due consideration.
2) "Everyday Math" was measured against EIGHT other programs using a standard
rubric tied to a defined "ideal" program incorporating values associated with both
so-called "traditional" and "progressive" instructional modes.
3) Input was solicited from both teachers and parents; the report itself was reviewed
by outside academics in an attempt to ensure thoroughness and impartiality. (Of special note:
a drop-off in levels of parental support ocurring in grades 5 / 6 even as
teachers continue to support the program; this would correspond with
my own common sense telling me that at this point students might
be expected to rely on a thorough grounding in basic concepts - thus
allowing parents to back away from day-to-day involvement.
4) An actual discussion of what happens to many students in Middle School
based on year-to-year tracking of data.
5) There is a general discussion of the relative merits of both so-called
"traditional" and "progressive" instructional modes - the report makes
the point that the terms are somewhat arbitrary; an "ideal" incorporates
concepts associated with both modes.
6) There is truth in the notion that every publisher has their own
approach (Harcourt alone has at least four!), each with its own
supporting studies. Moreover, many claim to be tied to
evolving Core Curriculum Standards. However, if the "What Works Clearinghouse"
of the US Department of Education is to be believed, little of the supporting
research is statistically significant, and that which is proves little.
7) There is an acknowledgment that student effort, and student belief in the
ultimate benefit associated with that effort, is very important. Ironically,
while I might concede that imparting student confidence could well be
considered a strength of "Everyday Math", this confidence might well be found
to be misplaced as time goes on.
8) Finally, the report examines whether New Jersey state Core Competency
standards are in fact too low, thus inflating NJASK pass rates (this part
is dated, and I will defer to Administration on this).
My fear is that "Everyday Math" will be retained without a thorough
evaluation of its merit based on student achievement,
and of its strengths / weaknesses against a proper universe of alternatives.
I challenge the Board to THOROUGHLY question the district's Math Supervisor
and Assistant Director of Curriculum on these points - I do not believe
that this can be done in one or two nights. I further challenge the Board
to THOROUGHLY question its Business Administrator on relative
savings associated with retention as against potential alternatives;
when Evesham replaced "Everyday Math" it negotiated a contract
with the publisher that resulted in a savings off list on teacher materials
and Medford also cited savings when it replaced "Everyday Math"
I do not discount the cost and effort associated with replacing
"Everyday Math". Yet districts do spend the money and make the
effort. As you evaluate the recommendations being made regarding
"Everyday Math", I ask only that all the necessary questions be asked,
the answers thoroughly evaluated, and YOU bear in mind one question:
when it comes to Math instruction in the context of an ever-more-competitive
working environment "Since when is "enough for enough" good enough?".
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