Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To Supplement Or Not To Supplement. That Is Now The Question.

In talking to several teachers at Camdenton over the past few days, I am pretty sure that it is safe to say it has been an interesting few days...especially those teachers in Hawthorn Elementary School. That is where the biggest part of this battle with our "New Math" started for those of you who are just now joining this discussion. I will refresh...

It was only four short weeks ago that it was brought to my attention that my third grader would be doing TERC math. I had NO idea what that was. I only knew that 1.) He had no text book 2.) My husband and I had no idea how to help him do his math most nights he brought homework home 3.) I just kept waiting for him to get passed all the "crazy stuff" and get back to the basics as we knew them. Little did I know that was not part of the plan.

So, I started to research. For the most part you all know the rest of that story. Thus, the reason we are here today. As a result, I was informed last week that the teachers in Hawthorn are now supposed to supplement. This is a little confusing to most of them because they were told in no uncertain terms on more than one occasion they were absolutely NOT TO SUPPLEMENT! In fact, the Scott Forseman text that they had been using was confiscated, along with all of their resource guides and sold last year in order to ensure that the curriculum would be kept pure. Whatever that means. I am not sure.

Anyway....last week all teachers were handed a memo that read:

1. Provide practice activities for the students on basic skills, fluency, and basic facts.
2. Provide homework for the students on basic skills, fluency, and basic facts.
3. Send family letter prior to each section of the book with explanation, if necessary of what is being covered in each section.
4. Provide monthly parent math nights.
5. Teach the standard algorithms, but make sure students can solve problem using multiple strategies.
6. Send student handbook home if parents and students need additional reinforcement with a concept.

The memo goes on to say..."There will be glitches and questions along the way, but we can work together and use common sense to create the right balance for our students."

So I ask these questions in response to this memo:
1. Define supplement.

2. Define basics.

3. What tools are you giving your teachers to supplement with? Is there any continuity in what they are using, or is it just hit and miss? Is there a certain book they are all working from uniformly? How are you helping them in implementing our supplements effectively at the administrative level? ( Do you realize that most teachers will tell you that it is impossible to "supplement" effectively with this particular curriculum (TERC) because of the way it constantly "spirals" without mastery or closure of any subject?) Has anyone ever asked the teachers HOW to supplement this properly? Most all of them will tell you the same is easy to teach the basics and supplement with TERC, but much harder to teach TERC as our core and attempt to supplement. Do you understand why?

4. When you say to provide homework on basic skills does that mean so we, the parents, can teach our kids at home those "basic skills" or can we expect you to do that at school? So will we be just practicing those skills at home or will we be teaching those ourselves? Or are you just sending us home "basic concepts" to keep us off of your back for now?

5. Define glitches.

6. Define common sense.

7. Why do the parents need to be taught how to teach their kids the math? Why are we reinventing the wheel? What if we have other commitments and can't make the monthly math night? Who will teach our kids then if we miss our lesson on how to teach them their math the "right way"?

8. What if my kid gets sick and misses a week of school. Being that there is not a book for me to refresh myself on what he has been learning so I can help him at home, and if I cannot make it to your "Math Night" how can you guarantee that he will get caught back up? Will you personally see to it that he/she gets all caught up since I won't be able to at home? Or is all lost until we "spiral "back to him in a couple of months?

9. Do you think it is troubling that Eldon just bought the exact kind of books that we just sold since they believed that the TERC "investigations" was not meeting their GLEs? Aren't their GLEs the same as ours? Being that they have used Investigations longer than we have and they came to this conclusion through experience, is anyone a little worried by this?

10. Do you think we should worry a little since our model school of Raymore Peculiar dropped the Investigations from all of their elementary schools? Do you think it is troubling that they dropped it in large part since their junior high school math teachers felt the students were coming grossly unprepared mathematically to junior high school?

11. What do you think of the National Math Advisory Panel's findings in 2008? Have you even seen that? Did you know about that when we decided to jump into this curriculum feet first? Do you believe that our Department of Education at the federal level is right or wrong in their most recent findings on how to teach math the right way? Why or why not?

12. Did it not worry anyone that Columbia Public Schools (the school who trained us) dropped this math due to several years of falling test scores? Did you do any research on what those scores looked like, or did you just write it off as "political" since someone told you that is why it was dropped?

I could go on and on, but I doubt I get anyone to answer any of these questions. I think they are valid and I know that I speak for the majority of us when I ask. I feel more strongly now than ever that we need a change and we need it fast. We do not want for any more damage to be done. And IF you are not willing to change it overall, then you need to offer a choice of either Basic Math or TERC for those of us who feel passionately about the way our kids are taught.

This is not what I want for my child. I know that I am not alone in this belief. This is a controversial enough way of teaching that has never been proven (according to our Department of Education of the federal level) to work. There should have been full disclosure before you took our kids down this path without our consent. We should have known before the first of the year where we were going. Why have you never blown us away with all of the overwhelming data as to how wonderful this is and how many places it has worked in? Why can I not find any studies that prove overwhelmingly (after 20 years of use in our country) that our Department of Education embraces how successful this way of teaching has been?

Why are all of the schools who were using it, NOT anymore? I know the answer. Because there is no hard evidence consistently. At a minimum, I want a choice for my child. I don't want to go down this road of trial and error with you. I do not want for my child to be "research" any longer. I am a taxpayer and a parent. My opinion should count. Please show us that you are listening. I will be at the school board meeting the Monday following our Thanksgiving break to ask these questions in person. It is scheduled to be at the administration building at 5:30 pm. Hope to see you there.