Ridgewood:"cutting edge" district

In Uncategorized on November 6, 2008 at 5:26 pm

The ongoing debate on Ridgewood’s math instructional program should probably not extend in earnest to the middle schools and the high school until the particularly abysmal situation in the grade schools is squarely addressed.

This is not to say that Ridgewood taxpayers and parents have not raised the issue of whether the district should reconsider its commitment to CMPII in the middle schools–they have, including recently, directly, and in person to the Ridgewood Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent. A lot depends on whether the current process with respect to the grade schools result in (or starts heading toward) the adoption of something other than a constructivist math curriculum.

The Columbia, Missouri public schools is apparently aware of the common constructivist “link” between the Everyday Math curriculum in its grade schools and CMPII program in its middle schools. In a remarkable turn of events that should be of interest to all of us here in Ridgewood, the Columbia district, under heavy scrutiny by dissatisfied district parents and taxpayers, has begun a process of “cleaning house” with respect to its entire K-8 math curriculum. In a September 29, 2008 public statement, Columbia District Interim Superintendent James R. Ritter announced the district’s plans to adopt “a more traditional approach to reaching mathematics in grades K-8.”

As justification for the move away from constructivist or “reform” math curriculums, Columbia Superintendent Ritter cited a lack of improvement in Math achievement scores. At last word (an earlier public statement in June 2008) the Columbia School District was considering adopting Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “Math in Focus” program (based on Singapore Math). A new curriculum scheduled for release in 2009, Math in Focus is expected to incorporate many of the techniques associated with constructivist math curriculums while remaining true to the best aspects and pedagogical goals of so-called “traditional” math programs.

I’ve read the bios of the people currently writing the Math in Focus curriculum. Three U.S. teachers (Andy Clark, Robert Hogan, and Patsy F. Kanter) with considerable experience with the U.S. market appear to be heavily involved. Another author (Dr. Fong Ho Kheong), apparently prolific in his own right (he has published more than 100 journal articles and research reports, as well as primary and secondary Math textbooks currently in use in Singapore), is an Associate Professor and the Head of the Math and Science department of the Emirates College for Advanced Education in Abu Dhabi, UAE. A further author (Gan Kee Soon) has been a Principal of a Singapore secondary school, and a Lecturer at the National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, where he has spent 22 years training and supervising primary Mathematics teachers. Three more authors have 81 years total experience teaching math in primary and secondary schools. Most of these individuals have Bachelor of Science degrees in Mathematics. With qualified people like this involved in the Math in Focus project, I expect the resulting product to be competitive, easily marketable, and attractive to modern U.S. school districts.

Provided the Ridgewood district is not asleep at the switch, it should seize this chance to reestablish its chops as a “cutting edge” district. By comparison, a move to standardize on a constructivist mathematics curriculum at this late date would strike me as unavoidably and unforgivably “retro”.

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  1. Again I will say, Singapore math is not the way to go. How many Fields medalists have Singapore produced? Here are the Fields medalists and that the IMO has produced (http://www.iisc.ernet.in/mocell/PEOPLE/halloffame.html). You can add Perelman and Tao to that list. No curriculum in the mainstream market can compare to AOPS. It’s an issue of style and depth (proof vs. computation). It would be like pitting the Boston Celtics vs. the 1970 Knicks. It would be no contest because the game has evolved so much over the years. AOPS is a different, better “style of play” that has produced many many more great mathematicians than Singapore math has. Singapore math will never produce results like that simply because of the nature of the curriculum. Math is PROOFS not COMPUTATION.

  2. Thanks for posting this. Too bad RPS don’t seem interested in any program that mathematicians helped to create. Instead we have programs like TERC and Everyday Math that were created to narrow the achievement gap between the affluent suburbs and the inner-city schools.

    These programs have been re-packaged for sale to affluent districts that can afford them. The pitch is ‘critical thinking’ and being ‘ready for the 21st century.’ Really it’s just low-level math appreciation.

  3. Instead we have programs like TERC and Everyday Math that were created to narrow the achievement gap between the affluent suburbs and the inner-city schools.

    In case you’ve forgotten, Ridge School has been using Everyday Math for at least 15 years. Ridge has consistently been one of the top-performing K-5 schools in the Village and in the state.

  4. 3:31 – Can’t you think of anything new to say? You’ve posted the same comment in nearly every math thread. It must be permantly attached to your clipboard. And somebody always responds that EM is heavily supplemented at Ridge. Ho hum….

    Why would you want a curriculum that’s so widely discredited? Why a program that teachers instinctively supplement because ‘there are some things you just have to know.’

    Oh yes, good teachers always supplement any program, right? Too often with EM supplementing dominates the EM program. I know a NYC school teacher that lets the EM workbooks collect dust while she teaches arithmetic with worksheets and the blackboard.

    Why a program that ‘spirals’ when spiraling is flatly rejected by the NMAP?

    You can paste your ho-hum, pre-written response below.

  5. 3:31 –

    Keep peddling that tired old saw.

    If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.


  6. 3:31 PM,

    In case you haven’t been paying attention, Ridge School heavily subsidizes its Everyday Math curriculum.

    As for top performing, how many children have tutors at Ridge? And in case you haven’t noticed, it has never been the top Math school. But I guess being in the middle is OK.

    Ha! Orchard scores better and so does Hawes. And if you ask Orchard’s teachers, they’ll tell you that they use TERC to supplement there old Houghton Mifflin curriculum. Not the other way around as mandated by Cottage Place.

    But you go right ahead and keep flacking for our BOE, some one has to.

  7. 3:31 Is telling us that we should settle for less. We should settle for a math program that teachers instinctively supplement (Our Ridge teachers have done a nice job.) We should settle for a ‘spiraling’ program even though spiraling was flatly rejected by the National Math Panel. We should settle for a program that sends parents to the booming Kumon center so basic skills can be learned.

  8. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “Math in Focus” would cost our district $4500 to have them come in and conduct a seminar for our parents, teachers, BOE and administrators.

    There is no way that the BOE would be allowed by Regina Botsford to actually do such a radical thing.

    Regina only presents alternatives that she wants implemented. Like our giving middle school teachers a choice between three bad math programs. Knowing all along that they would have to pick the least offensive – CMP. The program that she desired.

    No instead, they throw money at consultants to tell us what is as plain as the nose on our faces, that parents don’t like the math we have, but then refuse to actually explore viable alternatives because they do not align with Regina’s political agenda.

    It is too bad there is not a philanthropist in town that will put his money to better use than buying statues.

    Wouldn’t it be grand if some one would sponsor the Houghton Mifflin seminar and open it up for all the public to attend, say at the library for instance?

  9. From today’s NY Times on a web-based math site designed to introduce successful math instruction practices from India:

    “The site’s curriculum is based on some crucial differences between math education in India and the United States, Mr. Compton said. Math homework in India consists of math problems that students work through, as opposed to the United States, where homework is heavy on reading about math topics in a textbook. Math teachers in India have college or graduate degrees in the topic, he said. Meanwhile, most American students in grades five through eight learn math and science from teachers without degrees or certification in these topics, according to a National Academies report.

    Mr. Compton said that children of Indian and Chinese parents use the site consistently, but American children often lose interest after a couple months. He compares math to athletics — youths must practice a bit every day to master it. “For some reason, American kids seem to be willing to put in the work with athletics, but not put it in with the one subject that’s going to matter more to their lives than any other activity.”

    Sounds like these poor third world mathematicians don’t fully appreciate that their superior math achievement is an illusion. “Drill and kill” can’t possibly be a valid instruction technique–can it?

  10. 1:59 PM, please specify what it is that you see in the nature of the Singapore Math curriculum, or that you predict will be present in the nature of the in-development Math in Focus curriculum, that disqualifies either or both from consideration in Ridgewood for grades K-5.

    I say again–we’re talking about K-5 mathematics only at this point.

    From all you’ve said, it appears that AOPS can be used, say, in high school, even if we standardize on (for example) Math in Focus for K-5.

    Where’s the conflict? I’d really like to know where you are coming from on this, provided you are being serious and not just pitching a product.

  11. 3:31 Orchard beat Ridge without Everyday math.

  12. 5:50 I have said, AOPS does not have an answer for k-5 math. It would be nice if someone wrote a good AOPS like textbook on k-5 math but the ones they present now does not teach addition etc… Someone needs to step up and write a book that teaches k-5 math using AOPS methods. In general the AOPS way of teaching is better than Singapore math but as of now I do not have an answer for k-5 math. I am not pitching a product but simply introducing it to you. I criticize AOPS on where it falls short (k-5) and advise against using its elementary school books as textbooks for your child in k-5as they are problems not texts. I do, however, believe their Algebra, Geometry, Probability, and NT books are top notch. Either way if you decide to buy AOPS books or not your child can benefit greatly from doing practice problems from its resource page which can be accessed for free. For now use singapore math for k-5 but we should strive to write a better book on k-5 math.

  13. The article, however, says k-8. Middle schoolers with proper training can understand AOPS or should at least be exposed to such problems. I am against the Singapore/Everyday math way of teaching in general. All I am saying is although I can’t find a good k-5 text, the method Singapore math uses is not the best, that is where the conflict lies. It’s not about which text it is about the method. I will gladly admit another text is better than AOPS is it trains kids to understand the math more deeply and think more creatively, but for now I haven’t found any.

  14. “For some reason, American kids seem to be willing to put in the work with athletics, but not put it in with the one subject that’s going to matter more to their lives than any other activity.”

    True, this is because of the defeatism we instill in our children when we tell them some people are born to do math and some aren’t. Honestly if you were a child, what would you consider harder, writing about your weekend or quantum mechanics. The answer is obvious thus many people claim tehy aren’t a math person and major in english/humanities. Why do you think there are so many people in majors that are english/humanities heavy and so few in math and science ones. Just because quantum mechanics is hard doesn’t mean you give up and claim not to have the brains for it. The human mind is capable of so much more than most people think it is. Thinking is not a talent, it’s a skill, again Kasparov wasn’t born with a 2800 rating was he?

  15. Also please look at sample excerpts of AOPS texts before ordering. There is a link for them below the official description of the text. I do not want any of you to buy a text you would not be happy with. Look at what the text teaches and most importantly the problems they use to teach certain topics. Many of the problems have elegant solutions to them and illustrate a technique very well. There are sample excerpts for each text. Look at them first.

  16. PJ:

    I just came across a TIME aticle from late 2006 that lays out nicely, in just a few paragraphs, the struggle concerned parents and taxpayers in the Ridgewood district are engaged in, both with some among our number, and with Cottage Place. I found the passage about “America’s bloated textbooks” presenting a “mind-numbing stream of topics and subtopics” quite salient, particularly given the current conversation regarding the clear deficiencies of the pitifully unfocused Everyday Math curriculum. I expect the in-development Math in Focus curriculum from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to be particularly strong in this regard.

    The “memorization” question is also addressed in a subtle way that I think will resonate with many parents, regardless of where they fall on the merits of the debate.

    Finally, I think the tie-in to cross-disciplinary education should help make the point that subject matter mastery is not only achievable, but valuable beyond measure once it is attained.

    So many more children (on a percentage basis) can be trained to develop an expert mind than many presently believe to be possible. It’s a shame that we place such shackles on young students based on the notion that “only a few have what it takes to fly with the eagles, and that’s just the way it goes.”

    Cottage place simply must be called upon to grapple with these issues in a clearheaded, honest, and straightforward way. Otherwise, why on earth should we continue to part with the enormous amount of money required to fund their salaries and benefits?

    Time Magazine
    Sunday, Dec. 10, 2006
    How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century
    By Claudia Wallis, Sonja Steptoe

    Real Knowledge in the Google Era

    Learn the names of all the rivers in South America. That was the assignment given to Deborah Stipek’s daughter Meredith in school, and her mom, who’s dean of the Stanford University School of Education, was not impressed. “That’s silly,” Stipek told her daughter. “Tell your teacher that if you need to know anything besides the Amazon, you can look it up on Google.” Any number of old-school assignments–memorizing the battles of the Civil War or the periodic table of the elements–now seem faintly absurd. That kind of information, which is poorly retained unless you routinely use it, is available at a keystroke. Still, few would argue that an American child shouldn’t learn the causes of the Civil War or understand how the periodic table reflects the atomic structure and properties of the elements. As school critic E.D. Hirsch Jr. points out in his book, The Knowledge Deficit, kids need a substantial fund of information just to make sense of reading materials beyond the grade-school level. Without mastering the fundamental building blocks of math, science or history, complex concepts are impossible.

    Many analysts believe that to achieve the right balance between such core knowledge and what educators call “portable skills”–critical thinking, making connections between ideas and knowing how to keep on learning–the U.S. curriculum needs to become more like that of Singapore, Belgium and Sweden, whose students outperform American students on math and science tests. Classes in these countries dwell on key concepts that are taught in depth and in careful sequence, as opposed to a succession of forgettable details so often served in U.S. classrooms. Textbooks and tests support this approach. “Countries from Germany to Singapore have extremely small textbooks that focus on the most powerful and generative ideas,” says Roy Pea, co-director of the Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning. These might be the key theorems in math, the laws of thermodynamics in science or the relationship between supply and demand in economics. America’s bloated textbooks, by contrast, tend to gallop through a mind-numbing stream of topics and subtopics in an attempt to address a vast range of state standards.

    Depth over breadth and the ability to leap across disciplines are exactly what teachers aim for at the Henry Ford Academy, a public charter school in Dearborn, Mich. This fall, 10th-graders in Charles Dershimer’s science class began a project that combines concepts from earth science, chemistry, business and design. After reading about Nike’s efforts to develop a more environmentally friendly sneaker, students had to choose a consumer product, analyze and explain its environmental impact and then develop a plan for re-engineering it to reduce pollution costs without sacrificing its commercial appeal. Says Dershimer: “It’s a challenge for them and for me.”

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