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>REPRINT :"Math program is ‘inherently flawed’"

>From the Ridgewood News

Friday, February 8, 2008

Reader Viewpoint

“Math program is ‘inherently flawed'”


There seems to be a callous disregard for parental input regarding our district’s current math programs. Balanced approach is what we’re hearing time and time again. Our Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Ms. Regina Botsford, stated last April that the math program at Travell was balanced. Then, this summer, Ms. Botsford stated that they had reset the balance. Currently, Ms. Botsford states that we have to find the balance. Why would the administration and BOE whole-sale adopt a program that needed a balance adjustment not just once, but three times! Yet, they still search for that balance.

To me, the program was inherently flawed from the start as evidenced by this need for constant reshuffling. They are taking an experimental program with no track record that is highly criticized and sprinkling in the tried and true traditional math with a proven past high record of success. As a former biologist, I can tell you this is analogous to a dilution. In this case a huge dilution of the very math that put Ridgewood on the map as an educational powerhouse of the past.

They keep repeating, “we need math for the 21st century.” What the heck does that mean? Have standard equations honed through the centuries changed somehow with the times? Doesn’t 2 plus 2 still equal 4? Supporters of diluted math say that parents simply don’t understand it because it looks different from what they had learned in the past.

They tell us to “have blind faith in the program.” Surely they must be joking. The program expects children to solve problems in multiple ways with little emphasis on obtaining the correct answer. Therefore, it is the journey, not the destination. Let me repeat that — GETTING THE CORRECT ANSWER IS NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF MATH. Oh really? Since when? In this diluted math program’s methodology, the most important thing is explaining your thought process. Tell that to your pharmacist when he’s measuring your medication. Perhaps your accountant can “guesstimate” your taxes. Let’s hope he errs on your side.

They keep saying this math has “real world” problems. There have always been “real world” problems to solve in math. In fact, from the very beginning of elementary school education we have all had problems such as theses: There are 3 oranges in one basket and 2 oranges in another basket. What are the total number of oranges in both baskets?

They keep saying, “Deep understanding” of math. I see a convoluted methodology severely lacking content. They call practice, “Drill and Kill.” Are you kidding me? How does one become proficient at any endeavor without practice?

This math uses what’s called a “spiral approach.” This means you briefly visit a topic, move on to other topics, move on to get more topics and ultimately return to the first topic. The preliminary findings of President Bush’s current panel on math education recommend moving away from this approach. Yet this is the methodology our Board of Education is continuing to embrace.

According to the state test, NJASK, our students are doing very well. Sounds great, right? Well the fact is our state standards received poor marks from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In addition an independent non-profit educational institute gave our state standards a “D” grade. Additionally our children are only required to pass 50% of the questions on the state test in order to be rated proficient. I thought 50% was failing. So, rather than soar well beyond those paltry standards, we just simply meet them.

Did you know there are 3 different math programs in our 6 elementary schools?

Did you know there are no math textbooks in the diluted math programs?

Did you know our kids are expected to discover answers on their own in groups, rather than teacher directed instruction? When students ask a question regarding a math problem, the teacher’s first response should be, well, what do you think”?

Did you know for the past 7 years Benjamin Franklin Middle School ranked in the top 1-2% in math (out of more than 1300 middle schools in New Jersey) utilizing traditional math. So what did the Board recently decide to do– replace it with this diluted math.

Did you know this math program is considerably more expensive to us taxpayers than traditional math?

Did you know this math has been highly criticized by the top 200 mathematicians in the United States?

Did you know this controversy continues in states around the country?

Did you know our Board used our tax dollars – more than $90000.00 to hire an expert to help us figure out this problem? Her conclusions were essentially that we need to partner with a local university to help us through this matter.

Did you know our teachers have to be totally “retrained” to teach math and that the training needs to be ongoing and long term? The list goes on and on…

Ultimately this long term erosion of our kids’ math education will affect their ability to compete in the global job market. You simply have to look at those nearby out of town districts that are continuing to educate their students with solid, time proven programs. There are also available programs that emulate the best international math curricula in the world. They are readily available and offer solid content and provide world class results. Why these are not even considered is baffling and frustrating. Because our school district’s reputation and our academic successes from years past are continuing to fall by the wayside our property values too will drop as a result. Ridgewood cannot afford to ride on its reputation. As the phrase goes, you can pay me now or pay me later. It appears here in Ridgewood we are doing both.

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