Sunday, February 14, 2010

"You have failed me for the last time."

If that isn't an exact Darth Vader quote, it's close enough. If only Darth Vader could meet up with the Bellevue school board and its teachers....

It's coincidental that on the same day that I get an email asking for help in tutoring a student in CPM (a horrid integrated math program), I read this article about Washington State schools and their tug-of-war over traditional vs. integrated math:

Bellevue PTSA organizers scrapped a parent math night, fearing it had been taken over by parents on only one side of the issue — those who want the district to adopt a traditional math approach.

Two recent state court decisions on high-school math textbooks have area school districts seeking legal advice as they try to settle on which books to choose.

Pick the wrong textbook, end up in court?

That's what worries area school districts which say a pair of recent state court decisions on high-school math textbooks have them seeking legal advice before they make their choice.

The two decisions appear to be big wins for parents who support traditional math instruction. But educators say the Seattle case, in particular, raises questions about a district's ability to pick its own curriculum materials without fearing legal action.

I honestly can't believe that this battle is still being fought.

Several years ago, when I was doing some subcontract work for an underperforming school's "external evaluator", I was asked to match up the homework students were doing with the California K-12 math standards. Turns out CPM 1, which was supposed to be at the level of Algebra 1, in fact was teaching 5th-7th grade math standards with a smidgen of Algebra 1 thrown in. It's such a lousy program that it's no longer approved for use in California schools. I would guess that other "integrated math" programs, wherein students master nothing but get a smorgasbord of different math problems, are similar in nature.

It's taken some of the best minds the human race has to offer a couple millenia to come up with the algebra we use today. It seems silly, unreasonable, and sick to expect 13-16 year olds to discover and invent it on their own.

I have a belief as to why some teachers still like the CPM/integrated math approach, but I'll save that for a different post.


ChrisA said...


Can you share what math books are used for Algebra I and Geometry in your school district? I assume these would be considered textbooks that follow the traditional model?



Darren said...

At this link we use California Math Algebra 1 (2008) in the top row, and Algebra 2 2007 in the 2nd row:

I'm not sure which geometry book we use.

This Algebra 1 book is barely sufficient, and I prefer Dolciani's Structure and Method for Algebra 2 (I got *great* results from students when teaching from that book).

I've seen a lot worse books than these, though, and yes, they meet California's math standards, even if only barely :)

Brian Rude said...

I wonder if part of the problem that leads to the math wars is that we have slipped into a "program mentality" with textbooks. We think if we use textbook A then we have to "implement" "program A". A much better perspective, in my humble opinion, is that using textbook A doesn't mean much. If we adopt text book A we are obligated to pay the agreed upon price, to not plagiarize the contents, and nothing more. I would feel no more bound to implement "program A" if we use textbook A than a social studies teacher should feel bound to implement Communism if the school buys and uses the Communist Manifesto. A textbook is a resource, nothing more. If a school buys a 500 page textbook and ignores 495 pages of it, that is nobody's business but the school's.

With this perspective a school can tell parents, "We will teach your kids the multiplication table, whether the textbook does or not. We will teach your kids fractions, whether the textbook does or not. We’ll teach your kids quadratic equations, whether the textbook does or not. No book is perfect. We'll try to find the best available for what we are trying to do. We'll use the good parts and throw out the bad parts. And if the textbook is really bad, we‘ll try again next time."

Of course this approach has its own problems, but it makes it much less of a high stakes gamble.

I realize a bad textbook can be a pain, but it shouldn't be destiny.