"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], it is a belief against all experience." --Thomas Jefferson

Friday, June 11, 2010

3. Math, math, math!

Just mention "Investigations Math" and you will get a reaction. Oftentimes, not a positive one. With a math degree background, you can guess math is a very big issue for me. The adoption and promotion of Investigations Math was another example of the district and the board not being responsive to parents.

Math is one of those things that every parent wants their child to be able to do. We're not talking calculus, just the times tables and long division. There are programs out there that have substantial research and results to support them. The country of Singapore scores heads and tails above the US on every international math test. Singapore math is being used with great success in schools in the US. I have done Saxon and Singapore Math with my kids. And I would highly recommend both over the program currently being used at my kids' school.

Singapore gives a greater depth and understanding of the topic and uses physical and pictoral representations of the concepts. When we discuss balanced math (Investigations Lite) vs. traditional math, oftentimes the proponents of balanced math talk in terms of just rote memorization and drill. While I am in favor of memorization (it frees the brain up for higher computation and advanced thinking skills), memorization and drill are not the only components of traditional math. As in all things, an ability to be comfortable with numbers and their basic use, allows you to see patterns and concepts that would be hidden without that familiarity. A representative of Singapore Math stated, "We are not teaching math, we are teaching thinking through the medium of math." Math teaches logic and problem solving techniques which are applicable in all aspects of life. That is why it is critical we teach it well.

When I started following the discussion on Investigations Math, my husband attended a board meeting. He didn't have an opinion one way or the other, and has always avoided math whenever possible. What he came away with from that board meeting was the board was very defensive of the parents' disagreement on Investigations. Again, either Investigations was a phenomenal program that the board and the district failed to properly communicate with the families, or it was a bad program that the families had concrete opposition to. Either way, the proper reaction was not to ignore or minimize the parents' discontent. The board should have addressed the issue either by convincing parents with the superior results of the math program the district chose or by admitting the district's own failure in adopting an inferior program.

If we had had more local control at each school during the Investigations years, there would have been many schools and parents willing to try Saxon and Singapore Math. Instead, what we saw was a rise in charter schools, many of them created by parents to escape Investigations Math. When I was on a founding board for a local charter school, every parent I met stated Investigations Math was either their first or second reason for looking into a charter school. With greater local control, those parents who wanted Saxon/Singapore would have been able to send their kids to a school that offered that program.

Overall, I am pleased that Investigations isn't an approved curricula. However, I know we can do much better by teaching a tried and true math program with experience and data to back it up.

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