Of all the curriculum debates, the ongoing sparring over Georgia’s new math standards is the most vigorous. A while back, I ran two related articles on Monday AJC education pages. I am rerunning them here in response to the comments Wednesday about the math standards. Warning, these are long essays so they may only interest those concerned about math.
The first is from parent Kim Learnard and the second is from Laurence Peterson, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics at Kennesaw State University, and Arlinda Eaton, dean of the KSU College of Education.
Kim Learnard said:
The long-awaited 2008 SAT scores and national rankings have been released. Six years after state schools Superintendent Kathy Cox took the helm, Georgia students have advanced from 47th in the nation to — drumroll, please — 47th in the nation. And Georgia students scored 22 points lower than the national average in math. Clearly, it is time for a change.
But going from bad to worse isn’t the answer. Three years ago, Georgia implemented a new math curriculum that has no track record of success — anywhere. It is based on group discussion.
That’s right, we’re all going to sit around and watch while adolescents learn key math concepts by discussing them in peer groups. Speaking as an electrical engineer who has practiced her profession for 25 years, I am sickened.
We now have students sitting in groups twiddling their thumbs waiting for one of their peers to teach them math. We have teachers expressing frustration to parents that they would like to teach the material but they are “not allowed to.” We have precious class time thoroughly wasted.
One of the first things I learned in my master’s degree in education curriculum at the University of Georgia is the stark difference between adult and child learners. Adults are more self-directed; they learn better when they have an immediate real-world problem to solve or a task at hand; they have a rich reservoir of life experiences from which to make meaning of new ideas. None of these concepts applies to children.
Yet Georgia’s new math program is based on the premise that adolescents seated in groups will self-motivate in order to discover and critically examine key math concepts, their applications, their differentiations and their meanings in the real world. This is preposterous.
Math proficiency comes from the ability to individually solve problems to get correct answers.
Remember textbooks? Math textbooks provide a vehicle for the student to review technical concepts and methods for solving problems. Math textbooks provide answers in the back so a student can make sure they worked problems correctly. Georgia’s new math curriculum has no textbooks. There is no vehicle for parents to review methodology and reinforce methods and concepts at home. There are no answers listed so students can assure themselves they worked a problem correctly.
Georgia’s new math curriculum is designed to reduce the number of participants in the accelerated classes. Fayette County’s participation rate in eighth-grade accelerated math dropped by 82 percent in the last year. These are students who did very well in sixth- and seventh-grade accelerated math classes and scored high on the CRCT.
The math coordinator has stated that unless a child eat, sleeps and breathes math, they should not be in the accelerated class. In fact, adolescence is a time of exploration and multi-tasking. The idea that an adolescent would eat, sleep and breathe any single topic has no basis in fact. Never in my life have I witnessed such a massive effort to discourage students from learning and loving math.
It’s great that we have decided to adopt what we think is a rigorous curriculum. But having a rigorous curriculum, in and of itself, is meaningless. What we’re supposed to be doing — is this news to Kathy Cox? — is teaching our students to the extent that they can meet the challenges of a rigorous curriculum. To do any less is to sell them short. And that is what we are doing every day we hang onto this pie-in-the-sky, untried, unproven, experimental, nontechnical conversational math curriculum.
It’s time for a change. It’s time we implement a math program that gets back to the basics; that empowers eager learners to explore the technical, satisfyingly irrefutable nature of math in its purest form; and that has a proven track record of success, perhaps in another state. After all, we have 46 from which to choose.
Drs. Peterson and Eaton responded:
We read with interest and concern the guest column by Kimberly Learnard, “Let’s discuss how bogus new math coursework is”
Georgia’s low SAT scores are precisely the reason the 22-year-old Quality Core Curriculum in mathematics was replaced. The QCC was based upon the philosophy of including as many topics as possible, without recognizing that our students would have very little subject depth in contrast to the results produced from the best international programs. The disappointing SAT scores reported recently were from 2008 graduates who learned their mathematics under the old curriculum, not the new Georgia Performance Standards.
The claim that the Georgia Performance Standards were adopted with no proof of success is incorrect. The GPS were developed after extensive study of curricula by a panel of 15 leaders in education, government, business and industry across Georgia. The panel recommended the leanness, rigor and coherence of both Japan’s and North Carolina’s curriculum. Japanese students consistently score near the top in any international comparisons.
North Carolina is an excellent benchmark because of demographic similarities and consistent improvements in their students’ mathematics SAT scores that now approach the national average.
A team of Georgia’s most respected teachers used these sources to write the initial version of the Georgia Performance Standards. The Georgia Department of Education then assembled a team of teachers and administrators to work with university mathematicians and mathematics educators across Georgia, including Kennesaw State University, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, to review and finalize the curriculum. The curriculum was made public for review for 60 days in 2004, revised further and posted for public review for 60 additional days before final approval in May 2005.
The resulting mathematics curriculum has been endorsed by the Georgia Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the Georgia Regents Academic Advisory Committee on Mathematical Subjects.
At the national level, the Georgia performance standards are consistent with the guidelines of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the College Board, the American Statistical Association and the American Diploma Project, a coalition of 33 states dedicated to aligning standards, graduation requirements, assessments and accountability policies.
Learnard states that teachers have expressed “frustration to parents that they would like to teach the material but they are ‘not allowed to’.” We wonder if these teachers were able to participate in the many statewide professional development workshops designed to assist teachers in implementing the new standards. A typical classroom day using the new, more rigorous curriculum would involve the teacher presenting a mathematical task to students, questioning them to think about the mathematical concepts and subsequently encouraging them to explore options for solving the problem.
Communication of their mathematical ideas not only helps students solve problems but prepares them for working in a global economy where quantitative skills are more important than ever before. Thomas Friedman, in his book “The World Is Flat, ” says that the ability to understand, problem-solve and communicate effectively about quantitative topics will be among the most marketable skills in the future and be important factors in maintaining our global competitiveness.
Learnard also decries the lack of a textbook for the new curriculum. She states that “Georgia’s new math curriculum has no textbooks.” Isn’t that the tail wagging the dog? The curriculum is paramount, whereas textbooks are the resource for teaching the curriculum. We don’t teach the textbook; we teach the curriculum. We don’t assess what’s in the textbook; we assess what’s in the curriculum. Each local school system has adopted textbooks they judged to be most effective in teaching the new Georgia Performance Standards.
Clearly, we need to monitor and support implementation of the Georgia Performance Standards over the next several years. Essential to the success of this new curriculum will be ongoing teacher education and development. If we stay the course with our strong, cohesive and coherent mathematics curriculum, student achievement by all metrics will steadily improve.
Maureen again: If you read down this far, you are interested in math and probably have your own opinion. Please share it with the rest of us. Thanks