Comments, ideas and concerns about the math curricula at Andover Public Schools

Monday, February 12, 2007

Follow-up to Roundtable and WMS PAC Meeting

From a parent; sent to WMS principal Denise Holmes: The following is the question that I submitted at the 31 Jan math round table, and that I also asked you last night.

Our CMP program seems to have two goals:
1. to ensure that all of our kids are up to Proficient on MCAS
2. to ensure that the best of our kids learn nothing beyond that

For able students, CMP is boring. And, it is grossly inefficient.

Why can’t APS redeploy its teachers to offer two classes per grade, based on ability-grouping for math, with the advanced math classes offering more traditional teaching methods and more challenging material?

This is the statement that I handed to you last night. [See the first comment to this entry for the statement.]

To repeat myself:
1. Andover should have advanced math classes in grades 6-8
2. CMP is a poor MS math program

What would happen if APS's MSs created advanced math classes in grades 6-8 that did not use CMP? <insert crowds of cheering adults here>

The reason why I am more of an advocate for advanced MS math than I am for replacing CMP is merely my assumption that any advanced MS math program will either not use CMP or will use a mixture of real math and CMP.


Bob Willard said...

First, I believe that APS is a good school system; much better – particularly in non-academic areas – than it was 20 years ago, when my older children attended. But, the current math program can be improved.

Our math program seems only to be intended to get all students to the level of Proficient on the MCAS. MCAS is just a competition between kids in Massachusetts, which is not good enough – our kids need to be competitive with kids from Sweden and Germany and France, and from Japan and China and Singapore.

I do not see any indication of interest in helping the best students to be all that they can be. Two things that support my feelings:

1. The lack of advanced math classes in middle schools, and the possibility that this will lead, downstream, to the end of advanced math in the high school.
I am not in favor of tracking, but – specifically for math and maybe for science – I am strongly in favor of ability grouping. I recommend reading “The Tracking and Ability Grouping Debate” by Tom Loveless of Harvard, a meta-research study which supports ability grouping.

2. CMP, the infamous Connected Math Program, which I believe has two problems: it is boring and repetitive, and it is grossly inefficient.

a) Boring? Ask any kid who has been through CMP; they’ll tell you how they were turned off. Or, read the texts yourself, and do the exercises.
CMP is dumbed-down math for the masses. Ugh.

b) Inefficient? A cornerstone of CMP is the observation that kids learn best what they discover for themselves. But handing kids a bunch of data and then waiting for them to deduce the relationships takes a lot of time and, therefore, minimizes the material that can be covered.
The real world in which our graduates must survive wants people with useful skills, regardless of whether or not those skills were acquired in a politically correct manner.

So who am I to criticize APS math? I’m not a math teacher, but I am a math user and a consumer of the graduates of our educational system. I had four years of high school math, and my college transcript lists eleven math courses – a lot of math for a non-math major. In my three years on the staff of the U. of Illinois, and in my three dozen years as an engineer for high-tech companies, I worked with lots of bright and several brilliant people; all of those smart folks had one thing in common: a strong background in math. So my rhetorical question is this – how will you train the intellectual leaders of tomorrow with a math program which intentionally aims for mediocrity?

Bob Willard, 8 February 2007

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