PA Coalition for World Class Math

                                  Everyday math under fire in Ancorage (9/30/2011)

School officials call for review of controversial math program

School Board to consider the recommendation on Monday.

Anchorage Daily News
By ROSEMARY SHINOHARA Anchorage Daily News

Published: September 30th, 2011 05:08 PM
Last Modified: September 30th, 2011 05:09 PM

Anchorage school administrators are recommending a months-long, in-depth review of the district's kindergarten-through-eighth-grade math curriculum amid continuing agitation over the Everyday Mathematics program.

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A long-running debate over Everyday Math, the program used in most Anchorage elementary schools, was reignited this summer when the district received a consultant's report on how to improve student math skills.

The report didn't fault Everyday Math, published by McGraw-Hill, but said the district hadn't implemented its elementary math programs well.

Superintendent Carol Comeau said initially she was OK with waiting until next spring to make a decision about whether to stick with the current program or check out others.

But she said it's become clear that controversy about Everyday Math is on many peoples' minds, both parents and teachers.

Parents often approach her and either say they don't like Everyday Math or they love it, Comeau said. Teachers are split over it, too.

"There's just continuous questions about it," Comeau said. "We just think it's time to bring it forward and let people know right up front" it's going to be reviewed.

The School Board is scheduled to consider the recommendation at its Monday meeting.

"I think it's a positive move," said School Board president Gretchen Guess. The administration has laid out a thoughtful timeline for the review, she said, with community hearings to identify issues upfront -- November to February -- and the nuts-and-bolts work scheduled after that.

A full-on curriculum review means creating committees that include educators and community members to do the review, soliciting material from publishers, choosing finalists, presenting the final choices for public discussion, and making a decision.

The committee work will begin when the state adopts new state math standards next spring, Comeau said, because the local curriculum has to reflect what's on state standards and tests.

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New, more rigorous national standards are already in place, she said, and textbook publishers are producing new materials that reflect them.

Guess said given the public feedback on Everyday Math so far, she'd be surprised if the program ends up being the district's choice.

Whatever the decision is, the new curriculum would be offered beginning in the fall of 2013.

The cost isn't known, said Comeau, but between buying materials and training teachers, it's bound to be more than $1 million.

The district last year asked consultants from the Council of the Great City Schools to figure out why elementary math test results in Anchorage couldn't seem to rise above the national average.

The council report in June got people talking about Everyday Math. The report said the district needed to ramp up teacher training on how to teach math, and do a better job of communicating with parents -- many of whom say Everyday Math is confusing.

Everyday Math emphasizes the concepts behind math, and different ways of solving problems. Some parents don't think it focuses enough on computation skills like multiplication and division, Comeau said.

"Successful engineers say, 'I don't like the way they present it. It's so different,' " she said.

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