PA Coalition for World Class Math

                                Pelham math woes still in the news (12/28/2011)

Pelham parents seek removal of Math Investigations program

PELHAM — A group of parents, concerned their children are falling behind in basic arithmetic, are pushing the Pelham school district to re-examine the way it teaches math in elementary school.

They have organized themselves under the banner the Pelham Math Committee and their target is Math Investigations, a math curriculum used to varying degrees by schools around the country. As the program’s website explains, Investigations emphasizes “reasoning about mathematical ideas” and aims to “support students to make sense of mathematics and learn that they can be mathematical thinkers.”

Pelham introduced the program — as a resource, not a full curriculum, Schools Superintendent Dennis Lauro said — in the fall of 2007.

Lauro, a former math teacher, said Investigations uses a constructivist approach to develop students’ understanding of how math works, with the goal of boosting their “fluency in math.”

“You want kids that can think mathematically, not just give back rote answers,” Lauro said. “My teachers are telling me over and over again that it’s really working.”

Some parents, though, think otherwise.

“In focusing on a particular ideology in which kids discover math, it does not introduce arithmetic early or often enough,” said Rich Zahradnik, whose son is now in Pelham’s middle school. “The standard ways of doing math are either delayed or not taught deeply enough.”

Zahradnik said kids don’t learn long division until middle school. He said his son, who experienced several years of “Investigations”-based instruction, required supplemental, out-of-school instruction to become adept at math.

The Math Committee members have circulated an online petition calling on the district to “remove” the program (it has nearly 60 signatures). They say test scores show the curriculum isn’t working and they point to other districts that abandoned “Investigations” after experimenting with it.

On Dec. 19, the Pelham Board of Education chose a team from Rutgers University to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in the district, at a cost not to exceed $18,000. The parents worry the university team won’t deliver an unbiased evaluation.

Lauro dismissed that concern and stood behind Pelham’s math curriculum. He said the district is now using an updated version of the curriculum, making many of the claims leveled against Investigations outdated.

“We would have pulled the plug if it weren’t working,” he said. “Why would I implement or keep a program that doesn’t keep Pelham at a performance level that we expect?”