PA Coalition for World Class Math

          Parents concerned about Chicago Math in Philipsburg-Osceola (PA) (10/26/2010)

Concerns continue at P-O about math curriculum

The Progress Tuesday, October 26, 2010
By Liza Matia Staff Writer
CHESTER HILL - Parents concerned with Philipsburg-Osceola's piloted math curriculum continue to demand answers from the P-O school board.
Last night, several district parents wanted to know why many students are receiving failing grades in the new program. Connie Bainey presented facts she obtained from the district that showed 130 high school students have failing grades in the University of Chicago piloted math program. She told the board she didn't understand how they could "sit there and say there's not a problem."
Bainey went on to explain that several parents have hired math tutors for their students in order to help them understand the material. Some also said that students received homework for material that had not even been covered in class.
Another parent, Karen Walker, told the board she wanted to withdraw her child from the University of Chicago math program at the high school.
"You put her in a study without my consent, without her volunteering," Walker said. "This is causing her harm."
Board President Robert Selfridge explained that the program was not an experiment; it is the curriculum.
Tom Cochran, a concerned parent, presented facts that showed how grades have fluctuated and declined at the elementary level since Everyday Math, the program piloted in the elementaries, was introduced. He said he wasn't saying that the program was all bad or all good, but wanted to see how the data could help change the teaching mechanisms. Many parents also questioned how and why the new math curriculum was even chosen.
Superintendent Dr. Stephen Benson explained that teachers were asked what they wanted to teach. The district presented six programs and the teachers were given the opportunity to review them all. They then selected Math Expressions and Everyday Math.
Benson said teachers were then asked to volunteer to try the curriculum in their classrooms. Because there were more volunteers at Philipsburg Elementary, Everyday Math was piloted there first. The Math Expressions program was piloted at North Lincoln Hill Elementary. After a year, each grade level came together and presented their thoughts on the programs. The teachers then chose the Everyday Math curriculum.
Benson noted that the district has been working with "one of the best consultants" regarding the implementation of the program. She will be present at P-O's math night, "Moving Math Forward," Nov. 3 at 6:30 p.m.
Benson admitted that he is "absolutely not satisfied with where the district is with the math program," but didn't agree that the district is failing.
"We have areas that are failing," he said.
He told parents they have a right to be upset and said he would like to have conversations with them to work through the issues. Benson said the district has made math labs available all day and help is offered to students before and after school. He said the district would also consider paying teachers to help students on Saturdays.
"We need this to work for the kids. That's the bottom line," Benson said.
He said the real issue is data and what exactly it measures.
"We're not measuring math programs," Benson said. He said the implementation of the math program is based on the implementers' understanding and attitude toward making students successful.
"All people are not created equal," Benson said. "We're working with people who are all learners as well. Nobody's perfect. We don't have machine-like teachers teaching machine-like kids."
He suggested that the teachers are practicing a skill and they will improve with time.
"Nobody is there yet because it takes years of actually doing these things. All the teachers know the mathematics. Learning how to do the mathematics with students is what this is all about."
Benson said by implementing the new program, the district is giving the students the chance to access the content the state says they need to be successful.
Half the students failed the state test, he said, and would take a make-up test.
Leann Shaw, director of human resources, pointed out that the grades in the classroom don't reflect students' Pennsylvania System of School Assessment scores. She said P-O is modifying the curriculum because the state requires more of the students.
During his explanations last night, Benson countered the notion that teachers were only teaching content for eight minutes.
"That's not true," he said. Benson explained that teachers shouldn't be teaching at students for the entire class period because it doesn't work.
"What does work," he said, "students like to engage in problem solving for themselves. All the students are able to engage at the same time. Students learn by talking."
Benson invited parents to speak with administrators at their children's schools in order to discuss the specific issues because it is difficult to discuss in generalities.
"Meeting students' needs is most important," Benson said.
The next meeting is set for 7 p.m. Nov. 9.