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Topic: The Core-Plus Detroit News Article - A Reply Letter
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
The Core-Plus Detroit News Article - A Reply Letter
Posted: Jun 3, 1998 10:59 PM
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I received a letter from a person close to the Bloomfield Hills-Andover
High School situation a short time ago, a strong proponent of the NCTM
Standards movement. You may recall that I posted an article about the
Core-Plus Mathematics Program there that appeared in the Detroit News.

The author of the letter gave permission to send it on, and I am sending it
to exactly the same addresses that my earlier note went to. The letter

Jerry Becker

The author of the article Nicole Bondi called both the superintendent of
schools and our department chair for information. Both returned her call and
she did not call them back. She claimed in a conversation to me that she had
to write from what she had since "no one would return her calls". She claims
to have tried for 1.5 weeks. I asked her to send me the research she had to
back up the claims made by the parents. She claimed it was not needed since
it was antedotal info. She really lost her cool when I asked if ______ had
called her since _______ is well known in Detroit media circles.

Obviously teachers and administrators work with an arm tied behind their backs
as we can not release information about a particular student without the
permission of the student or parent. But I would encourage all who read
claims like this to ask some pertinent questions like the following: did the
student take four years of the CPMP curriculum and at what level? (we
currently have an honors, regular, and low-level track). What were the
progression of grades they received in math classes? Did they go from A's the
first few years to B's and C's as the material became more difficult and
involved more abstract thinking? If a student had an overall GPA of a 3.0
then they either received all B's in their classes (academic and non-academic)
or a combination of A's, B's, and C's. How would the student's teachers, and
math teachers in particular assess the student's abilities to work
independently, be willing to take risks and really attempt to understand, or
did the student rely on others to always tell them what was happening. Were
they an involved group member? Then I would look to the college attended. Is
it the appropriate placement for the student or did they attend the college
because of parental pressure (mom and/or dad an alumnus?). What is the
college's record on placing students in entry level math classes? What is the
average Grade student's earn in those entry level classes. I will be blunt
here and when I return to school I can get more hard data on this. Michigan
State, the college the parent was referring to, places a high number of their
incoming freshman in a non-credit earning math class. Does not matter the
math program the student's had. Actually from Andover, when we had the
traditional program, had a higher than average % placed into this course!
Parents are looking at data in isolation and not relating it to previous
years. We do not send our top "tier" of graduates to MSU, we consider it
where our 3rd tier of kids go: our best and brightest go to the elite school,
our 2nd tier go to MIchigan and our 3rd tier to MSU and WMU. Last year,
Michigan in late summer "raided" MSU's freshman class, by suddenly admitting
kids to MIchigan they had rejected earlier (from Andover). The average grade
of our students in the entry level freshman classes was higher than the
university average. THese are kids out of our program. Need I say more.
Parents seem unwilling or unable to look realistically at their own children.
I am not surprised when certain students do not do well at college even though
they were B students at Andover, if these students that seemed to do enough
to get by and were not the type to teach themselves and relied on others to
tell them what they should and were capable of discovering on their own or
with their group members. Lastly, I would ask of these parents what were your
child's ACT and SAT math and verbal scores. Often you will find that they are
relatively close to each other. Which implies they did not recieve an
"inferior" math education but they are not "high" in either math or verbal

There are more issues, like the comment that it is not for high-achieving
students. I would invite anyone to come talk to our graduating seniors who
are in AP Calc-BC and will be the first high-achieving students to graduate
with 4 years of CPMP. They have felt very challenged by this program. As
their teacher for their 9th and 10th grade years (courses 2 and 3) I can
attest to the challenging questions and conclusions they made. I often had to
say, unless I teach you some calculus or whatever right now, you'll have to
trust a fairly simplistic answer to this complicated question and trust me
that you will see it again. In terms of assigning them problems from the
materials, we often skipped the Modeling questions as they were, as intended
by the authors, to give more practice on what they had just investigated and
jump to the Extending questions which probed the abstract nature of the
concept just developed or gave them a preview of "coming attractions". THey
also found some of the investigations "repetitive" as they internalized and
generalized a concept way before the investigation was ready for them to do
so. In my regular classes, the students needed the entire investigation to
come to those conclusions. Now, critics could take that as a negative, but I
surely do not. I take it as the richness of the program and how each student
can develop the mathematics to the level they can handle at that time.

In my head I am "writing" an op-ed piece that would begin: If your child came
home from school and asked you how to spell asparagus, you would probably help
them spell it for themselves, get out the dictionary, or just spell it for
them. You would probably not pick up the phone and call the teacher and ask
why your child and therefore by implication, all students had not been taught
how to spell asparagus and all the other vegetables. But if a child cannot
figure the tip on the restaurant bill, the parent immediately calls the
teacher, demands that figuring the tip be taught, and that all students had
did not know how to figure a tip. That is what these parents are doing!!

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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