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 follows.
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 abilities!!
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) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU