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Topic: [ME] New Math Program: Portland, Oregon
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
[ME] New Math Program: Portland, Oregon
Posted: Apr 15, 1999 11:30 AM
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[Note: From Thomas Judson, with thanks ...]

Portland Oregonian, Tuesday April 13, 1999;

Portland waits on new math program

The school board decides to educate parents and the public first before
voting on the unconventional teaching approach

By Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian staff

In order to get public support for a "monumental change," Portland's school
board will give parents two more weeks to learn about a pair of
unconventional new math programs proposed for use in the city's elementary
and middle schools, Superintendent Ben Canada said Monday.

Canada emphasized that the delay in voting on the programs does not reflect
any misgivings on his part about whether Portland is ready for a new
approach to teaching math. The programs rely chiefly on student discovery
and problem-solving instead of teacher lectures and cover fewer math topics
in greater depth each year.

Canada lauded the approach as "not newfangled, but hard, firm, proven math."

The district had not planned to explain the new elementary and middle
school math series to parents, nor get their input, before the school board
adopted the programs-- largely because committees of math teachers
representing every Portland school were so united in their choice, Canada

But an article in The Oregonian on Monday about the new math series
generated a deluge of e-mails and phone calls with questions and concerns.
As a result, public forums will be scheduled by Thursday and held before
the board votes in two weeks, Canada said.

Most of the people who spoke about the math proposal at Monday's school
board meeting praised the new programs, which were developed under the
auspices of the National Science Foundation and tested in schools,
including some in Portland, during the past few years.

One teacher and one substitute teacher expressed misgivings about making
the dramatic switch and about the program's success with low-income
students. But nearly 20 teachers who already use the new programs voiced
their support, saying their students are now more interested in, and
capable of, math.

Still, Canada said, the change to new math programs is too important and
too big a shift for the district to attempt without first securing support
from parents and the public.

"We should be as sure about this as we can," said school board member Doug
Capps. "Let's take the time to do this right."

Canada said he is not seeking to quell all controversy because "there is
always reluctance to step forward and accept our responsibility to make
change." But it is imperative that Portland School District leaders show
the courage needed to do something new, he said, given that current math
textbooks leave far too many U.S. schoolchildren behind their international

"Are we prepared to have more of our students not be successful because we
were not willing to change?" Canada said.

The district's teachers have recommended that the board adopt the new math
series Investigations in Number, Data and Space for its elementary schools
and Connected Math for its middle schools.

Portland officials have said they will provide ample teacher training and
some supplemental drill-and-practice materials to ensure the new series
succeeds. Implemented half-heartedly, the new series would fail, they said.

Only a few large school districts in the country have made the National
Science Foundation-backed programs the sole path for teaching math in every

Most school districts have let parents choose a more traditional math
program for their child if they wished -- not because the new approaches
don't work, but because some parents want their child in a program similar
to the one they had as a child, science foundation officials said.

Test scores for students taught with the new approach have been as high as
those for students taught with traditional textbooks, according to studies
in diverse districts around the country that tested the new programs. But
with that testing phase just wrapping up, there are so far only a few,
smaller studies showing that Connected Math yields significantly higher
test scores, reports the company that
publishes it.

Portland is out of sync with the rest of Oregon school districts in
choosing new math books, so its school board is the first to choose from
among the full array of National Science Foundation-backed math series and
traditional textbooks. Most Oregon districts will face that choice when
they buy new math books in three or four years.
You can reach Betsy Hammond at 503-294-7623 or by e-mail at
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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