[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 said.
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 counterparts.
"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 school.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. ************************************************ * 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: email@example.com