Order to Scrap New Math Texts Rescinded L.A. Unified: In clash of philosophies, books were approved, then eliminated and finally reinstated.
By LOUIS SAHAGUN, Times Staff Writer Louis.Sahagun@latimes.com
Moving to quell a furor over traditional versus progressive math instruction, Los Angeles schools Supt. Ruben Zacarias on Thursday rescinded an order by his top staffers to eliminate textbooks used in a federally funded enrichment program for poor minority students.
In an interview, Zacarias said he was unaware of the July 23 order from the office of Deputy Supt. Liliam Castillo that would have prohibited buying any of the math books critical to the survival of the Los Angeles Systemic Initiative.
The five-year, $20-million program, offered at 30 of the city's 49 public high schools, aims to introduce urban students to advanced math and science using innovative methods.
The order to stop using the math books, which officials said was recommended by Los Angeles County consultants who are actively opposed to progressive math and therefore the program, also contradicted Board of Education policy.
On July 7, the board had formally approved the same textbooks on the grounds that they were aligned with California standards for math instructional materials.
"We said the original list meets state standards, and as far as I'm concerned, that list stands," Zacarias said. "If there was an order limiting those textbooks, we will cancel that order."
Zacarias added: "I'm going to look into the way this was handled."
In the meantime, the mixed signals and seeming lack of communication among top educators increased confusion over the fate of the program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and matching district grants.
Not surprisingly, schools that had already invested heavily in progressive math books [e.g., IMP, Core Plus] reacted angrily to the earlier announcement, which came without consultation, a mission statement or a transition plan for moving from one method of teaching to another.
Beyond that, a recent independent analysis of the program reported that the program has been very successful in "getting more high school students to take Advanced Placement math and science courses and pass AP exams. . . . In math, [Los Angeles Systemic Initiative] schools outperformed non-[Los Angeles Systemic Initiative] schools at the elementary and high schools level."
Generally, progressive, or integrated, math weaves together strands of statistics, geometry and algebra in lessons that are often based on situational problems. Critics call it "fuzzy math" and say it places less emphasis on practicing calculation skills than traditional math, which relies more on memorization and drills.
Janet Miller, who teaches progressive math at Huntington Park High School, said: "First, they said, 'Use the books.' Then, it was, 'Burn the books.' Now, it's 'Use the books.' I'm beginning to wonder if a turf battle at the highest levels is to blame."
Bev Cook, secondary vice president at the United Teachers-Los Angeles union, put it another way: "That's how the district does everything: without thinking things through. It's terribly frustrating. They should have consulted with teachers before making these decisions."
"There's a move to eliminate anything but old-style math," said Bob Drake, a National Board Certified integrated math teacher at Roosevelt High School. "But it's only striking against inner-city schools where kids need a different approach--they need to see, touch and feel what they are learning."
Before Zacarias' action, Bob Collins, director of curriculum instruction, insisted that the program should be modified to include greater emphasis on traditional math. The shift would ensure that students are being taught to standards and would broaden participation, he said.
Castillo could not be reached for comment. But Collins said the teaching strategies used in the program's projects, which range from extensive butterfly gardens to camera-equipped Mars Rover models, could be "melded with standards we are governed by."
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