Connected Math battle brought to House of Representatives
By Matt Pearce
A Plano resident who disagrees with the teaching of Connected Math in public middle schools is taking her grievance to the United States House of Representatives.
Susan Sarhady, mother of a Plano eighth-grader and president of the Plano Parental Rights Council will testify Wednesday before House subcommittees on Early Childhood, Youth and Families, and Postsecondary Education, Training and Life-Long Learning. The hearing will focus on various aspects of math reform in the U.S. and the role of the federal government in that process.
Sarhady, one of five panelists at the hearing, said she will address the subcommittees on why she thinks Connected Math, a program implemented at all nine Plano middle schools this year after three years as a pilot program at four schools, does not benefit children as much as traditional math programs do. She said she and hundreds of other parents want the Plano Independent School District to implement an alternative to Connected Math.
"The main point is that we've been trying for a year and a half to gain an alternative for the parents in Plano that want it, and have not been able to do so," Sarhady said. "Even on a national basis, it is hotly debated whether this program is going to help our children prepare themselves for higher math."
Connected Math has children solving math problems through investigation, in which they are expected to discover which math concept their investigation is teaching. Sarhady said she objects to the way the program has children working in groups, with some failing to acquire necessary math skills.
"The difficulty with that is, in many cases ... that some kids do understand and go along and discover whatever the concept is," she said. "But a lot in the group, possibly the majority, don't really get it, and copy down what the rest of the group has discovered."
Sarhady, whose eighth-grade daughter is not in Connected Math, wrote in a written statement for the hearing stories of other parents who feel their children have suffered as a result of the program. She wrote that one friend's son had to throw marshmallows in the air to see whether they landed on their ends or heads for homework one night, and about another woman, who has one child who got accepted to a private school after one year of Connected Math and one who didn't after three years in the program, because he lacked Algebra skills.
Calls to Marilyn Brooks, PISD associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, were not returned Friday.
Sarhady said 600 parents have signed a petition requesting an alternative to Connected Math, but the school board has not responded favorably. She said there are other school boards around the country who have adopted and later dropped the program, and Plano middle schools will continue to suffer if they don't do the same.
"It's not helping the achievement of the kids," Sarhady said. "Teacher training is a huge issue with this program, and we lost a lot of teachers last year - middle school math teachers."
In August, a group of parents represented by the Texas Justice Foundation filed litigation concerning Connected Math against PISD, saying the district violated the Texas Education Code by adopting the program outside of the best interests of parents. After the suit was announced, PISD Superintendent Doug Otto called it "sad" and defended Connected Math, saying it gives students rigorous preparation for higher math.
Sarhady said neither she nor Plano Parental Rights Council, a recently incorporated non-profit group, are involved in the lawsuit.
In October, Connected Math was lauded by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary program. Jim Wolgehagen, PISD secondary math coordinator, said the announcement "helps to validate the research that we had done and that the teachers had done."
But the Department of Education's praise drew harsh criticism from educators and mathematics experts nationwide. More than 200 mathematicians and scientists, including four Nobel Prize recipients, wrote an open letter to Education Secretary Richard Riley, asking him to withdraw the department's ratings of Connected Math and similar reformed math programs as "exemplary" or "promising."
Sarhady said through her written and five-minute oral testimony, she will advocate "stricter controls to prevent schools from using untested programs without the informed consent of parents and students." She said the federal government should not promote Connected Math and similar non-traditional programs, and PISD was wrong to implement it without input from parents.
"We'd like the district to be more responsive to the parents' requests," Sarhady said. -------------------- Contact staff writer Matt Pearce at (972) 543-2232 or <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) (618) 457-8903 (home) E-mail: email@example.com