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Topic: Massachusetts: Teachers object to frameworks
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Massachusetts: Teachers object to frameworks
Posted: Feb 6, 2000 7:20 PM
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From the Boston Globe, February 6, 2000. p. C 5.

Teachers object to plan to alter math standards

By Andreae Downs

Many educators around the state, including the Massachusetts Association of
School Superintendents, are alarmed about proposed revisions to the state's
math standards, which they say could hurt progress made in teaching the

At issue are revisions to the 1995 state standards, or frameworks, which
were interpretations of standards from the National Council of Teachers of
Math. Endorsed by the National Science Foundation, the council's standards
were published in 1989.

The proposed changes to the math frameworks, scheduled for a vote Feb. 23,
would dilute the 1995 standards and shift the emphasis toward previous ways
of teaching math, according to critics.

Sandra Stotsky, the state's deputy commissioner for academic affairs who
supervised the revisions, calls such allegations fear-mongering.

"Hysteria has been whipped up to distract from the basic issues," she said
via e-mail from Romania, where she was consulting for the US State
Department on teacher training. "The changes made were mainly to clarify
the vague standards in the 1995 framework. That 1995 framework was
criticized by the field and by those developing the assessments as being
too vague."

The 1989 standards of the National Council of Teachers of Math were aimed
at accommodating students' learning methods.

"The traditional way in which math was taught - and for all intents and
purposes that's what we've had for the last 30 to 40 years - was fairly
ineffective for most kids," said Mary Eich
kindergarten-through-eighth-grade mathematics coordinator in the Newton
Public Schools. "We know this anecdotally by the number of adults who feel
they are not good at math."

Stotsky said that the proposed revisions in the state's frameworks draw
from a new draft of the council's standards to be released in April. This
National Council of Teachers of Math document integrates input from
research mathematicians, who faulted the original standards.

Every five years, the state Department of Education revisits its
frameworks. State standards for each subject were called for by the
Education Reform Act of 1993.

But the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents and many other
educators say that the proposed math revisions are much more than a
clarification. The association has called them "educationally problematic."

"We don't see these as minor changes," said Sheldon Berman, superintendent
of the Hudson Public Schools. "They are fairly significant."

Left out of the proposed revisions is any consideration of how math is
taught, according to Rich Feigenberg, who teaches math to grades 7 and 8 in
Cambridge. "Almost all the language about students being engaged by
real-life problems, about students being made to enjoy math, to be excited
by math, to be encouraged to pursue further studies in math, is gone," he
said. Instead, there is "a breakdown by what every student should know by
the end of each two years ... more and more like a laundry list."

The proposal also returns to stressing individual disciplines in the upper
grades, with algebra in grade 8 and college-level calculus as the ultimate
goal. "A very large number" of high school math teachers "want
single-discipline courses, not integrated courses," Stotsky said.

Yet the superintendents' association contends that the changes are both
unnecessary and counterproductive.

"The year before we move to high-stakes testing, it's very important to
have consistency," Berman said. "To change now will compromise the MCAS
[the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System] and school
accountability. ... We've spent a lot of money on curriculum, professional
development, and monitoring implementation. To now go back and redo all of
this is costly, and adds to the skepticism about reform."

Stotsky contends that the revisions are insignificant enough that they
should not impact the MCAS - state tests for grades 4, 8, and 10.

"The revisions are all minor," she wrote. "The strands [or major topics]
are the same, and whatever changes are being made will be made clear to the
public when the final version is presented to the board."

Critics, however, contend that Stotsky's changes reflect those proposed by
Mathematically Correct, which in the mid-1990s organized university-level
mathematicians and parents to reinstate traditional math curricula in

Mathematically Correct objected, in part, to the lack of much traditional
computation - getting examples of how to solve a math problem and then
practicing it by doing several more - in the California curriculum.

"The schools have an obligation to make sure all kids learn what the
standard algorithms are for the basic arithmetical operations and be able
to use them if they find them more efficient than the ones they have
constructed themselves," Stotsky wrote. Algorithms are the way in which a
problem is solved.

"Middle-class parents teach their children the standard algorithms when
they find out they are not learning them in school; low-income kids don't
have parents who can do this," she added.

But, proponents of the present standards say memorization and traditional
computation have not been dropped from the curriculum, just de-emphasized
in favor of children understanding how math works.

"How is it equitable to turn working-class kids into $5 calculators?" asked
William Kendall, math curriculum coordinator for Braintree's public
schools. "Middle-class kids have a richer math experience to draw from. In
prep schools they aren't dwelling on the standard algorithms. They don't
get them without an understanding of the connection of math to the world."

Stotsky joined Nobel laureates in math and research mathematicians, some of
whom are aligned with Mathematically Correct, in signing a letter published
in the Washington Post in November that questioned the standards of the
National Council of Teachers. The letter objected to the US Department of
Education's endorsement of several curricula based on the council's

That letter notes that the department did not consult "active research

But many educators disagree with these mathematicians. "The last time we
had research mathematicians write K-through-12 math curricula, we got New
Math," said Kendall.

Stotsky, however, says that there is no study indicating that integrated
math curricula work."There is no body of peer-reviewed research I know of
to support integrated math curricula," she said. "That is why the battle
has occurred. It's like the whole language/phonics war. If the evidence
were there for integrated curricula, there would have been no war."

Fred Gross, a K-through-8 math specialist at the Sudbury Public Schools who
is on leave for a year to work at the nonprofit Technical Education
Research Centers in Cambridge, noted that the current frameworks have been
in place for too short a time to evaluate them.

"We've had this curricula in place for less than five years in most
places," he said. "How do we know whether they are good or bad yet, or in
need of change? It makes no sense to make major changes before we really
know their impact and effectiveness in schools."

On the other hand, "we have a significant database that these 'traditional'
methods haven't worked," said Susan Jo Russell of Technical Education
Research Centers, who develops council-based curricula in urban schools.

Critics of the proposed revisions have asked that the vote wait until the
new draft of the council's standards is released. Many contend that only
those who agree with Stotsky have been invited to meetings where the
proposed revisions have been drafted.

"When the initial frameworks were written, it was a two-year process, with
a big turnout and a lot of people," said Kendall. The revisions "need a
longer, fairer process. People feel railroaded, ignored, and isolated."

Stotsky said the department has been careful to attend to all the comments
on the frameworks, and has invited teachers to help clarify standards for
each grade level.

In the long run, Kendall said, the ones who lose in a curriculum
controversy are the students "who get jerked one way and then another," and
the local communities "who have to throw out whole sets of books."

"Don't we all just care about the kids?" he asked.

Math teachers will discuss the frameworks revisions on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
at Newton North High School cafeteria.

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)


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