Q&A #3025

Teachers' Lounge Discussion: Core Plus Math Program

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From: Jacob Keilman

To: Teacher2Teacher Public Discussion
Date: 2004021022:14:39
Subject: Re: Core Plus Math

This is an essay i sent to my local school board regarding core plus.
I hope that no other district makes the mistake that mine did, and
that no students have to go through what I have to get a proper

Many people are asking the question “If it’s not broken, why fix it?”
about the Northshore School Districts new math program. Recently, the
Northshore school district has adopted “Core Plus, Contemporary
Mathematics in Context”. This switch has upset a large number of the
higher-level, college bound junior high students who were expecting to
be taking algebra or geometry this year. Before the switch to Core
Plus, Northshore had a really great math program, one of the very best
in Washington. 

Other districts across the country have tried Core Plus, and students
that then went onto college had major problems understanding basic
math concepts that were supposed to be taught in algebra. An example
of the problems with Core Plus is Michigan’s Bloomfield Hills School
District, where Core Plus was used. Students that did very well in
junior high and high school in that school district failed college
placement tests and struggled in college level remedial math courses.
More recently, after seeing their students fail, Bloomfield’ school
board has voted to give their students a choice between Core Plus and
the traditional math curriculum. One reason the students in Core Plus
did not do well later in their academic career was that, although Core
Plus introduced many key concepts and ideas, hardly any practice was
given, so concepts did not sink in. A chairman of a department of
mathematics while discussing Core Plus was quoted to say, “It may be
fashionable to teach from such a book, but it is not effective.”

As well as having shown disappointing results in other districts, Core
Plus is also frustrating students right here in our own district. In
class, students are bored of writing essays answers for each math
problem about how they devised an answer, or why their solution is the
correct one. This method covers less material in more time, so not
only will students not remember the concepts very well, but also they
will not have been taught some necessary ideas. Opponents of the
program are not suggesting that Core Plus be removed completely but
they do think that something different needs to be offered for those
students who want to take a more traditional method. This is not as
strange as one might think, for some districts, such as Bloomfield
Hills have already done this very thing. Core Plus might help those
students who do not normally excel at math, but for the higher-level
students, it does not do an acceptable job of teaching important
algebraic concepts. When algebra is finally taught in the third book,
it is too little, too late. By this time, most students already need
the algebra in chemistry or physics, and, due to the lack of practice,
the concepts don’t sink in. Many people argue that Core Plus prepares
students for the WASL, but again, the higher-level students already do
well enough on the WASL because they understand the concepts and know
the material.

Another significant problem with the Core Plus series is the numerous
errors in the “real world” problems. There is one graph in Core Plus
1A, on page 104 that shows a graph of the height of a Ferris wheel
versus time into the ride. The graph depicts a Ferris wheel that makes
nine five second stops. However, just before and after each of the
stops, there are near vertical or vertical lines showing that the
Ferris wheel crossed several meters of space in no time, suggesting
infinite velocity. One of the main purposes of this book is that it
shows students how they can use math in real world applications, but
the book is filled with so many errors that students become even more
confused, in math as well as getting false notions about various
scientific principles. 

Lastly, in light of the current budget crises, if the school district
needs to purchase any more materials for this new math program, it
might be wise to reconsider that decision. Any purchase of more
materials will inevitably require a severe funding cutback somewhere
else, and other valuable programs will be lost. The districts budget
is already quite lean, so why make things worse?

 In conclusion, Core Plus might be an acceptable solution for students
who struggle with math, but a different method needs to be offered for
the students who already excel at math. Even though it might help some
students with the WASL, an alternative needs to be offered for
students who already succeed on the WASL. Many opponents of the
program pose the question, “should we be using a math book that has
produced disappointing results in other districts or rather should we
be learning from their mistakes?”

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