Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SPS Testimony for 3-26-2008 by Marty

Draft testimony to School Board 3/26/08 from Marty McLaren

I'm here to give you a brief "report from the trenches" from my travels as a math teacher substituting in elementary, middle, and high school classrooms throughout the Seattle School District.

Two weeks ago I presented an Everyday Math Lesson to 4th grade students. 3/4 of them had no idea how to do the day's assignment on estimating distances on a simple map. They lacked the confidence and basic tools to make any attempt to solve the problems that were assigned that day. According to the lesson plan, after my initial presentation, they were to help one another, but they couldn't do that until I had been able to give individual help to half the class, so they idled their time away... I've seen this happen all over the district in K-6 Everyday Math classrooms, in CMP middle school classrooms, and in high school IMP classrooms.

Another time, I was given this graphing problem to present to a different class of fourth graders. You'll notice that each axis has some intervals with irregular sizes. This may seem trivial... but this assignment has the logo "Seattle School District Standards-Based Learning System" -- in other words, the math curriculum specialist who produced this lesson doesn't understand the need for equal intervals in order to create the scale for an axis. This is dreadful -- math lessons that convey a vague idea of concepts don't impart useful skills; they confuse students. Like most of us adults had to do, children have to work very hard to grasp basic math skills ,...... Correct representations of mathematical relationships are essential to them.

At the King County Juvenile Detention Facility, I taught fractions for a week to teenagers who were eager learners. They appreciated the chance to really understand fractions. My sense was that they had figured out for themselves that reliance on calculators is crippling. Yet, Seattle's curricula incorporate calculator use from the beginning.

I have a few observations from teachers: A new teacher who is substituting this year confided to me that the intricacy and confusing nature of learning to teach Everyday Math was the main reason why she elected to substitute rather than take a full time job this year. "It's too much for me as a new teacher," she said. "It's just too much." Two different veteran teachers made identical statements about working with Everyday Math. Each said grimly, "It's very difficult." One pointed out that students are expected to jump from topic to topic, with no hope of mastery or of building on previously learned skills. The other mentioned complex lesson preparation, coupled with brief time on too many topics. A talented veteran middle school teacher no longer brags to me about his math teaching. Instead, he says matter-of-factly that he follows the CMP pacing guide, despite the fact that the students don't master the material. He says, "Sooner or later, the people upstairs will have to figure out that they aren't getting it this way."

As you must know, the National Math Panel has suggested sweeping changes to math standards nationally; our state standards are in the process of being similarly revised. You've heard from many others about the excellent curricula which are available; please, make sure that this district creates a clear plan to quickly push the new, high quality math standards into Seattle's classrooms.

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