Saturday, April 11, 2009

Elementary School Math Problems

I've been asked to describe the problems in the Plano ISD elementary school curriculum. Here are the problems in a nutshell:

  • Poor attitude
  • Lack of skills
  • Watered down problems
  • Very little homework
  • Buckshot approach to math
  • Unprepared for middle school
  • Tutoring divide
Poor attitude: The curriculum is poisoned from the start by a bad attitude. Some math curriculum writers think elementary school math is hard for children to understand, consequently they make it hard to understand. Elementary school math is not esoteric knowledge; it is a skill to master, like reading.

Lack of skills: The focus of elementary school math in Plano is on understanding math instead of doing math. Math skills have fallen from the curriculum and parents have to teach the math facts and arithmetic skills at home if the parents recognize the importance of math skills. This means parents must pay for tutoring or purchase material and personally teach math skills at home.

Watered down problems: The math problems assigned in elementary school are low quality problems. The goal seems to be teaching to the TAKS instead of teaching skills necessary for competence. This also requires parents to pay for tutoring or purchase material to provide the appropriate level of work.

Very little homework: One learns by doing, but our children do little homework in elementary school. The curriculum is so bad, too little homework is really a blessing. That gives more time for tutoring, but widens the gap between those being tutored and those not being tutored.

Buckshot approach to math: The children see many topics at the same time. There is little focus, so math looks like a confusing hodge-podge of problems. The administration calls this "spiraling", but spiraling could have more focus on individual topics, build from simple to more challenging problems, and then move on and circle back for review later. The buck-shot approach makes math look like a confusing mess.

Unprepared for middle-school: The low level of math skills makes the children unprepared for middle-school math. Math problems should be more challenging in middle-school, but many of our children never master the math skills necessary for middle-school.

Instead of fixing the elementary school math curriculum to eliminate the deficiencies in middle school students, Plano has chosen to water down, or dumb down, middle school math with the Connected Math program (more about this another time).

Tutoring divide: There is a gap now in Plano between those students with private tutoring and those without. This leads to a system where the cream-of-the-crop is highly competitive and gets a truckload of National Merit Scholarships, while many students, especially economically disadvantaged students, fall behind.

The tutoring divide explains why Plano can be a mediocre district with a TEA Acceptable rating while many students get National Merit Scholarships.

Elementary school mathematics is not very complicated. The PISD administration has a poor educational philosophy in regard to math. Plano administrators do not know how to effectively teach math.

For thousands of years, societies around the world have taught the math facts to their children and moved their civilizations forward, charting the stars, sailing the seas, and even made flying possible for mankind.

Dumbing down education by throwing out the math facts and down-playing math skills is putting the average Plano student at a disadvantage.

The problems in elementary school math are not difficult to fix. Getting past a stone-walling Board of Trustees and correcting the problems in the PISD administration is hard. Math is not a problem, politics is a problem.

The first step to fixing the problems in Plano's elementary school curriculum is to vote out the Board of Trustees.

Robert Canright

PS: I can confirm that the districts that out perform Plano -- Allen, Frisco, and Richardson -- do not use Connected Math

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