The Convoluted Logic of Education, Dept.

Readers of my book “Confessions of a 21st Century Math Teacher” may recall that our hero takes on a semester-long sub assignment teaching math at a middle school during a time when schools in California were gearing up for the transition to Common Core next year.   At one point he attends a math staff meeting and hears a teacher talking about how things will be the next year during the new Common Core era:

Next year there will be no more teachers at the front of the room saying ‘Open your books to such and such page and listen to me.’ ” There would be no textbooks, she went on. Teachers would facilitate students collaborating. Teachers would be given a list of websites from which lesson plans, tests, videos and other material could be obtained.


As it turned out, the first year teachers relied on downloading the material from EngageNY, the curriculum used in the State of New York and made available for free to teachers all over the U.S.  Eventually, the district adopted College Preparatory Math (CPM), a discovery-based curriculum that is being supplemented by on-line videos and–in extreme cases–using exercises and explanations contained in the old textbooks they used before Common Core kicked in.

I bring this to your attention because a similar thing has been happening in Manchester, NH. According to this recent news article :

When Manchester schools started earlier this month, it marked the third year without a common, district-wide program for teaching mathematics in elementary schools, a situation that is drawing criticism from school officials, teachers and parents. Critics, some who asked to speak anonymously for fear of reprisal from fellow teachers, say children in the city’s 14 elementary schools don’t get the same textbook or workbook — or even any book — that provides the tangible, step-by-step continuity that is helpful to mathematics instruction.  Without a district-wide curriculum, teachers cobble together lessons from various sources, meaning no conformity for lesson plans and teaching material in the district.

As with all criticism, there are defenders of the practice being criticized.  This time, an ed school college professor rises to the defense of the school system:

But a college professor said the latest approach to elementary-school instruction downplays a one-size-fits-all, packaged curriculum. Teachers are expected to pick and choose to find the best lessons that fit their particular students, said Kimberly Bohannon, an assistant professor of education at Keene State College.

“Children are all different,” she said.

For example, a language-rich math program that concentrates on word problems might be an obstacle to children with reading deficiencies, she said. Bohannon reviewed the on-line programs that Manchester offers its teachers and said they appear to be comprehensive. Much of the second-grade math lessons link to Engage New York, a program developed by New York state to meet Common Core standards.

Well now, this sounds familiar.  And ignoring the rather perplexing reasoning she uses to avoid books with word problems for students with reading deficiencies, I have to give the school district this: Their current situation is because they abandoned their previous textbook, Everyday Math.  And while abandoning Everyday Math is, in my opinion, a definite step in the right direction, I have some doubts abut relying on EngageNY for reasons I addressed in part in a previous article. 

In general, the lack of one textbook seems to have its share of defenders:

At another elementary school, a veteran teacher said teachers collaborate, but it comes down to whatever a teacher decides is best for her class. The teacher did not want her school or name published, fearing repercussions. Manchester students come from such diverse backgrounds, she said, that she’s not sure one curriculum would work for all.

Right. One curriculum for all is, in the end, as ludicrous as assuming that students all have the same learning style. Oh, wait…


One thought on “The Convoluted Logic of Education, Dept.

  1. This is turning into a vicious cycle. I have a kid in junior high who has learned math with cpm and eureka, and she is very anti-textbook. She is going to grow up with a worldview that textbooks are useless because she doesn’t have good textbooks at school. She also doesn’t seem to be learning the skill of how to learn from textbooks, since they don’t really use them in school. Judging from her and her peers, this attitude is going to be ubiquitous in the next generation, all because they have crappy textbooks that are hard to learn from now.


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