Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Translation services

Having studied edu-lingo and school-think for the last year and a half, I thought I would translate the reasons that New Milford didn't choose Singapore Math after they tested it for a year.

memo reviewing the meeting with teachers and math committee members of April 6, 2006, which summarizes information about the pilot materials

Singapore - We have piloted Singapore Math materials in 6 classrooms in grades 1-3 (2 classes each grade). We have found the following:

1.Parents generally like it, especially once we figured out how much homework was appropriate for the program in the early grades.

Parents recognized good math when they saw it.
2.The program covers fewer topics, but does so in greater depth; kids seem to be doing quite well with it.
There isn't all that wasted "enrichment" that most math programs have.
3.The pace of the program is quicker than anything we do and quicker even than our curriculum calls for. As a result, some sped students actually perform AHEAD of their non-special education peers in successfully handling content almost by definition becoming non-sped students!
It made the rest of the teachers look bad.
4.There is little prose within the books and the books themselves look deceptively simple; the materials are more inviting to the math- phobic than the traditional type programs.
It is missing all those cool stories and pictures we are use to seeing.
5.Adoption of such a program would change the "landscape" that we know as math programming. Students in this program K-8 would have completed Algebra I, most of Algebra II and Geometry. Currently between 20%-25% are tackling Algebra I in grade 8; under 5% in a good year are tackling Geometry by that grade level.
It will make the rest of the education establishment look stupid
1. The teacher's guide has been termed in the words of the Singapore trainers "as pretty much useless". They are correct. The guides have offered little insight or guidance to teachers on how the program should be presented. Training support for this program would be essential and pretty much on going.
We were education majors. All that math stuff hurts our brains.
2. The books fall apart easily. The school in New Jersey that used them basically estimated a 20% replacement rate annually. While the books are $8 dollars per book (not expensive in today's world), 2 books per grade ($16), we would be
running up sizeable costs in replacement texts annually.
We can't afford to pay $16 per student per year for superior performance, we need to save that money for field trips to the local park.
3. Teachers report that it has been "labor intensive" to prepare lessons, often taking longer to prepare the lesson than to teach it. With familiarity, some of the prep time would be reduced. Yet a real concern still exists at the elementary level about the amount of prep time necessary to sustain the program and teach the other subjects too. It isn’t that teachers are not willing to give the effort, it is that they saw this program as often requiring disproportioned amounts of time to prepare lessons, robbing from preparation required for other subjects. Hearing the stories about the demands on time have made many other elementary staff skeptical about this program.
Yes, it requires to much time to prepare a lesson in addition and subtraction, and we really haven't figured out how to collaborate yet.
4. The "change in landscape" image sounds exciting, but presents real practical problems. Can we train 6th grade teachers to teach Algebra I well? Can we recruit grade 7 teachers who are comfortable presenting lots of Geometry and Algebra II? If not, do we have a sense we could train them and, if so, at what costs? If we went down this road, it would become necessary to redesign the scope and sequence of high school math sequences. Does the system have the funds to do that and the staff to deliver the change? We would have almost all students taking Calculus by junior year, if not before then. That means the academic levels expected of all our staff would be raised in math.
We already told you that we were education majors, and math really really scares us.
5. The Singapore curriculum does not match the state frameworks very well, something the critics would applaud who feels the state frameworks are a problem to begin with. However, as mentioned above, the state measures on CMT’s reflect those frameworks. If we adopt this program, we would likely face an interesting, almost contradictory, dynamic of more students going further than ever before in math, yet perhaps having lower math results on the CMT’s. Our program, if powered by Singapore, would not cover all the discrete concepts measured on CMT's. In talking with one of our consultants who faced a similar issue in New Jersey with their test, he said such a dynamic never materialized. We will not know if it will be an issue here because we will not getting results back on CMT's in time to study how the program may have impacted results this year in grade 3. Since CMT’s impact how the district looks on NCLB issues of achievement, we cannot afford to ignore this issue.
We suspect that the Singapore Math students will score high on the CMT, forcing us to choose Singapore Math. Luckily we have to make a decision before the test results come out.
6. When asked for working models that involve districts like us, we found that we would be the cutting edge for all practical purposes, especially in Connecticut. That is a bit scary. We would be out there by our "lonesome" for now.
Big changes frighten us. Did we forget to mention that we were education majors because math scares us?


Redkudu said...

OMG I nearly busted a gut laughing. :)

Parentalcation said...

Thanks redkudu. My new motto is "If you can't beat them with logic, embarrass them with ridicule."

concernedCTparent said...

Nicely done! The comments speak volumes and are definitely worth reading. I have to give them credit for being honest though. In the end, they printed and posted it for all the world to see "warts and all".

The pilot program certainly highlights the strengths of Singapore Math, doesn't it? You are right on in your analysis. I can't imagine being one of the students/parents in the Singapore Pilot and then having to go back to something else.

One thing though, being a good student of math and building the kind of skills you would develop through Singapore Math may have little to do with success on the CMT. The CMT is based on CT state standards that are the mirror image of the NCTM principles and standards. The CT standards earned an "F" from the Fordham Foundation because they lack content so that tells you just how great the CMT is as a test of math ability.

Singapore is content rich while on the other hand, Everyday Math matches the format and questions of the CMT. Everyday Math is like taking a prep course for the SAT all school year. You may learn the tricks to get to get the right answer (by eliminating the wrong ones and good guessing) but it doesn't necessarily mean you learned the concept.

concernedCTparent said...

Here's a sample based on the 4th grade CMT just to give you an idea of what we're dealing with in CT.

Parentalcation said...

OMG CTparent,

That isn't math, its more like one of those puzzle books.

Seriously, what is the purpose of this question?

"12. The value of 52 would change by how much if the 5 were replaced by a 4.
Explain how you arrived at your answer."

I also want to answer this question:

"24. Write a story problem that can be solved using the number sentence:
8 + 6 ="

Once upon a time, I took a stupid test. On the test they asked me a stupid question...


If that is what kids are expected to learn in math, no wonder so many kids can't do algebra. I swear it wasn't like that when I was a kid.

allen said...

Too bad being an accomplished bullshit-to-English translator doesn't pay better.

rightwingprof said...

This is definitely the post of the day--maybe the week.

Parentalcation said...

Thanks Rightwing... I get lucky everyonce and a while.

I just got so pissed off when I read about educators acknowledging a superior program then going out of their way to avoid it.

concernedCTparent said...

NO, it isn't math at all. You don't have to be good at math to do well on the CMT you just have to be a good guesser. They practice being good guessers all year. This is my first year in CT and the first year my 4th grader has ever taken such a ridiculous exam... ever! We haven't got the scores back but I don't even know if I ever want to see them.

Ignorance is bliss...

Word of advice to anyone choosing a school district based on test scores... make sure you know what they are testing and if it actually means anything. Otherwise, buy a house in any district and homeschool or go private. It actually makes me sick to my stomach to think about it too much. I'd much rather do Singapore Math with my kids.

concernedCTparent said...

And just in case you didn't get upset enough, here's grade 5 (4 going to 5)
and grade 6 (5 going 6)


Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rory, congratulations on your post. You've inspired a lot of comments, so I'm sure you feel good about it, and I'm about to make you feel even better. I disagree! Slightly, anyway.

When I read the excerpts from that memo accompanied by a little Rory wit, the memo did seem pretty ridiculous. But then I went back and actually read the whole memo and it seemed a lot more reasonable. The memo went over three different math programs in their district, and listed the pros and cons of each of them, not just the Singapore one. I got the impression that they felt like the Singapore program had some great plusses, but it also had some real problems. I have to say that I wish they'd have sucked it up and gone with the Singapore program, but I can understand their concern about the problems. If I understand correctly, the district had a pretty good record. I suspect that's part of the reason that they went with what they seemed to consider the "safer" choice.

There! I hope you're happy now. With everyone else patting you on the back, my disagreement should really top this off for you. You can now die and rest in peace in blgger heaven.

Parentalcation said...

I specifically included every pro and con, and even when you read the whole thing, my translation (IMHO) is not only entertaining, but mostly accurate.

Choosing a Saxon / Everyday Math combo was a cop out, but it was also a partial win win. Everybody won... their students will learn more, and the teachers get to keep Everyday Math.

Now.... yes, the district should be commended, and they did address the issues honestly and openly and they should be commended.... (but it wouldn't be as funny).

p.s. I bet you High School teachers make fun of elementary school teachers as well.

Dennis Fermoyle said...

Rory, I'm glad you brought up that last point. There have been a number of times when I've gotten the impression that elementary teachers think that high school teachers are looking down our noses at them. This might surprise you (and them), but I will swear on a stack of Bibles that I cannot recall one time during my career that I've been aware of any high school teachers doing that. I suppose it may go on in some places, but it hasn't in the districts I've worked in. I will admit that when we built a middle school, and they went with the whole middle school philosophy, complete with its emphasis on self-esteem, that I heard quite a few comments about that. But I've honestly never heard any disparaging remarks about what elementary teachers do.

I don't know why so many elementary teachers (not all of them, but some) seem to have an inferiority complex about what they are doing. I suppose it's because they deal with younger kids. So what! I actually think they are the most important of all of us, because they are laying the foundation.

CrypticLife said...

I was a bit disappointed that while they considered the price of the textbooks for Singapore, they didn't include any Singapore financial analysis. Without the full analysis, it's not a valid criticism.

Singapore probably still would have come off more expensive due to training, but it would have highlighted how much you need to invest for a top-tier system.

I saw the pros and cons for Singapore and Saxon, but not for EM except for a one-sentence blurb about providing interesting activities. There were also a few references to EM in the surveys.

I wonder how much this analysis cost? Though the results are arguable, I would love it if my sons' school district even came close to doing an analysis this straightforward (they did send around a survey on uniforms, so I guess they're not entirely closed to the idea of parental involvement).

J. said...

"12. The value of 52 would change by how much if the 5 were replaced by a 4. Explain how you arrived at your answer."

This question tests number sense. They are checking to see if students understand that a change in the tens place means a change of 10. Many students have poor number sense and would provide an incorrect response -- usually saying the number changed by 1, not 10.

"24. Write a story problem that can be solved using the number sentence: 8 + 6 ="

Billy has eight cookies. His friend Susie gave him six more cookies. How many cookies does Billy now have in all?

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