Saturday, June 16, 2007

An all too common experience

In an earlier blog I was discussing how a school district in Connecticut was a good example of collaboration and that whatever your opinion of the outcome, the process was at least honest in that the debate was documented warts and all. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this type of open discourse between schools and parents is as common as it should be.

I came across a
letter from a parent in Minnesota whose experience as a parent participating in the math curriculum review committee tells a different and more common story. In a letter to the editor of her local paper, The Crow River News, she had this to say:

"A few things regarding the choosing of Everyday Math have not been addressed in any official documents for the public, including school board minutes, committee meeting minutes, etc. I will try to address some of them, and give you the parent view. There were two parents — I am one of them — who dedicated a great deal of volunteer time to attending meetings and pouring over information and materials in hopes of having an impact on what math is chosen for the elementary students at STMA.

After all of the many vendor presentations and additional meetings following these presentations in the spring, comments were made that convinced us both that most if not all of the teachers on the committee were never intending to consider any other curriculum and that the much celebrated "parent involvement" in curriculum choosing was convenient window dressing.

The other parent wisely formally resigned, and I foolishly stayed on. I had already compromised, as I am a strong supporter of traditional math, Saxon Math in particular. There was a compromise curriculum, called SRA Real Math, that the other parent and I mistakenly believed would bridge the gap between what the parents and teachers/administrators wanted. SRA blends the reform math (lots of real world word problems, for instance) and parent friendly aspects like using common math language and problem solving techniques that all parents had to learn in school themselves. There are many more problems to work towards mastery, the basic facts are integrated instead of how we have to add that in with Everyday Math, calculator use is much less, and estimating is not overdone.

Basically SRA seems to understand that some kids do learn by being creative and discovering, and group work is sometimes ok, without taking these ideas to the far extreme and forgetting that repetition and drilling and basic facts are just as important to reach all of the kids.
I was thrilled to discover a program that used only one method for solving long division for instance, and that it's the method we all already know and can teach our kids if they need help. I was thinking "hooray — no more parent workshop meetings in the evenings to teach us how to help our kids with their homework!"

However, this hope was soon dashed. All of the arguing and suggesting and discussing brought us right back where we started
— with the choice that was already made.

The new edition of Everyday Math has become more teacher friendly but sadly we are all going to be getting parent letters to read and save so we have a clue as to what our K-5th grade kids are doing in math. It will inform us as to why in the world our kids are running around the house counting clocks (so they can discover that clocks are in the real world) and cutting and gluing pictures of foods (to realize that prices are in the real world)...these are not real math activities.

The irony is, the MCAs are written according to the state standards, which are rumored to be moving away from this reform math and more to the SRA Real Math. So get that tutor company phone number handy, it's going to be another booming 7 years for them. Or choose to homeschool like I plan to do. Better yet, make a fuss with the school board, send them your stories and evidences you can find. Perhaps for probably the first time ever the pilot year for EM can be it's last year in a district.

I will never know if it would have made a difference to attend the school board meeting where this decision was accepted by the board. I felt is was more important to get my son to the doctor and on meds for possible pneumonia right away, and I could not do both that night. He is now well, but the state of math in our district is far from it."

It’s unfortunate that this experience is so prevalent in our schools and that there is a perception that parents could not possibly have something of value to contribute to a discussion about the education of their own children. There is no one with more interest and passion for a child than his or her own parents. No one.

Just because a parent has a passion about educational issues does not make them renegade helicopter parents. The letter referenced above is articulate and polite despite the clear dissapointment and disillusionment of its author. But as this parent laments, the math curriculum selection process was dishonest from the start. That is no way to foster a relationship with the people who employ you.

That's right administrators. In case you’ve forgotten, you work for taxpaying parents and their children. It is your duty to consider their opinions honestly and openly because when those students graduate your job is done. They are sent out into the world with the tools you helped forge for them. But will you be there to pick up the pieces when those tools do not function as they should?

Parents will most certainly be there and as such we should be allowed to participate in decisions that have such long-lasting consequences for our children. We're smart enough to know when you're just pretending to let us participate and that's just not good enough.

Hat tip: Scholar's Notebook

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