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Washington Still Fighting over Teaching Math
Oh my, my, my. Math is a big issue in Washington state. Somehow they have university professors, math teachers, parents, media professionals, TV meterologists, and even legislators to fight for math reform - back to the old ways.
Saxon Math is unfashionable in the educational bureaucracy. It is structured — even a bit rigid. One lesson leads to the next. Each ends with a list of problems, and all of them demand the right answer. It's so ... linear.
"That's what math is," says retired principal Niki Hayes. "It's linear. It's structured."
Imagine that, math is linear. Not anymore - it's been redefined:
The new-age math has several attributes. It tends to introduce topics in a roundabout way that aims for a eureka moment. That is the "discovery" part. It introduces many subjects early, focusing on concepts rather than calculation. That is the "constructivist" part. It sometimes wants the student to estimate an answer rather than find the right one. That is the "fuzzy" part. It demands written explanations of how an answer was arrived at, often in "math journals." That is the part parents find most baffling.
New-age math uses games, colored blocks, dice, poker chips and other manipulatives. It requires working in groups. "The idea is that if you let them struggle and come up with their own solutions, they'll learn it better," McLaren says.
But some districts decided to go back to the old methods using other programs such as Saxton or Singapore math:
With Saxon Math, from 2001-04 North Beach's pass rate on the fourth-grade math WASL jumped from 68 percent to 91 percent. It has since fallen back 10 points, which Saxon supporters say was because students were not drilled on the need to explain answers on the WASL. They are worried that the district will take their program away. Using a phrase from "The Godfather," Principal Ed James says parents and teachers are "willing to go to the mattresses" for it.
In Seattle, associate academic officer Michelle Corker-Curry says Saxon is not in line with state standards — and she is right. It isn't.
And therein lies the rub. If you want to go back to traditional math lessons, then state tests need to be re-aligned. For instance, Oregon tests for how you came up with the answer, not that you got it right. So either Oregon needs to redo their math standards and tests, or allow for a different track that has traditional standards and testing in order to use traditional math curriculum.