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Archive for Wednesday, December 5, 2001

Ugrades sought in math program

December 5, 2001

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Lawrence school board member Scott Morgan doesn't want to hear any whining about the cost of upgrading the district's math curriculum.

The pending overhaul of kindergarten through eighth-grade math programs in Lawrence public schools could cost the district approximately $600,000. And in lean financial times some legislators are talking about cutting state spending on education local taxpayers could be in for sticker-shock.

"This is going to be a priority," Morgan said. "I don't want somebody to see the price tag and say, 'Oh God, I don't think we can do that.'"

Serious reform of math programs requires major investment by the district, board member Leni Salkind said.

"We don't do this frivolously," she said.

On Monday, the school board endorsed without dissent an effort by district staff to reorganize math instruction. The board didn't vote to spend any money but appeared willing to do that when asked in early 2002.

Lynda Allen, who became the district's new math and science director this summer, said the cost of updating the district's math program would be steep because that area of the curriculum had been neglected in recent years.

"Before I took this job, I heard a lot of grumbling about mathematics in the district," she said.

Current problems

These issues have been identified as key problems:

l Essentially no district K-2 math program exists, placing a burden on new teachers without a stockpile of instructional materials.

l Lack of professional development for all educators to learn new math teaching strategies.

l District math curriculum not in step with state assessment standards.

l Disjointed curriculum doesn't offer an orderly sequence of math concepts from one grade to another.

l Outdated textbooks, including some nearly 10 years old.

Tom Christie, the district's executive director of curriculum, said teachers throughout the district are involved in discussions about reforming math programs. In the past, Lawrence teachers weren't always consulted.

"When we adopt a program," Christie said, "it's going to be a teachers' program. That's a big change."

During the summer, Allen formed a math "cadre" of eight teachers and herself to focus on development of a reform plan. In addition, a math "network" of teachers in every school was initiated to increase communication among educators at different grade levels and at different schools.

'New way of teaching'

Allen said district staff began working Tuesday on aligning the math curriculum to state standards. A sense that students were overtested led to dropping local math assessments in grades one, four and six. Tests for several other grades are being revised.

A series of teacher workshops on Monday evenings was started to introduce new ideas for presenting math materials, she said. Additional professional development opportunities for teachers are in the works, including the possibility of week-long summer workshops.

"You're looking at a new way of teaching," Allen said.

District staff is leaning toward adopting two National Science Foundation programs for teaching math through eighth grade. The first program would fit kindergarten through fifth grade and would be called Trail Blazers. The other program, MathThematics, would address students in sixth through eighth grade.

The school board will be asked early next year to approve the NSF programs and a request to purchase new math textbooks.

"We're doing a disservice to our kids, and we really fall behind, when we have such a long time between our textbook purchases," Salkind said.

Allen said the goal was to improve the percentage of students performing at the highest levels on state math assessments. Convincing evidence of improvement will take years, she said.

"You can't expect this to solve things overnight," she said.

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