Math Curriculum Doesn’t Add Up

Tom Mountain, Newton TAB, Jan. 12

The school department was recently forced to publicly admit that the sixth-grade MCAS math scores have steadily declined over the past three years to the point where 32 percent of sixth-graders are now in the “warning” or “needs improvement” category. This means that if we were to attach a letter grade to these sixth-grade MCAS math results it would be a D-plus, with only 68 percent of the students passing. Brown Middle School fared so poorly that it is now subject to be placed under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for failing to keep pace under the minimum “adequate yearly progress guidelines.”

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So then, after eliminating any potential mitigating factors, what could possibly account for the steady decline in the sixth-grade math MCAS scores?

The only logical and remaining explanation is change that occurred in the Newton math curriculum itself—the subject matter of what is taught and how, what is emphasized and what is not, what has been omitted and what is new. In short, what has changed in the elementary and middle school math curriculum to have affected such a dramatic decline in the MCAS scores?

Answer: the new math curriculum, otherwise known as anti-racist multicultural math.

Between 1999 and 2001, under the direction of Superintendent Young and Assistant Superintendent Wyatt, the math curriculum was redesigned to emphasize “Newton’s commitment to active anti-racist education” for the elementary and middle schools. This meant that no longer were division, multiplication, fractions and decimals the first priority for teaching math. For that matter, the teaching of math was no longer the first priority for math teachers, as indicated by the new curriculum guidelines, called benchmarks, which function as the primary instructional guide for teaching math in the Newton Public Schools.

In 2001 Mr. Young, Mrs. Wyatt and an assortment of other well-paid school administrators, defined the new number-one priority for teaching mathematics, as documented in the curriculum benchmarks, “Respect for Human Differences—students will live out the system wide core of ‘Respect for Human Differences’ by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors.” It continues, “Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others . . . ” It goes on and on.

These are the most important priorities that the school department has determined for teaching math from grade one through eight, as documented in the Newton Public Schools Benchmarks.

Nowhere among the first priorities for the math curriculum guidelines is the actual teaching of math. That’s a distant second. To Superintendent Young and his School Committee, mathematical problem-solving is of secondary importance to anti-racist/anti-bias math.

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