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Board to discuss parents' concerns about new method for teaching math

Published 10:16 am, Tuesday, December 4, 2012
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The Board of Education has decided to hold a public discussion at its next meeting on a new instructional model for teaching secondary-level math after hearing several parents' complaints last week.

"The Board of Education welcomes parents sharing information and their own perspectives on matters concerning their children," said board Chairman Philip Dwyer, who has included the discussion as an agenda item for the Dec. 11 meeting. "Parents are welcome to make further comment at that meeting."

The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the Board of Education Central Office, 501 Kings Highway East.

Board member Sue Brand urged at the Nov. 27 meeting the new model and parents' concerns be discussed publicly at the next board meeting, with particular focus on a new textbook used to teach the new instructional model.

"I do have some concerns that we are using a text that didn't come before this board," she said, adding she was also concerned the text is being used only in class with the assumption students have online access at home. "I understand there are going to be things people are going to want to change. They have to come before the board."

Board members Perry Liu and Jennifer Maxon Kennelly also recommended public discussion of the concerns.

"I'm extremely troubled by what I'm hearing and by what I'm reading in emails," Liu said.

At the Nov. 27 meeting, several parents spoke out against use of an instructional model where students are break into small groups to learn math and solve problems. They also opposed the switch to a College Preparatory Mathematics math textbook, implemented this September for Algebra I in eighth and ninth grades and Algebra II in the two high schools.

Many parents are unhappy because, they say, their children spend most of the class time working together to learn math instead of being taught by the teacher.

"The new group learning method, where students teach themselves math, is an absolute waste of valuable instructional time," parent Kelly Crisp said at last week's board meeting. "Thirteen-years-olds are not qualified to teach algebra. I support teachers teaching. We pay them to teach."

Crisp, who lives on Papermill Lane, has two children attending Fairfield Ludlowe High School and a third child at Roger Ludlowe Middle School.

Some parents also said the model should have gone before the board for public discussion before it was adopted and needs board approval, per state law.

"We need an open forum to ensure the entire community is informed on this school-related matter," said Dawn Llwellyn, a Sturges Road resident with two seventh-grade children at Ludlowe Middle School. The school board "represents the community and the superintendent serves as (the board's) agent in applying the policies and contracts adopted by the board."

Llwellyn also asked why the district did not choose to use Singapore Math, an instructional model implemented in Westport, Wilton and Bridgeport, and what its costs are.

Suzy Burn of Cross Highway said state statute 10-228 requires the board approve textbook changes and that the district provide students with textbooks, especially given that not all students have access to computers at home.

"I'm asking that the board insist that the district provide all students a textbook, free, so that they don't have to use their own resources," she said.

Karen Nash, a Sherwood Drive resident with four children at four different Fairfield schools, said there should be an open discussion on the change in math instruction before its adoption.

"It seems to me we are more concerned with the days used and the number of days our kids are in school rather than the quality of the studies they are participating in while they're in school," she said. "The system is broken. It needs to be fixed."

Some parents have formed a group with a website in opposition to the new math instructional model called Fairfield Math Advocates.

Karen Parks, deputy superintendent of schools, said parents are "not being totally forthright" by claiming the school district has not reached out to them to answer their concerns. She said three presentations were held on the new program in sixth, seventh and eighth grades in October, and some parents became confrontational and demanded an "open forum" during the last one on Oct. 24.

"We're not holding an open forum because these people just scream and yell and aren't being truthful," she said during an interview with the Fairfield Citizen. "I'm not doing that. We're happy to meet in small groups."

Parks said school officials will hold a presentation on the new model at the Dec. 11 meeting to try to answer parents' questions and clear up what they say is misinformation about the program.

Parks said the school district was not required to seek board approval for the change to the new instructional model because only changes in curriculum need to go before the board.

"They have not changed anything about the algebra curriculum," she said.

Parks said teachers still teach math with the new instructional model and then check on the small groups of students to see how they are doing in helping each other solve problems. Many teachers prefer this new method of instruction because they are able to see which students are struggling with math, she said.

"Some of the kids are struggling because they have to think," she said.

The change to the new textbook also did not have to go before the board because it has not been bought by the district yet, Parks said. Paul Rasmussen, curriculum leader for secondary math, is just "piloting" the book, which would cost $65,000 to buy, for this year. "If they decide to go with this book, then they will present it to the board for approval," she said.

The administration has spent $13,000 on time for instructors from the textbook firm to train teachers on implementing the textbook.

Parks said the instructional model has been implemented in response to Common Core State Standards' requirement for students to explain how they arrive at solving problems. The district has used it to teach math through fifth grade and plans to use it eventually for math in grades six through 12, she said.

"The teachers have been commenting that they like this because, with the old method, they never saw the kids doing work," she said. "Now, they're talking about how they're solving the problem."

mjuliano@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 112; twitter.com/mjuliano