A Concerned Parents View of the BCSD Math Textbook Adoption Process

by Dan Beste

(originally posted on sunvalleyonline.org)

Superintendent Barber and Curriculum Director Patricia McLean are correct when they state that the BCSD had gotten into the habit of not including non-district employees on curriculum or textbook committees in spite of the mandate from District Policy and Idaho Legal Code to do so. Dr. Barber stated that parents had not been included in such committees for quite some time and Patty McLean stated that she “must have forgotten” about this mandate when composing the math textbook committees. So basically, school district administrators haven’t been referring to district policy to inform their actions and decisions, which proves the point that community members and parents must be involved in district processes to provide a vital check upon the job performance of those who earn and spend our tax dollars.  

The former administrators and trustees who wrote the district policies were wise to realize the valuable input and perspective members of the public can provide. Parent and community member involvement brought the process deficiencies to the attention of district administrators and school board trustees. The Board of Trustees stated at their November 8th meeting, that “This [oversight] was not intentional and is a clear reminder that District Policy must always be reviewed and understood prior to actions undertaken by District Administration or the Board of Trustees.”

At this same meeting, Patty McLean gave a detailed account of the recent math textbook adoption process. Prior to this meeting it was never explained to the public that the Textbook Adoption Committee developed a “short list” of textbooks to review in depth: 10 texts for K-5 and, I believe, 8 texts for 6-8. Of the 10 textbooks on the short list, 3 of the publishers didn’t send them a “free” copy to review. Therefore, these texts were immediately ELIMINATED from the short list. How is this even rationalized by the committee? Are they thinking they are going to save the taxpayers $200? I didn’t hear it mentioned as an eliminating criteria on the Committee’s list of considerations, “Save $200 on the textbook selection, regardless if you have to eliminate the math program coming from the World’s #1 rated country in math, Singapore Math.” Disturbingly, the Board of Trustees didn’t seem to have any problems with this decision. If parents were included in the Textbook Adoption Committee, I would hope someone would say, “What the heck is going on here?” I know I would have.

Towards the end of Patty McLean’s presentation, she gave everyone a “sneak peek” of the district’s new math curriculum. You see, it is only common sense for a district to develop their own math curriculum, which would determine what to teach students. It seems the district would look at its current curriculum and textbooks and review what has worked well, which last year reached as high as 90% -100% proficiency in BCSD (#1 ranked in the State of Idaho) in some grades. And also look at the lower scores in other grades and determine how to improve the current curriculum to improve student proficiency. Once the improved curriculum is finalized, a properly formulated Textbook Adoption Committee would be sent on a mission to find a new textbook that best satisfies the requirements of the new curriculum.

The BCSD doesn’t do business this way though.

I believe the District has stated because of “time constraints,” it would be best for the BCSD to totally scrap the very successful past curriculum and traditional textbooks for all levels, K-10, and purchase a completely new set of textbooks that support the controversial – and unproven by independent studies – “Standards Based”  Reform/Constructivist math pedagogy. So without a newly written curriculum to guide the Textbook Adoption Committee on the textbook selection, the Administration and Board of Trustees committed hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars to purchase and train teachers to implement a new math pedagogy.

Back to Patty McLean’s “sneak peek” of the new and almost complete, newly revised curriculum. I believe, after only getting a very brief “sneak peek”, the new BCSD math curriculum is basically only a copy/paste of the recently purchased publisher’s view of how its textbooks may align with the upcoming 2014 introduction of the CCSS (Common Core State Standards), which Idaho will use.

Isn’t that convenient for the district administration? Create an improperly composed Textbook Adoption Committee, purchase a controversial textbook series, re-write the textbooks’ curriculum as your own and now you magically have a perfectly aligned district math curriculum and textbook series. As a bonus, the publisher claims their texts align with the requirements of the upcoming CCSS, but the Textbook Adoption Committee “didn’t have time” – according to Carla Scanlon – to verify this claim by delving deeply into the texts themselves.

Problems though. How well does this new Reform Math Curriculum align to satisfy the requirements of the ISAT that our students will be tested with for the next 3 years? Does the new program actually teach math and prepare our students for the much more demanding higher level math subjects? Will it succeed in raising grades 9-10 testing scores, which is one of the supporting reasons to totally scrap the traditional math curriculum that was used until this year?

Maybe we should look to Aspen School District, that was spoken about by Trustee Graves as a “success story” at the November 8th School Board meeting. Aspen School District is very happy with TERC Investigations. Let’s see how well TERC Investigations and possibly Connected Mathematics 2 (CMP2) prepares students for higher level 9th and 10th grade math. Following is an article from the Aspen Times newspaper on 10/21/2011. Will it be a future Mt. Express article?

Not all Aspen math scores adding up

“Board ‘concerned’ about trend, seeks solutions

“ASPEN — Reacting to what one Aspen school board member termed an “alarming” trend in standardized math test scores at certain grade levels, the Board of Education is taking a close look at the district’s performance in the subject area. “‘What’s going on as it relates to our ninth- and 10th-graders?’ school board member Bob Glah asked at the board’s meeting Monday. ‘This is a huge red flag for me; I am alarmed.’

snip….

“Among those factors are recent changes to the math curriculum, as well as a shift in math philosophy in general — both of which take time to show marked results. Regardless, the scores remained a concern.” (10/21/2011 Aspen Times)

According to Trustee Graves, Aspen School District has been using Investigations as part of their teaching materials for ten years now, thus their 9th and 10th graders grew up with the curriculum Aspen School District adopted with Investigations. Shouldn’t that be “time to show marked results”? The 2011 10th grade CSAP score dropped to 39 percent from 55 percent in 2010. Where are the increases in test scores reformed math is supposed to facilitate in these critical grades? Despite the efforts by the BCSD district administration, many Blaine County parents remain unconvinced of the effectiveness of these texts to prepare our students for higher level math and real world personal financial management. Where is the statistical support that these texts succeed in being good teaching materials?

Because of parental and community member intervention, there have been improvements for our teachers and students. The school district has received a wake-up call to follow district policies in all areas and compose legal curriculum and textbook committees in the future. As well, the district administration is no longer dictating to the schools to absolutely not supplement the purchased texts as they had been in September and October. Teachers are now able to write lesson plans using a variety of teaching resources. Patty McLean stated that work is being done to create a consistent math program throughout the district. However, requests for information about the progress of a mathematics curriculum – and who is working on it – have not yet been answered. School district employees are accountable to those who pay their wages and provide the money for all the resources needed to teach the children of our community. Parents and community members, our students need us to remain vigilant in reviewing the district administration’s job performance.

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