Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Parental voice leads to math program choice

Our idols over at The Education Wonks uncovered an interesting story about parental choice that harkens back to the discussion we've been having about educational philosophies and the debates that can erupt when people disagree.

In this story, a school district in Utah has listened to parents, who formed a network to express their concerns about a math curriculum adopted by the district five years ago. Schools in the district now will be able to choose between the current curriculum and one that uses a more traditional approach to math.

ALPINE, Utah (AP) -- The Alpine School District will allow elementary schools to choose between two math programs after years of complaints that a new, progressive curriculum wasn't emphasizing enough of the basics.

The "Investigations" math curriculum was adopted in 2000 and the district has heard complaints ever since. Some parents claimed the program gives too little emphasis to memorizing multiplication tables and learning long division.

"There were strong advocates for and against the program," assistant superintendent Gary Seastrand said. "Those who were against it felt the system had made a central decision. There were parents and teachers who did not buy into it or like it."

Parents unhappy with the program formed a network to advocate for a restructured math curriculum in the district, which serves nearly 70,000 students. Some dissatisfied parents have transferred their children from Alpine public schools to private, charter or home schools.

"Everyone is excited that Alpine has finally listened to parents after five long years, (during) three of which our children were not taught the times tables under Investigations math," American Fork resident Oak Norton said. "I think it's a mistake for them to offer it in the future, as there are much better programs that work for visual learners."

The feud is part of a national argument between those who want the basics in the classroom and those who emphasize concepts and use estimation and calculators.

Seastrand said a committee will review math programs and choose two for the district in time for the 2007-08 school year. He estimated the cost of obtaining new math materials at around $2 million.

"This is a door that has opened," he said. "We just want to get out of the divisiveness. We believe the school-choice option is better for local patrons. They'll have an opportunity to be involved in the conversation."

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