Fairfield Parents Demand Answers about Changes in Math Program

The Board of Education is scheduled to hear a presentation on the issue at Tuesday's meeting, held at the Board of Education Conference Room (501 Kings Highway East, second floor) at 7:30 p.m.

A growing group of parents in Fairfield have turned to the Internet to voice concerns about a change in instructional method for Algebra I and II classes at the district's secondary schools.

The blog "Fairfield Math Advocates", created by "concerned parents within Fairfield advocating for students," is mobilizing residents who seek information about the district's implementation of a program called "College Preparatory Mathematics," or CPM.

The CPM model is based on several principles, including "literacy can be strengthened through meaningful/rigorous mathematical study" and "students learn more when they solve problems and discuss their thinking with others." Students work in groups to solve word problems, and each student is assigned a role in the solution process, according to CPM's principles.

Parents at the Nov. 27 Board of Education meeting described this method of instruction as "a complete disaster," some citing children who excelled at math last year and are suddenly struggling.

A major problem, according to residents who spoke during the meeting's public comment, was the lack of communication between the district, teachers, and parents preparing to implement the program. The school board is scheduled to hear a presentation and vote on the secondary school mathematics curriculum in April.

But the district has already begun rolling out the CPM methodology and textbooks in district-wide Algebra I and II classes, according to parents who spoke at the meeting. Most students do not have an individual textbook and are expected to use computers at home to access homework materials, Fairfield Math Advocates allege.

Board members, including Sue Brand, Perry Liu, and Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, asked that district officials present CPM and any changes that have begun to roll out to the school board at its upcoming Dec. 11 meeting.

"We are the last line," Brand said. "It is our job to make sure all students have resources. This didn't come before the board."

Kennelly said she did not want to wait until spring to have answers. "We cannot let this year be a lost cause."  

Liu added he was "extremely troubled" by what parents said during public comment and in emails he received prior to the meeting.

The agenda for Tuesday's meeting includes a presentation on the secondary math curriculum.

In addition to the presentation to the board, residents said they want the district to hold an open forum to better answer parents' questions.

Those questions are many -- and growing -- but chief among them are:

  • Why was CPM selected for the district, when nearby school systems like Westport, Bridgeport, and Wilton are using the Singapore Math program?
  • Why is our district using a textbook that was not approved by the Board of Education?
  • How does CPM help align Fairfield with the state's recently adopted Common Core State Standards Initiative?
  • What studies/research show how students using CPM fare on standardized tests, like SATs, ACTs, etc.
  • How much has the implementation of the methodology cost thus far, how much will it cost, and who approved the funding?

The Fairfield Math Advocates are requesting the board immediately stop the implementation of CPM and either have the administration develop a new math curriculum to align with the Common Core State Standards Initiative or that the district adopt Singapore Math as the new curriculum.

Learn more about the Fairfield Math Advocates' goals and the group's petition to stop CPM from being adopted by the Board of Education here.

Daniela December 10, 2012 at 12:13 PM
I do agree that Fairfield needs to evaluate this new method. My son has always been an A student in Math. That was one of his strongest subjects. He is still a good student, but finds it difficult and confusing at times because of what they want as an answer. He has been frustrated with this way of teaching. A review would be wonderful so that our children who were once confident in this subject do not feel like they have lost their way.
Casella Diamonte December 10, 2012 at 04:47 PM
Agreed. I like the tone of your comment because it is measured. Realistically, though, I'm trying to keep in mind that many kids go from straight A's earlier on in middle school to lower grades over time, simply because the subjects become increasingly complex. Also, kids at this age have a lot going on, and we (myself included) as parents are often tempted to blame others when grades drop. Those snarling attack dogs that stopped me from speaking at a meeting- that group of abusive, foul mouthed and mean parents of "exceptional", "gifted" children- are making it difficult to get an objective assessment of where we are and how we should proceed. It looks like some of these people are working for one textbook company since they have already chosen an expensive program on behalf of the administration and are working a populist marketing campaign to get it selected. I see at least one Board member (I call her "the Succubus"), nodding like a bobble head every time one of these nasties say anything- a political animal that gets her political energy from promoting hatred and division. I'd like to see these crazies muzzled so we can hear from rational people (maybe some who don't start every speech reminding us how absolutely gifted their kids are) what the issues are with the current program, the piloted program, and other programs that we could chose from. There are do appear to be issues- for some kids in some classes- with the current Algebra teaching methodology.
momof3 December 10, 2012 at 05:31 PM
As a nation, we are lagging behind nations like China, Singapore and Korea in math. As we were lagging, children were still getting good grades. Now schools are implementing changes that take into account methodology that is being used in Singapore, Hong Kong and Korea, and kids don't find math as easy. I'm not sure there is anything wrong with that. Sometimes to get to the next level, you need to struggle. Learning isn't always easy; it is a process. Now, I'm not saying that the new math program being used is the right one, but not saying it wrong either. Have some faith in our educators that they want our kids to succeed. I have a child in high school. She learned algebra using the old method, and it was harder for her. Some previously "A" students were struggling and needed a tutor. Did they need a tutor to learn or did they need a tutor to keep up an A average? Clearly, the school district needs to give parents some more information.
something to think about December 10, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Ms Diamonte, you started off your comment by saying that you liked the previous comment because the "tone" was "measured." Might I suggest that you choose to do the same and not resort to name calling in your own posts?
pia4 December 10, 2012 at 06:39 PM
This discussion is important to open up for everyone to be informed, so questions may be asked and answers given. We should all agree to not name call or shout as it diverts attention from the real issue: our kids' education. Any process has its glitches but we must make it open for scrutiny and subject to change. Transparency and flexibility are also 21st century skills our kids should learn. Lets set a good example!
Creeky December 10, 2012 at 06:50 PM
Perhaps I'm mistaken but, I thought Singapore Math did not re-teach covered material. Therefore, if the secondary schools adopted a Singapore program for Alg I & II in HS, all the kids would fail, having not had the program in primary school. CPM has problems, particularly the hippie-dippie mentality that group study will benefit all. Really, it probably works the same way there as everywhere else in life, where a small sub-group does all the work and a larger group just takes advantage. Hey--maybe that is great prep for real life! Sarcasm aside, there are some non-education system related problems here. Parents whom think that an A is better than an education, when all it does it prime the student for greater failure later in life, like college, career, home economics, and choosing political leaders that understand that decisions need to be made on realistic and sustainable approaches, and not just emotions. Also, these changes humiliate parents that don't understand the math, or are too lazy to learn it, and can't help their kids. It's the very same lack of character that thinks their child is perfect, and the rest of the world is the problem, as has an ego that can't handle saying to a child, "I don't know," (even though, it's probably the healthiest thing for the child at times). If anyone really wants better education, they should push for converting half of that administration population back into teachers, and shrinking class sizes, especially for math.
Fairfield native December 10, 2012 at 07:13 PM
My guess is that this is the same group of parents who have been talking about the Singapore math program for the last 8 years.
Brian December 10, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Nice idea, Creeky but in real life, can you honestly see the Board of Ed and Finance and RTM increasing the Ed budget to hire a dozen or so math teachers? Just this weekend, I was at FU talking with a group of three engineering students working on a group project. It "failed" the attempt I saw but they were involved in the problem solving and reworking of the prototype. That's just one example; I'm sure readers have lots more. I also know 8th grade is light years from college work. Some people just aren't comfortable with, I guess, a constructivist approach.
Creeky December 10, 2012 at 09:33 PM
Brian, I'm suggesting the issue is more reducing the administrators to increase the teachers. I have many conversations with teachers, some of which sought my input on programs to get their kids more excited. I learned that they give up on these programs, as their managers (the administrators), do not have the time to consider them for approval. They are too busy with meetings, presentations, and reporting. I'm terribly frustrated that so much of our education resources go to meeting government mandates (federal and state, and generally unfunded), that they don't actually have the time to consider ideas from the front line--the teachers themselves. As to your group project experience, I'm afraid engineers are a poor indicator. I just happen to have a degree in engineering, and worked my way through school as a technician, became an engineer, than senior engineer, and finally engineering manager, before striking out on my own. Engineers are the types that are generally interested in the work. They are the do-ers. And, no one really gets through an engineering degree without working with others, giving as well as taking--the material is too volumuous and challenging. I do recall group projects in high school though (when I wasn't such a serious student) and sometimes I contributed, sometimes, I was along for the ride. There were others that you just hoped weren't going to be in your group, as you know they never did a thing.
Creeky December 10, 2012 at 09:46 PM
Brian, As to the constructivist approach, it's really quite interesting--each member in the group has certain knowledge and experience that they bring to the group, say the kid whom pitches a baseball or softball knows the ball travels parabolically no matter how fast it's thrown, and the kid who is deep into video games knows they need a strategy and a leader, and the kid who read every harry potter novel and whatever else he can get his hands on has developed strong reading comprehension and can define the problem, et cetera--each has talents--each brings them in, each benefits, and each learns. But, it only works if they are excited about the problem. My unfortunate negative attitude comes from recalling these group projects when in high school physics, where an over-achiever or two eliminated the input from the group in order to monopolize the project and eliminate less capable members from bringing down the grade. Like I said, I wasn't a hard worker in school then, and wasn't much for writing the report. But, the comprehension of the material came easy to me (unlike, say memorization--I never passed a periodic table of the elements test, grammar school, high school, or college, even though I could get A's in classes like advanced differential equations or numerical analysis) anyway, I was engaged, because I could solve the problem, and happy, because the over-achievers would write the report. There was always one or two whom learned nada.
Paula Landesberg December 10, 2012 at 09:55 PM
All I know is my son is a special needs student in high school. He has rarely received higher than a C in Math. He got a B in Algebra this year. He struggled in pre-Algebra last year. I was shocked. Not sure if it's the new curriculum or not or it could that he has a great teacher. I do want some of these questions answered though.
Creeky December 10, 2012 at 09:55 PM
I'll explain my negative view on the administrators--it isn't the administrators themselves. I'm thinking of one particular Fairfield County public high school science teacher whom I know very, very well. And, I'm thinking of his manager (the administrator) whom I also know well. Both are truly good people--good hearts, hard working, and bright. Both care deeply for their kids. Both are serious about good education and opportunity. And, they get along well, and think highly of one another. So, the science teacher develops his program, but can't get it considered for approval. The administrator feels terrible about it, but can't make the time to review it, let alone present it to his managers. The problem is government. It's all really the same. As we continue to operate from all these federal and state mandates, we create a gigantic bureaucracy. Basically, that hands-on science program can't be approved for the same reason it takes me two or three trips to the DMV to get a set of tags for a car or trailer--government bureaucracy.
lbh December 11, 2012 at 03:18 PM
As a parent who has always had a good grasp of Math, I find myself teaching the basic principles and rules to my son who has been in gifted math since elementary school. So you are incorrect in assuming that we are all to lazy or stupid to teach our kids math. I tried to use the online text as a guide to teach my child what he should have learned in school that day. The text book is terrible. Perhaps you all should research the Common Core Standards. Many states that have adopted these have now begun petitioning to get rid of it. The basic idea behind the CCS is that every state in the US teaches the same thing at the same time and then everyone takes a Standardized test, nationwide. This is to insure that everyone has learned the same concepts throughout the country and everyone is equally smart. The standarized test and materials will be provided by Pearson Testing who have handsomly donated to many political campaigns. So let's be realistic here, this isn't about teaching our kids like they do in China and Singapore to make them smarter or more competitive. If that were the case, they would forced to MEMORIZE, like we did in the old days. My husband taught Japan and there was no "go team! let's all learn together!" group learning. This is about the American dollar and your elected officials and Pearson testing are the only ones who will profit. I encourage you all to Google "The Common Core Standards." It makes "NO child left behind" look good.
Creeky December 11, 2012 at 06:04 PM
ibh, "So you are incorrect in assuming that we are all to lazy or stupid to teach our kids math." That I assumed "all" is more than a stretch. The truth is, many of the parents are the greatest enemy of good education, by making town meetings a clown show of yelling over each speaker. Further, I'm not a supporter of CCS. And I was certainly no supporter of no child left behind, and even if I were, when one of my brothers was teaching at Curiale in Bridgeport, he cued the whole family into just how destructive the program is. But, America just re-elected Obama, and a great deal of his campaign was dedicated to improving education. What did all think he meant? Other than dictation from the federal government of how we'd make everything equal and the same, with those standards written by the lobbyists whom supported his campaign. Really, what did everyone think he meant? Until we get back to teachers having input, we're going to be nowhere. All these changes just increase administration and bureaucracy.
Lee December 13, 2012 at 09:14 PM
This is jut another case of the public and parents not having a clue. They tout Singapore Math but they don't even know what it really is: http://www.sgbox.com/singaporemathsmyths.html CPM is probably the best middle school & high school materials out there that support the best research in the last 10 years about how the brain learns math. The new CCSS standards are all about the Mathematical Practices which support this research - reasoning, collaborating, modeling, understanding as opposed to rote practices based on short term memory (the way we've been teaching for so many years). In fact if the public and parents knew more about what is most important--the teacher and the teaching practices--we wouldn't be having all these stupid math wars but demanding that teachers change their decades old teaching practices. See this research: http://www.ernweb.com/public/Effective_math_programs_cooperative_learning_instruction.cfm and http://www.bestevidence.org/word/math_Jan_05_2010_guide.pdf Parents - get involved but take time to see what's going on in the field of teaching and learning in the 21st century. It's not the same as when you went to school. We now know more about learning.
Oz Maths teacher December 14, 2012 at 12:39 AM
I am reading this as an educator in Australia. We are having a very similar reaction from a confused and ill informed parent body. Problem based maths allows context and can give motivation. The "skill and test cycle" suits the "gifted" students with good memory, but makes lousy mathematicians. Might I suggest some directed reading first, and in the meantime allow the educators to do their job - they're the experts!
Chf December 14, 2012 at 12:14 PM
Both side of the argument may each have their own merit. The issue at hand is that none of them were discussed or presented to the BOE, who is supposed to oversee and manage how our taxpayer dollars are spent. Taxpayers and parents throught the BOE should have had a chance to weigh in on the textbook being used. That is the law in the state and also our district policy.
David Van Leeuwen December 28, 2012 at 03:35 PM
If the district has quality instructors, adequately prepared students, manageable class sizes, appropriate technology, and caring parents, the choice as debated here is not even relevant. Students are not regular readers of a math textbook, and the problem with any structured curriculum generally revolves around gaps in the students' preparation. Do not expect any "program" to compensate for the 4 items I have referred to here.
Dawn Llewellyn January 01, 2013 at 07:44 PM
First, your belligerent comments seem to portray you as one of those "crazies" you have described in your reply. The district owes answers to parents about the textbook (violation of State Statute), curriculum (CPM's website states "curriculum"), and instructional method (prescribed method of teaching, like a social reform) that has blindsided the students and parents in this district. When curriculum leaders use Common Core as the impetus for this self-discovery UNPROVEN instructional method and they refuse to acknowledge the use of CPM in the Algebra classrooms, it seems that they are the ones who are not forthcoming. Second, the Fairfield curriculum review process is another issue that needs to be addressed in this district. Other districts (i.e Greenwich -in our DRG) have a 12-15 month review of multiple curricula and textbooks with parent involvement. Our district should learn from these other districts whose standardized test scores are increasing over the years versus Fairfield's continual drop in CMT, SAT and CAPT scores. We should be selecting the TOP math programs from TOP districts for our curriculum review. Third, we need transparency...so the BOE member you mention probably feels the same frustration as parents... God Bless her/him for not being concerned about how majority votes on the BOE. We need more BOE members to take the same leadership role, understand their board duties and remember the people of Fairfield voted them into office.
Dawn Llewellyn January 01, 2013 at 07:56 PM
This has to be a fairfield administrator commenting on and promoting the only math program looked at by our town! Where are the SAT scores???


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