Saturday, January 22, 2011

Reforming Math 1

Our younger daughter attends a small Quaker school.  Let's call it Natural Friends, or "NF", in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit.

At its best, Natural Friends is a comfy, nurturing sort of place where oddball kids like mine can be happy, and that's not a small recommendation.  We went there in the first place for our older daughter, and, in hindsight, her 2 years at the school were great for her.  Younger daughter, too, has been happy there, and her reading skills have been steadily improving.

The school has fallen on hard times.  This is our 3d year there, and there's been a different Head of School every year.  Families have been leaving the school like rats leaving a sinking ship.  The 6th grade is down to 5 kids.   Younger daughter's first grade has 11 kids (down from a high of about 30, I think.)  So, with the school under-enrolled and in disarray, I figure it's my chance to have an effect on how the place is run.

If I could change anything about the school, it would be their extremely weak math program.   They use Trailblazers and Connected Math (for the 6th grade), and the results are frankly terrible.   I wound up tutoring my older daughter at home with Singapore Math, and I was glad I did.  If I have to, I'll do the same with my younger daughter, but I'm worried that it might drive us both crazy.

So, without further ado, here's the first math-related e-mail I sent to the Head of School (names changed as above):

I wanted to describe to you some of the problems I've seen with Natural Friends' math program.   This e-mail will focus on the reputation of Natural Friends among the surrounding schools that NF graduates attend.

1.  Yachtley.)  I first heard about this problem when we were just beginning the process of getting our older daughter out of the public schools.  I mentioned to a neighbor, who is now the Dean of Yachtley's Middle School, that we were looking at NF.  She said, "oh, that's such a nice little school.  We love getting students who went there.  Sometimes they need extra help with math, but otherwise, they're great."

Another NF Mom that I know took her daughter on a tour of Yachtley.  One of the teachers there asked what school her daughter attends now, and when she replied "Natural Friends", he said, in a reassuring tone of voice, "oh, that's OK, don't worry about a thing -- we can remediate math."

2. Friends Omphalos.)   Our older daughter went to a summer session at Friends Omphalos in order to prepare for her first year there.  In the math class, the teacher said:  "I know we have some Natural Friends students here today.  If you went to Natural Friends, please stay after class."  After class, he said to the Natural Friends kids, "I don't want you to feel bad if you don't understand what we're doing in math today.  You probably just didn't see it at Natural Friends."

3.  Scotch Valley.)  I have heard through the grapevine of a mother who sent her NF-graduate kid to summer school at Scotch Valley, because otherwise they wouldn't admit him to the Scotch Valley advanced math track.

I think you'll agree that this is an embarassment for Natural Friends.  Next up:  how does NF earn this reputation?

Next, I'll post more of the correspondence between my fed-up self and the Head of School.  On the plus side, he seems to be taking my complaints seriously.  On the minus side, he's a believer in constructivist math.

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