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'Not ready for eighth- (or ninth-) grade algebra'
By Marc Lanser
The announcement that Harwood Middle School would henceforth only offer eighth-grade algebra as an online “elective” and that all eighth-graders would be required to take pre-algebra has been met with criticism and consternation on the part of many parents. The criticism is primarily directed to parents’ desire that qualified and motivated students should have the opportunity to take algebra as part of the regular in-school curriculum rather than as an extra add-on. In my view, this criticism is misdirected but is not the parents’ fault; it is due to lack of transparency and forthrightness by the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU).
In an explanatory letter to parents, Harwood Middle School states: “This change in program is coming as a direct result of our experience with the CMP2 curriculum since it was brought into our schools two years ago. Our experience with this curriculum has made us realize that we are promoting a clear disservice to our eighth-grade algebra students by allowing them to skip over a year of this very strong content. Having CMP2 in grades 6, 7 and 8 is good for all of our students and will help to foster deeper and richer mathematical understanding.”
CMP2 stands for Connected Mathematics Program 2. Parents should familiarize themselves with the CMP2 curriculum in order to understand the supervisory union’s underlying but obfuscated reasons for not offering algebra in eighth grade. CMP2 is a “constructivist” math program for grades six through eight and is an extension of the discredited Everyday Math program currently used in The Valley’s elementary schools (along with TERC Investigations). Everyday Math, TERC and CMP2 have consistently received the lowest ratings of any math curricula in the country when evaluated by independent auditors. Parents in many districts nationwide have reacted with outrage when discovering that standardized test scores have fallen after implementation of these programs and, in many instances, have initiated petitions to have these programs removed. These programs do not prepare students for algebra or other high school math subjects. The deficiencies in these programs are too numerous to describe in this letter, but parents are urged to google “Everyday Mathematics,” “TERC Investigations” and “Connected Math” to get an idea of the handicaps that these programs have inflicted on our elementary and middle school students’ math abilities.
As background, Everyday Math, Terc Investigations and CMP2 were foisted on the WWSU and other districts nationwide by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the form of subsidies (read “given to districts for free”). Since NSF originally fully paid for the development of these programs, it required a mechanism by which to facilitate the dissemination of these programs nationwide. The NSF did this simply by making the programs available for free; a deal that was too good to pass up by financially strapped districts. Were these financial incentives publically disclosed by the WWSU when these programs were adopted by Valley schools? I think not.
This brings me to the real reason behind the WWSU decision. I believe that the WWSU has concluded that the overwhelming majority of students who take algebra in eighth grade have significant gaps in their pre-algebra knowledge and understanding and are grossly underprepared for algebra 1. This is the only explanation that makes sense. Without admitting to this reality, however, the WWSU instead says that they are “…promoting a clear disservice to our eighth-grade algebra students by allowing them to skip over a year of this very strong content….” The fallacy in this proposed fix is that there is no “strong content” in eighth-grade CMP2 any more than there is “strong content” in the sixth- and seventh-grade CMP2 curricula. The CMP2 is so devoid of content that one more year of this poor curriculum will only put students further behind in coping with the demands of algebra and higher mathematics in high school.
The obvious solution to the problem is for the WWSU to first acknowledge that Everyday Math, TERC Investigations and CMP2 are abject failures as math curricula for grades one through eight, and to consequently restructure the entire elementary and middle school curricula around a proven, evidence-based approach to teaching mathematics, so that all students can confidently take algebra in eighth grade (which was the commissioner’s stated goal several years ago). These proven alternative approaches are apparent to anyone willing to do minimal research in this area. In Singapore, as well as in many other countries, algebra is a seventh-grade subject, but that is a topic for another essay.
Marc Lanser lives in Fayston.