Part of the March 27 board of education meeting was devoted to a report of the board's curriculum committee, and their findings included some recommended changes with regard to middle school mathematics. In a vote of four to three, the school board adopted the recommendations made by this group, but judging by visitors' comments, not all were in favor of these modifications.
This committee of the school board, comprised of BOE president Richard Sussman, BOE member Peter Wezenaar and BOE VP Bob Ferro, held a series of meetings; Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction,and Assessment Sheldon Karnilow and members of the community also attended. They also consulted with Weber Principal Matt Sanzone. According to their report, they primarily focused on three topics: the middle school math program; foreign language in elementary schools; and parental input on instructional staff.
The mathematics program in the middle school seemed to be examined with the TIMMS Study findings in mind. The latter, described as a "comprehensive study of mathematics and science teaching around the world," found that though fourth grade students in the US surpassed counterparts in the rest of the world, they fell significantly behind by the time they were eighth-graders. The board showed a video highlighting the TIMMS Study; among the recommendations made were improvements in curriculum, student and teacher support, and quality of instruction. They also suggested involving business leaders in education. The video was narrated by Senator John Glenn and credited to the National Committee on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st century.
In the area of the middle school math program, the curriculum committee recommended "revamping the middle school math curriculum to include more depth and rigor along with more algebra and geometry." Moreover, they stated that "it is also recommended that ninth grade math or math 'A' be moved down as the norm for all eighth grade students and that for the coming year all students wishing to take Math 'A" be allowed."
Another recommendation of the group was that "all secondary mathematics teachers only be hired with masters' degrees in mathematics or the reason why not on any specific case transmitted to the board." This followed a specific recommendation of the TIMMS Study, which found, the committee reported, that teacher expertise in the subject matter was of great importance at the secondary level. The TIMMS findings also specified a need for greater peer review (among instructors) and other means of professional development. Thus, the committee proposed "that a plan be discussed to strengthen the professional development opportunities for all staff," with a request for reporting back to the board by Sept. 1
The second area the committee studied was parental feedback regarding instruction. They proposed that "a committee be formed to formulate a questionnaire to be distributed to parents" of K - 5 students. If successful, they hoped to expand the surveys.
Presentation of recommendations regarding the third topic, foreign language instruction at the elementary level, was postponed until the completion of further discussions.
Comments from community members about the recommendations, especially the change in the mathematics program, were largely unfavorable. In fact, a number of members of the audience commented that the recommendations presented were not those discussed in the committee's meetings. "I applaud the desire for more rigor in the math curriculum, " said parent Bea Helft, " but letting all eighth-graders take it ... wasn't the committee's sense. If it is given [to all], it will have to be taught to the middle, and that will bring down the rigor that was intended." Parent Mark Marcellus expressed similar thoughts, adding, "If we are going to make a change like that, the community needs to be involved, and needs to understand how this will work."
Parent Barbara Werle also expressed her dismay at the proposal. "The practice of this school district has been to provide differentiated math curriculum," she said. "The subject of math doesn't allow for discussion, so those who learn quickly will be bored by the repetition and drills that others need ... Gifted math learners should be allowed to learn at a quicker pace, so their ability in math won't be stifled." And on this same subject, school board candidate (and former board member) Nancy Cowles commented, "The curriculum committee report doesn't reflect the meetings I went to, and contains recommendations I didn't hear made."