Sunday, November 24, 2013

Comments on the CPM Math Curriculum


By now you've likely heard about the parents who pulled their children out of Evergreen Middle School due to problems with the new CPM (College Prep Math) curriculum, newly adopted by our district this year in an attempt to comply with the Common Core standards.   There have been a lot of newspaper articles on this recently, but I'd like to point out a few details that many of these articles are glossing over.
  1. CPM is a radically new and different way of teaching math, not just a harder or more advanced curriculum.   A CPM-based class spends the majority of its time with the students working in groups to discover the mathematical rules, rather than having them presented directly by the teacher.    You can find many details at their website.  In Hillsboro we have implemented it across the board, all at once, as essentially the only available type of math class in our middle schools-- with our only in-house piloting being a 2-week trail last year.  So I'm not surprised that the new method of teaching math was a shock to many students and parents:  they are not objecting to math being harder, but to it being fundamentally different.     Was it a wise idea to make such a major change all at once district-wide?  
  2. CPM has been seen to create problems for students at the low end of the spectrum.   For students who find the math more challenging, there is no substitute for careful explanation from a skilled teacher.    Since the majority of the class is based on group work rather than direct instruction, some students are just not getting the straightforward teaching that would enable them to succeed.  I"ve heard from some parents that groups aren't even allowed to ask the teacher a question until the group has voted on it or arrived at a consensus as to phrasing.       Are some students pressured to just copy answers or pretend they understand so the group can move on, only to fail miserably when they have to work on individual assignments?
  3. CPM has been seen to create problems for students at the high end of the spectrum.   Many talented students are able to get the idea very quickly, and don't want to go through the motions of redundantly "discovering" a key principle to please their teacher, or act as supplementary teaching assistants for their group-- they want to move on.    This is especially frustrating for students hoping to get to advanced calculus and higher math classes by the end of high school so they can get a head start in STEM majors in college.
  4. CPM may be developmentally inappropriate for some students-- even very smart ones.   One topic sorely lacking in CPM discussions is the concept of stages of a child's mental development.   Children go through various stages of development , and only at the most advanced stages are they well-suited to truly discovering and generalizing mathematical laws.   Many middle schoolers, even very smart ones, are still in Piaget's "concrete operational" stage:  they can absorb facts and procedures that are directly taught, but are not ready to prove the validity of mathematical abstractions.   Thus I am not too surprised that some students who received As  and Bs in traditional math are severely struggling with CPM.
So, with all this being said, what is the district doing about it?   There have been several meetings between district officials and parents, and HSD is working to modify the CPM curriculum based on parental feedback to address the issues above.   I think this is a positive step, and am glad that we are looking at ways to incorporate more direct instruction, rather than sticking to a pure group-based CPM curriculum.    Personally I would have preferred that we offer a variety of choices of styles of math classes rather than a one-size-fits-all solution.   But a properly reformed CPM program, with a larger portion of individual instruction + group "labs" to reinforce the concept like in science classes, might turn out to be an excellent choice for a majority of our students.   

In any case, we need to make sure that we are properly meeting the needs of students at all levels of the math spectrum.   If you have a child in an HSD middle school, please be sure to discuss their math classes with them, take a look at their homework, and make sure the class format is working for them.    If your child seems to be falling behind, or if the class does not seem to be sufficiently challenging them, be sure to raise the issue with your teacher and principal.   (And consider escalating to the superintendent and the board if you do not receive satisfactory resolution. )   As a board member, I will be sure to follow up with district officials on the progress of the CPM changes resulting from this discussion.    There are many further improvements and changes that can still be made here if needed-- but we need parents to speak up.  

2 comments:

  1. Can you give me an example of how HSD is working to modify the CPM curriculum based on parental feedback?

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  2. Hi Alason-- Here's some info from assistant superintendent Steve Larson:
    --------
    >
    >> Specifically, staff have created multiple opportunities to:
    >>
    >> 1. Re-inform the community of the changes in standards and curriculum
    >> (math nights, parent conferences, printed materials)
    >> 2. Create open lines of communication between parents, school, and
    >> district leaders (listening sessions, focus groups, planning sessions);
    >> and
    >> 3. Respond to concerns with specific supports for students and parents
    >>
    >>
    >> Strategies to address the third item have included:
    >> 1. Access to online math supports
    >> 2. Print copies of the CPM materials
    >> 3. Individualized support plans
    >> 4. Increased direct instruction throughout the lesson
    >> 5. AmeriCorp Math Tutor
    >> 6. 4 Days of after school Math Interventions; and
    >> 7. 1 on 1 math tutoring center at lunch
    >>
    >>
    >> The school principal reports that in general, parents who were concerned
    >> about the new materials are becoming more confident with their
    >> implementation. If there continues to be concerns, he has asked parents
    >> to come to him directly for immediate problem solving.
    >>

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