Viewpoints, Outlook

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

March 10, 2006
Math curriculum adds up

Regarding the Chronicle's March 3 article "Follow curriculum, says HISD consultant / Focus on testing won't produce college readiness, the board hears": I am compelled to challenge the statement that "nearly a third of Houston Independent School District classes don't have written academic objectives." As a 35-year mathematics educator, I can vouch for HISD's mathematics curriculum, which was written by mathematics experts from HISD and local universities, including Rice University. The curriculum is based on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills Test.

Every teacher has access to the TEKS, the public school curriculum in Texas, which HISD amplified with its curriculum document, "CLEAR." Advanced placement and international baccalaureate mathematics courses use curricular guides provided by the College Board and the International Baccalaureate Organization, respectively.

CLEAR helped bring national accolades to HISD, such as the Broad Prize for Urban Education. The National Staff Development Council recognized HISD's Algebra Initiative, aligned to CLEAR, as one of the top two professional development programs in mathematics in the United States for its impact on student achievement. School districts nationwide have purchased CLEAR.

Since HISD is accountable for its students' performance on high-stakes tests, all schools must implement CLEAR. To accomplish this, HISD must (1) simplify access to the online version of CLEAR, and (2) eliminate alternative mathematics curricula that have proliferated in HISD due to decentralization. Some of these curricula do not align with CLEAR. I applaud HISD for its decision to permit scrutiny of its curriculum. If teachers receive support and time to implement CLEAR, their students will be well-prepared for the obligatory high-stakes testing as well as for postsecondary education.

ANNE PAPAKONSTANTINOU mathematics professor, Rice University, Houston

March 16, 2006

Algebra teacher in digital age

RICE University mathematics professor Anne Papakonstantinou is right to say that "Math curriculum adds up" [see her March 11 letter].

As an algebra teacher at Westside High School last year and as a math education researcher, I can vouch that the CLEAR curriculum is good.

But I found the implementation of the lessons time-consuming because there was no online support.

It is not a "one-size-fits-all" program, given the diversity of math backgrounds of the students.

To teach CLEAR requires prerequisite knowledge, and there is no time allocated for that in the pace of the curriculum. Double-blocked time needs to be given to beginning algebra classes to give time for modeling and for using programming as a teaching aid.

Added to the time problem is the turnover of math teachers. Of the eight who taught algebra with me last year, only one is teaching algebra this year.

There will never be enough qualified, experienced algebra teachers, so a solution is to use the computer to individualize instruction.

The Houston Independent School District can be a leader in math education by moving algebra into the digital age.

The cost savings would add up, too, as preventive medicine, seeing as how many students have problems with algebraic computation.

KAREN NORTH Houston

ORIGINAL LETTER:

Rice University mathematics professor Anne Papakonstantinou is so right, “Math curriculum adds up” editorial 3-11-06. I taught algebra at Westside High School last year as part of a math research grant with Houston A+ Challenge. I found the implementation of the CLEAR curriculum time consuming because there was no online support.

 

It is not one-size fits all with the diversity of math backgrounds of students. To teach CLEAR requires pre-requisite knowledge; that time is not built into the pace of CLEAR curriculum.  Double-blocked time needs to be allocated to algebra I classes.  That gives time for modeling, such as using programming to teach algebra.

 

Add to the time problem, the change-over in math teachers.  Of the eight teachers who taught algebra at Westside High School last year, only one is teaching algebra this year.  There will never be enough qualified, experienced algebra teachers. 

 

The solution is to use the computer, which can individualize instruction.  HISD can be a leader into math education by moving algebra into the digital age. The cost saving would add-up as preventative medicine, given the large number of students who have problems with algebraic computation.

 

I am a state certified Master Technology Teacher and Computer Science teacher with a Masters in Math Education. I have been researching math education for the last 20 years.

 

March 19, 2006, 8:50PM

The language of mathematics

REGARDING the March 11 letter from Anne Papakonstantinou, "Math curriculum adds up": I want to remind teachers and students that algebra is a language. Its operational signs are the verbs, parentheses and equal signs are conjunctions and everything else is nouns. Once a student grasps these language rules and how they are applied, they can do well in algebra.

Students who attempt to memorize all algebra combinations the way they memorized multiplication tables in the lower grades will find algebra very difficult. Teaching algebra as a language improves algebra skills.

WILLIAM H. (BILL) OSBORNE Houston