Saturday, October 2, 2010

Singapore and Superman

An article in the New York Times indicates that a number of school districts across the U.S. are adopting a new math curriculum hoping that the latest fad will improve math scores. I don't (completely) mean to dismiss this sort of change by calling it a `fad.' I'm willing to support anything that works. But I worry that school districts make policies by picking and choosing to implement the easy parts of a curriculum and don't make the hard decisions.

A publishing company ( sells books to 1500 schools across the U.S. This article in the New York Times focuses on one distinguishing aspect of the curriculum, that the students start by spending a full week of math lessons just on the numbers 1 and 2. They also mention some other features of the program which uses visual means to represent concepts (e.g. bar graphs and visual aids such as blocks and cards) and problem solving to help students learn in different ways. One great feature of this curriculum is that it seems to be roughly acceptable to both sides of the math wars.

An alarming quote from the article though:
``Mr. Thomas said that about a dozen schools had started and dropped Singapore math, in some cases because teachers themselves lacked a strong math background and adequate training in the program.''

The big buzz in the news these last couple of weeks is a documentary film that appeared at the TIFF this year ``Waiting for Superman.'' I'm anxious to see it but I have heard it is fairly dark and depressing. The movie makes a case that many schools in the U.S. school system are broken and one answer to fixing them is charter schools. One main complaint about the movie that I've heard repeated in several settings is that it seems to imply that charter schools are the magic bullet to American education problems even though they mention that only a portion of charter schools are more successful than their public school counterparts.