Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Trailblazers Must Go

NECAP testing recently exposed serious deficiencies in both Croydon's and Newport's mathematics programs. I'm pleased to report that the Croydon School Board has been looking into the source of these problems. While none can definitively cite a single cause, I believe the evidence overwhelmingly supports a case for replacing the "Trailblazer's" mathematics program used in both districts.

To address these concerns, the administration arranged a "Math Night" hosted by Newport's K-12 mathematics coach Christine Downing. As the night was poorly attended, Christine was kind enough to discuss the mathematics program further at the Croydon School Board meeting.

To their credit, all administrators promptly acknowledged the problem and accepted the need to take corrective action. The alternative explanations offered for the poor math skills may have merit, but they do not exonerate the Trailblazer's program. Consider the following points:

- Trailblazer's is almost universally panned as an inferior program

- Both Croydon and Newport exhibit comparably poor mathematics performance. Two different schools and sets of teachers have one thing in common: Trailblazer's.

- NECAP results for language skills are markedly higher than for mathematics. This makes it difficult to attribute the math problems to social causes or a lack of teaching skills.

- Several parents, including my colleagues, have indicated that the structure of the Trailblazer's program makes it difficult for parents to help with homework. A common orthodoxy of the education establishment is that parental involvement is vital to a successful education. I share this belief and consider this shortcoming a show-stopper.

- The sample questions from the NECAP tests are embarrassingly simple. My exhausted, up-past-10pm five year old daughter answered roughly 50% of the questions correctly.

- Trailblazer's has been used in Croydon and Newport for several years; test scores show no significant change.

The most damning evidence against Trailblazer's comes from their own website. As a board member, I was provided access to some of the informational material available on the Trailblazer's website. What I saw was convoluted, needlessly complicated, lazy mathematics. Its no wonder those of us educated in classical mathematics struggle through Trailblazer's nonsensical pedagogy.

It would be nice if we could afford experiments to determine whether Trailblazer's is a blessing or a curse. Few of us are willing to sacrifice more students to the Altar of Mediocrity. We cannot wait for iron-clad proof; we must act on the preponderance of evidence and dump this dubious educational fad.

Jim Peschke

For a comparison of several math programs click here.

1 comment:

Gayle Hedrington said...

Bill and I along with Dillon attended several Math Nights at Towle School. I had never read anything about Trailblazers, and surely had an opened mind.

Dillon is exceptional in math and the way the program was presented, I could see that it was teaching down to students who were average or above.

The division part of the program is semi guess work. For example if you have a problem of 300 divided by 5. First the student looks at the problem and then determines if 5 can go into three, by multiplying 5 X3 on the side of the problem.

Nothing is entered on the division problem itself.

The math program bored Dillon and I complained to both of the Principles at Towle, and to Mr. Mealy at the time.

Going further into the teaching program they introduced a reading program with the thoughts of it helping students with their math.

The thought being that if kids can't read the problem, they don't understand it. This makes sense until you look at the reading scores and the reading scores for high school students was substantially higher than the math scores.

Reading is good, but it is not going to solve the math problem.

As you get into the high school there are further problems with math.

One being the block program. For example a student can have Algebra One in ninth grade, and because of the the block program it goes only a half year.

So when then they take Algebra Two, it is often in the second half of the second year.. with an entire year between the courses.

Changing both the curriculum and the block schedule are two inexpensive ways to give our children better math skills..

It isn't always money, most of the time it is common sense.