July 1, 2002
Dear residents of the Northshore Community:
I find myself asking the question "If it's not broken, why fix it?" about the Northshore School District's new math program. Recently, the Northshore School District has adopted "Core Plus, Contemporary Mathematics in Context." This switch has upset a large number of the higher-level, college bound junior high students who were expecting to be taking algebra this year. Before the switch to Core Plus, Northshore had a really great math program, one of the very best in Washington.
Other districts across the country have tried Core Plus, and students that then went onto college had major problems understanding basic math concepts that were supposed to be taught in algebra.
An example of the problems with Core Plus is Michigan's Bloomfield Hills School District, where Core Plus was used. Students that did very well in junior high and high school in that school district failed college placement tests and struggled in college level remedial math courses.
More recently, after seeing their students fail, Bloomfield' school board has voted to give their students a choice between Core Plus and the traditional math curriculum.
One reason the students in Core Plus did not do well later in their academic career was that, although Core Plus introduced many key concepts and ideas, hardly any practice was given, so concepts did not sink in. A chairman of a department of mathematics while discussing Core Plus was quoted to say, "It may be fashionable to teach from such a book, but it is not effective."
As well as having shown disappointing results in other districts, Core Plus is also frustrating students right here in our own district. In class, students are bored of writing essays answers for each math problem about how they devised an answer, or why their solution is the correct one.
This method covers less material in more time, so not only will students not remember the concepts very well, but also they will not have been taught some necessary ideas. I am not suggesting that Core Plus be removed completely but I do think that something different needs to be offered for those students who want to take a more traditional method.
This is not as strange as one might think, for some districts, such as Bloomfield Hills have already done this very thing. Core Plus might help those students who do not normally excel at math, but for the higher-level students, it does not do an acceptable job of teaching important algebraic concepts.
When algebra is finally taught in the third book, it is too little, too late. By this time, most students already need the algebra in chemistry or physics, and, due to the lack of practice, the concepts don't sink in.
Many people argue that Core Plus prepares students for the WASL, but again, the higher-level students already do well enough on the WASL because they understand the concepts and know the material.
Another significant problem with the Core Plus series is the numerous errors in the "real world" problems. There is one graph in Core Plus 1A, on page 104 that shows a graph of the height of a Ferris wheel versus time into the ride.
The graph depicts a Ferris wheel that makes nine five second stops. However, just before and after each of the stops, there are near vertical or vertical lines showing that the Ferris wheel crossed several meters of space in no time, suggesting infinite velocity.
One of the main purposes of this book is that it shows students how they can use math in real world applications, but the book is filled with so many errors that students become even more confused, in math as well as getting false notions about various scientific principals.
Lastly, in light of the current budget crises, if the school district needs to purchase any more materials for this new math program, it might be wise to reconsider that decision. Any purchase of more materials will inevitably require a severe funding cutback somewhere else, and other valuable programs will be lost. The districts budget is already quite lean, so why make things worse?
In conclusion, Core Plus might be an acceptable solution for students who struggle with math, but a different method needs to be offered for the students who already excel at math. Even though it might help some students with the WASL, an alternative needs to be offered for students who already succeed on the WASL. So, I pose the question, should we be using a math book that has produced disappointing results in other districts or rather should we be learning from their mistakes?
Jacob Keilman, Woodinville