Speech to the Okemos Board of Eduation 6/29/98

Good Evening, members of the school board of education:

I am Betty Tsang. I have two children in the Okemos public school. I come here tonight to pose a few questions which I hope you will answer before casting your votes for the recommended middle school math program.

When a group of parents came to the board last December, the Connected Math Project (CMP) was beginning its second year in Kinawa. Throughout the first year and into last Fall, many parents had talked to the teachers and school administrations about problems with this new program. We got a lot of cheerleading statements about how good the program would be. To the teachers’ credit, they initiated the “test-out” procedure last school year, an admission that CMP is a dumbed down curriculum compared to the old program. Even after teachers picked up speed in their teaching, still there were many students who did not learn well under CMP.

We are thankful to the board’s request in January to examine the middle school math program. As a result, parents now have much more information about the overall math program, both in middle schools and in the high school. There are also options for eighth graders to take high school math and options for the very high ability kids to skip grades in math. In addition, the option of waiving represents a big step forward to involve parents in their children’s math education.

For the first time, we are provided with math objectives for each grade. I suddenly realized how much math my daughter missed in her seventh grade. Topics that she missed included simple subjects such as how to calculate the area of trapezoid or volume of a cylinder. Yes, I know some of you would say these are history, we should not look backward but move forward. However this simple story illustrates the lack of “accountability” in the current system.

When only half of the curriculum was taught two years ago, parents were never told what topics were missing so that we could have taught our children the missing math last summer. We have as yet received any apology from those responsible for recommending CMP. As far as we can tell, the same people who short-changed our children’s math education two years ago are the same people who recommend and will implement the current proposal. As long as there is no consequence in experimenting with our children’s education, why should parents have faith that this new experiment will work?

When I heard the presentation in the last meeting about the new proposal, I imagined that if I could just substitute the words “blended approach” with the word “CMP”. It would have been the same presentation two years ago, when the CMP program was presented to you and adopted by the board. At that time, I hope every school board member was sure that the program would serve our students well, and “that no student would fall between the crack”. In the last six months, you have heard from parents after parents whose children, some of them good math students, were turned off by the CMP program. By not providing choice this time, are you repeating the same mistake in adopting only one math program which is experimental?

The current proposal recommends two types of textbooks, the CMP and the updated traditional textbooks to be used in each grade. The traditional books meet all the math objectives including the goals of teaching students “problem solving and reasoning skills”. Moreover, they have been used successfully in the past. Thus the district would save money by not buying extra CMP books for students who do not learn well using the CMP units. My question is “why not a class without the CMP units?”

In four separate board meetings, at least 15 different parents spoke for choice. Only 3 parents spoke for CMP. Even those parents who supported CMP did not object to having Choice in middle schools. The current proposal offer options for the upper 3% of the high ability students but ignore a large segment of the students whose parents believe they would benefit in a class without the CMP books. To ensure that indeed no student fall through the crack, I’d like to ask the school board “Why not choice?”

I appreciate the teachers’ effort in producing the current recommendation. To me it is rather curious that while math debate has gone national, there seems to be only cheerleading statements coming from teachers regarding CMP. In the past year, I see a couple of scrape-goat actions resulting in teachers that have taught math for a long time no longer teaching math next year. This leads me to question if the present proposal is really the result of meeting of the “minds” or a political compromise giving teachers a convenient choice and both middle schools a legitimate cover to maintain the status quo. After we talked to many teachers, we are more convinced that Chippewa will continue with the current approach of using predominantly the traditional math textbooks while Kinawa teachers will continue their stand that CMP is the best thing after sliced bread and the traditional textbooks are brought in to satisfy the parents. One board member pointed out that the problems seem to have come mainly from Kinawa. What steps will the board take to ensure that students in Kinawa will not be short-changed again in their math education?

Finally, what sort of feed-back system does the school have to tell all of us if the new program actually works? What happens if it does not work? Do parents wait for a year before complaining to the board and two years before another experimental approach is proposed? What about parents’ involvement in currculum development? Even though the meetings that produced the proposed recommendations were initiated by the board in response to parents’ concerns about the CMP program, no parent representative was allowed to attend any of those meetings. Without our input, it is not surprising that the final proposal did not answer all our concerns. As a parent, I am getting tired of being told repeatedly that “parents are the secret of success in Okemos” or that “Okemos parents are among the highest educated in the state”. Instead of limiting our roles to baking cookies or stapling newsletters, how about put some of these highly educated parents to work by including them in curriculum improvement committees and getting expert helps from parents in devicing effective evaluation for the new math program?