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U-46 poised for vote on Eureka Math expansion
By Seth Hancock
Should students be taught using a one-size-fits-all approach, or are students individuals who learn differently?
It appears that one-size-fits-all is the approach in math as the Board of Education in School District U-46 discussed a professional development proposal at its meeting on Monday, Aug. 1. The board will vote on a $35,500 one-year contract renewal with Great Minds Inc. at its upcoming meeting on Monday, Aug. 15.
The proposal, which would be paid for by the nation’s taxpayers through Title I and II funds, is to provide training to K-8 teachers regarding Eureka Math which aligns with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This will be the third year the district has used Eureka Math in K-6 classrooms, and it will be rolled up to middle school.
The professional development will be provided for some modules and not others, and board member Sue Kerr asked how the modules were chosen.
“So our middle schools are beginning their implementation. They are a few years behind our elementary schools, and these are the suggested modules to prepare teachers to begin implementation,” said Trisha Shrode, director of curriculum and instruction.
The Eureka Math curriculum for middle schools was approved last year by the board, and although board member Jeanette Ward said she voted in favor of it at the time, she now has some concerns after her personal experience with it with her children.
“To me Eureka Math looks like English as math instead of math, and it looks like teaching how to get to Geneva by way of China,” Ward said. “And my daughters find it frustrating, and I personally don’t like the curriculum.”
Ward asked: “In response to that, it was sold that part of this is for the teachers to learn how to give differentiated instruction. So might this allow teachers who… have students who don’t fall into Eureka Math very well, can it teach those teachers how to help” [them]?
Shrode said “definitely” and that differentiation is built in.
“There was some concern about teachers still struggling, let’s say with Eureka, and I would say that there’s a continuum of learning for teachers as they implement a very new resource that was different than the other resource,” Shrode said. “Think about learning anything new. It takes time.”
However, if a student is struggling with Eureka Math “are the teachers empowered to go outside of Eureka and provide differentiated instruction that way?” Ward asked.
Shrode did not say teachers could use other methods but said she attended the professional development through Great Minds previously.
“What was encouraging was that they talked about the lattice method, which was an old method in Everyday Math, and the understanding that they needed to understand what the kids were coming from in elementary with,” Shrode said.
Ward said “I did like Everyday Math by the way” and Shrode responded: “If we give Eureka Math some time, we’ll see even deeper understandings conceptually that many of our students struggle with mathematically.”
The board’s student advisor Eric Loera said he’s tutored some students and struggled with understanding Eureka Math.
“I understand that for many parents it’s difficult because they can’t help their child and it’s frustrating,” Loera said.
U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said there are resources available for parents and he “wanted to clarify that this is on the professional development for teachers, not on Eureka Math.”
Although the vote will be on professional development, Eureka Math’s implementation may be of concern considering admissions from those who created the CCSS. On it’s about page on greatminds.net, the organization boasts that it essentially has a monopoly in states that are aligned with CCSS as its Eureka Math “is the only comprehensive math curriculum aligned to the Common Core State Standards.”
While Shrode claims that giving Eureka Math time it will be shown to work, but that is an unknown according to Bill Gates whose Gates Foundation was the chief financier of CCSS. At Harvard University in 2013, Gates said: “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.”
Jason Zimba, lead mathematics writer for the CCSS, admitted the math standards have a loose definition of college readiness at a 2010 Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meeting when questioned by Dr. Sandra Stotsky who was one of five members of a validation committee that refused to sign off on the CCSS.
“The definition of college readiness, I think it’s a fair critique that it’s a minimal definition of college readiness,” said Zimba who added that it’s not for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields and “it’s also not for selective colleges.”
“It only applies to a certain kind of college and a certain lower level of mathematical expertise that won’t buy you far on the international market and most major disciplines of technology, economics, business and so on,” Stotsky said.
Shrode said that Eureka Math provides a better “conceptual understanding” of mathematics, but CCSS has come under scrutiny as not placing priority on getting the right answer which led to an embarrassing video in 2013 at nearby Grayslake D46 where that district’s curriculum director, Amanda August, said a student saying three times four equals 11 can still be marked correct.
“If they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer, really in words and oral explanation, and they showed it in the picture but they just got the final number wrong, we’re really more focused on the how,” August said.
W. Stephen Wilson, a Johns Hopkins University math professor and opposed to the CCSS, said in a 2014 New York Times article titled “Math Under Common Core Has Even Parents Stumbling” that “to make a student feel like they’re not good at math because they can’t explain something that to them seems incredibly obvious clearly isn’t good for the student.”
Also to be voted on by the U-46 board on Aug. 15 are five more proposals totaling $1.1 million in expenditures, one of which is a bid of $57,492 with National Lift Truck to purchase a boom lift which would be paid for out of the operations and maintenance fund.
A five-year contract renewal with SirsiDynix ($459,032), a one-year contract renewal with AVID Center ($75,095) and a pair of three-year contract renewals with BMC Footprints ($65,881) and Blackboard ($478,989) would all be paid for through the education fund if approved.