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Viewpoint: Math and your kids

If you have questions about your children’s math education you won’t want to miss a forum sponsored by Evanston-Skokie District 65 and the D65 PTA Council, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, at Chute Middle School.

Arguments have never been clearer for why we must pay attention to K-5 math, as a country and a local community.

America is behind the rest of the world in math.  This month a new study reported that Americans (16-65) “are decidedly weaker in numeracy and problem-solving skills” and ranked 18th out of 21 countries.

Employers need workers with higher level skills, including math and problem-solving. Those with weak math skills will be less able to compete for an ever-broadening set of jobs with higher skill requirements.

The STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) pipeline starts at the earliest ages.  It is simply too late to start focusing on math and science in middle school.

New research shows that learning math at the youngest ages rivals early literacy in terms of long-term academic gains.  Researchers at UC-Irvine have found that even after accounting for differences in IQ and family income, those who learned the most math in kindergarten tended to have the highest math and reading scores years later.  So while early reading has little impact on later math skills, early math seems to boost thinking across the board, including reading skills.

The education technology industry is proving that young people have the ability to do complex math.  In his Huffington Post article ‘Preschool Math: Education’s Secret Weapon’, Matthew Peterson talks about the “sizable capacity for mathematical problem solving [that] starts way before elementary school.”

We are parents of children in D65 who are asking to do more challenging math in school. 
We don’t believe we are alone and think there may be other families out there who are scratching their heads with the same questions we have about D65 K-5 math. 

We hope the District will: 

  • Embrace kids’ interest in math and their ability to learn math earlier, deeper, and faster. 
  • Be more creative about how to teach math to children of varying abilities. Start employing the best educational technology tools for personalized and adaptive (more challenging as you go) learning.
  • Talk to its consumers – the kids.   They have opinions about math that should be heard and considered.
  • Ensure that differentiation is being consistently and systematically applied throughout the District.

Some observations worth considering:

  • K-5 classes rarely have the same spelling words.  Usually there are at least 3 groups per class so all students are challenged appropriately. But grouping by skill level is not routinely happening in math classes.
  • Acknowledging that it doesn’t make sense to ask a child to read See Spot Run if they can read Stuart Little, the percentage of students around the country placed into ability groups for reading instruction skyrocketed from 28% to 71% between 1998 and 2009. Yet K-5 math classes in D65 schools are largely taught assuming everyone is at the same level using one-size fits all materials.
  • Children are asked to read 20 minutes per day at home.  If a child finishes the Everyday Math homework in 3 minutes they are not getting 20 minutes of math practice at home (unless it is parent-driven). 
  • Deploying more resources for K-3 math may be one of the best and proven investments the District could make to close the achievement gap. Learning math can be fun and game-based at the earliest ages and does not need to be ‘skill and drill.’
  • Treat all children as “gifted” learners and raise expectations.  Project Bright Idea was a five-year study of 10,000 kindergarteners and first- and second-graders in North Carolina that demonstrated raising expectations was a key to enhancing the academic performance of at-risk students.

This is a school district with extraordinary administrative and teaching talent. This District should be sizzling with innovative and inventive experimentation.

What do we need to embrace a new philosophy for teaching math (and STEM) to more appropriately challenge all kids and foster a love of math? 

We would like to know and be part of the conversation.

Jennifer Phillips and Edmund Miller
Sharon Smaller
Ilie and Miha Ugarcovici
Brenda and David Berkowitz
Tina Li and Dan Caldwell
Alexa Bezjian-Avery

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