My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Even More News About Math in Amherst

I'm posting three quick pieces - one article (Gazette) and two opeds (Bulletin) - involving math in our district. 

The Gazette piece ( describes the search for more parents to be added to the Math Review Panel.  I appreciate the administration's decision to expand this group (as I requested at the December meeting).  Given the interest many of my blog readers (and indeed many parents in Amherst) have on this topic, I very much hope that many applications will be received.  Interested parents can apply directly to Superintendent Geryk at 

I'm also posting two opinion pieces on math.  The first of these is by Curriculum Director Beth Graham (, who proposes that any changes to the math program (including following the recommendations of Dr. Chen) be made following a process of review and evaluation.  The second of these is by parent Debbie Gabor (, who encourages more urgent action on behalf of the administration. 


Michael Jacques said...

The discussion about math is a great one. But like many parents I feel the time for discussion was 3 or more years ago. Let me be clear this is not a situation created by Beth Graham or Maria Geryk. It is however their charge to move forward to fix what I believe is broken. I do agree with Dr. Chen’s assessment and recommendations of math not only in the district but nationwide. Also I do empathize with Beth’s position being new to the district. Most importantly I think that there is a solution suggested by Abbie Jensen that will satisfy both the administration and certainly the concerned / justifiably impatient parents of the district.

We need to form a committee (please don’t freak out I know we have far too many of these). This committees charge will be to make a decision and for the district to implement it quickly. Not a suggestion but a decision. The committee would be made up of something like the three elementary school principles and 2 to 4 of the better math teachers from each of the elementary schools.

This group would take 4 or 5 leading curriculums (certainly Singapore math should be one of them) and evaluate them based on the Core Curriculum standards and select a new curriculum for the district to adopt starting in Fall of 2011. We can then set up a 5 year plan where we start a re-evaluation of the curriculum in year 4 and make changes as necessary based on our experience and any modification to the Core Curriculum standards at the end of year 5. Abbie as I have invoked your name please correct any errors I may have made in your original suggestion. (or gently scold me for using your name)

Anonymous said...

We have a school committee who is charged with this math change. They've done all they can to get this change accomplished, and have run into a brick wall called the Amherst school administration. We don't need another committee.

Curious observer said...

It's hard to understand why the recommendations of a national math expert are now being kicked to a large committee of university professors, one or two school teachers and assorted others. These recommendations were clear and to the point. Is the K-16 committee now to evaluate the recommendations of the expert? What if they don't agree with him -- or each other? Another committee to evaluate that committee? Another expert?

Does the curriculum director have any opinion on the effectiveness of the different math curriculum? On the expert's report? Does the Acting Superintendent? Do the math and elementary teachers have any views? (Has anyone asked them?)

How many years of this process for the sake of process will it take for someone to act and make a decision? Isn't this the role of a curriculum director -- to make a decision on the curriculum? Or just to fail some more?

Anonymous said...

I keep listening to all the attacks on the Curriculum Director, Beth Graham both from SOME members of the school committee and others that say that she is discounting Dr. Chen's report, not paying attention to his report, not doing anything, ignoring the report's recommendations, planning on staying with Investigations for the foreseeable future, not listening to parents, not listening to the School committee, and on and on and on. And each and every time I hear these complaints I ask myself, what has she said that indicates any of these things? I cannot think of one thing she has said that indicates she is doing anything but working on putting the best math curriculum possible in place for all grades, K-12. For those of you who want her to act hastily, may I remind you that is what got us here in the first place.
Under Policy IL, the review process is supposed to take three years. Beth Graham has been working on the math review for about 6 months. Lets give her the time it takes to do the review properly and then wait to hear her plans for moving forward before attacking her.
Finally, I am not a teacher, administrator or any way connected to the ARPS. I am just a concerned the rest of you. And I want this review to be done right. I don't want the district to be sitting in the same place we are now 3 or 4 years from now because we made a hasty decision.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 3:30 - thanks for your thoughtful comment. It really pointed out to me that some things probably aren't very clear so I'm glad to have this opportunity to explain. In the fall of 2009, the Amherst and Regional School Committee unanimously agreed that we needed a review of K to 12 math, and then superintendent Rodriguez was going to produce that report (with the help of a consultant, since the curriculum director hadn't been hired) by the spring/summer of 2010. There wasn't going to be a long review or process (Policy IL didn't exist) and he felt it was totally do-able (in fact, he was also going to do the same for K to 12 science). Then Rodriguez left (March 2010), and we asked Ms. Geryk if she would be able to complete that work (remember, one of the big pluses mentioned for appointing her as interim was that she already knew the system and we wouldn't lose time). She said absolutely, and that she would have a report within a few months (that was on TV and is minuted). Then she said it took a little longer than she thought, so it would be the fall, and we said OK, although that wasn't ideal because changes couldn't happen for the fall of 2010, but OK.

No one during any of that time said "and then once we get the report, we will start the annual review cycle and it will take 6 months to study the report."

Then, we got the report on November 9th (the administration had it earlier), and immediately after that report was given, the SC and community learned that the report was NOT, as had been promised, the starting point for making changes, but apparently the starting point for discussing making changes (e.g., the report is being given to the math curriculum review committee for further review). I believe that was quite surprising to many people, and I believe it has been especially surprising since the state of math in the district at the elementary level has been of concern for many years (and we have MCAS scores below the state average).

I believe it will be a real shame if we can't make changes for next year, since kids don't get these years back, and gaps in math skills/knowledge can have major consequences for future work in this area.

Anonymous said...

Catherine: You say, "There wasn't going to be a long review or process (Policy IL didn't exist)

But now Policy IL does exist, and the SC has made it quite clear they expect the math review to be done according to Policy IL. I want us to get it right this time. Let me pass on this idea - my suggestion is that we pick three different ES math curricula and pilot them for one year, one in each elementary school. Then, we choose which seems to be the most effective. I also like Dr. Chen's suggestion that math be taught by teachers who are strongest in the subject. In general there are many good suggestions in his report. I don't think we have enough information, however, to just take his word for it that Singapore Math is the curriculum we should use. Let's be sure first and not just make a leap of faith.

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 5:23 am - two quick thoughts.

First, Policy IL requires studying something and then implementing recommended changes. So, it is certainly possible to take the recommendations of Dr. Chen (an internationally respected expert) and implement those - that was a good portion of the studying! So, if the superintendent chose to implement all of his recommendations immediately, that would be entirely in line with Policy IL. Now, that may or may not be a good idea -- but just to clarify that this would not be in opposition to the policy.

Second, piloting three would be expensive ... it would mean choosing the three best (that is also a process) and then training all teachers in each of the schools to implement them well, and then following that up for a year. Most importantly, it would mean both teachers and students (2/3rds of them) would experience two different changes in math curriculum in 3 years!

Now, we could do a modified version of your proposal, which I would fully support - getting together a group of teachers, having them review books from Investigations, Singapore Math, and a few others (Everyday Math and ThinkMath! are two others commonly used in Massachusetts). Then, the teachers could select the book they felt would best work. That is the process we use to choose textbooks in Amherst (e.g., how Impact was chosen for 6th through 8th), and that is a MUCH shorter process that does not involve piloting.

Anonymous said...

Catherine, I asked this question elsewhere and I don't remember seeing your response ... what math curriculum is used at ARMS and ARHS? And is there satisfaction with that curriculum?

Catherine A. Sanderson said...

Anonymous 11:16 - sorry for not answering sooner! ARMS uses a curriculum called IMPACT (this is used 6th through 8th) and I believe there is general satisfaction. This is a new curriculum - adopted in 2008 in 7th and 8th and 2009 added in 6th. This was an adoption that came after the math curriculum council (I was a member at the time) pushed for adding a textbook to MS math (there wasn't a textbook prior to that time), and Jere Hochman accepted the recommendation of the textbook committee to go with this one (three were considered).

The HS has two different math tracks - IMP and a traditional track. Based on the parent surveys, there is considerable satisfaction with HS math.

Elementary math seems to be the weak link (now that extensions are required of all 7th graders - prior to that point, 7th grade was also seen as a problem by many in the district).

Anonymous said...

I have been involved with several meetings on math this past year and confess to being somewhat confused by much of the process. Part of it, I think, is how the timing of different personnel decisions and reports worked out in what we can all agree was an odd year for the district.

But we are where we are and there are children to raise and teach.

I agree with Mike Jacques' suggestion to gather together our in-house talant (i.e. teachers and principals) to look at different elementary school math curriculum and make a recommendation. A textbook committee has been used before in Amherst and is the normal process I'm told.

I'd add middle school and high school math teachers to the textbook commitee since they know the math kids need when they enter their schools.

Let's use the talant we have here. Have this textbook committee look to the experience of other schools, the results of objective analysis and Dr. Chen's findings and ideas. This textbook committee can also look at the Common Core standards to make sure these requirements are met.

A 3 to 5 year wait to make such a critical decision? Why so long? Picking the best, strongest elementary math curriculum soon will help the elementary kids sitting in class right now. And the choice will surely prove out when the state adjusts it's frameworks in the years to come.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Equally important to choosing a textbook is creating a program in which elem level teachers get more in-depth content training for teaching math. This most definitely has to come from the admin. Where is the plan for providing elem teachers with the content knowledge they need to improve math teaching at the elem level? Who would be responsible for initiating this: elem principals? Beth Graham? Maria Geryk? the new supt?

Anonymous said...

I forgot to say that an elementary ELL teacher and SPED teacher could also go on the textbook committee to make sure the math curriculum also speaks to the needs of these students.

Janet McGowan

Anonymous said...

Investigations mathematics is a curriculum that has a track record of considerable success at schools that have adopted it AND secured all of the manipulatives that are an essential part of the lessons. In addition, the most successful adoptions of investigations mathematics have been where teachers have had access to professional development designed to deepen their math content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge, and where teams of teachers use student formative and summative assessment data to drive instructional decision making. In 2009-2010, acting superintendent Maria Geryk cut all professional development monies. If this money has not been restored, it is no suprise that students are not performing well. Check out the current research in mathematics education: professional development that deepens teacher content knowledge is clearly linked to high student achievement; lack of teacher content knowledge is clearly linked to instructional decisions that may undermine implementation of curriculum. Any committee that forms to reconsider the math curriculum needs to ensure that professional development monies will be applied to enable teachers to correctly implement the curriculum. From an outsider's perspective -- with advanced degrees in education and a track record in school leadership -- the key to student achievement in Amherst is supporting and developing teachers!

Ed said...

Where is the plan for providing elem teachers with the content knowledge they need to improve math teaching at the elem level?

Look -- the simple fact is that almost 3/4 of the elementary teaching candidates flunked the math test themselves!!! Unless Amhest is somehow special and didn't hire teachers in the prior years before this new test (wait, they did....) then we can conclude that three out of four elementary teachers lack a basic high-school level of math.

That is like saying a police officer is so obese that he/she/it can't do his job -- it isn't our responsibility to teach the teachers what they ought to have learned before they were hired.

We need to say, and this is going to sound harsh but is important, "no agreement on all teachers having to pass a math competency exam, no pay raise ever until you agree to this."

Would we tolerate a 700 lb police officer? Would we pay him overtime to loose weight? And why should we pay the teachers to learn what they ought to have learned in college????