Just back from the Common Core meeting at Main Street School tonight.

One factoid that leapt out at me: the price of a new K-5 math textbook series, RK reported, is roughly $100K. That is the reason, she said, or a reason, we do not have math textbooks. Normally, at this point in the cycle,* we would be vetting published textbooks, piloting them in the classroom, and choosing the one that works best, but not now, not with Common Core.

Today we’re using the free “math modules” being posted on engageny, downloading each module as it’s posted. The math modules are new, so new they are being written as we speak. They have never been taught by a teacher, or field-tested with a child. But they are free, and they carry the Common Core brand, so we are using them.

The ancient tradition of textbook adoption and 10-year textbook adoption cycles is gone with the wind.

Meanwhile we have over $2 million dollars sitting in the fund balance, as the district’s auditor confirmed three board meetings ago. The sum in the IUFSD fund balance, he said, is the “maximum allowable under the law.”

(He also mentioned that the law did not require an audit of our federal funds because we received less than $500K from the federal government.)

So. $2.16 million in the fund balance and we’re downloading never-before-taught math modules from the internet because they’re aligned with Common Core and they’re free.

Meanwhile Singapore and Saxon Math have been around for years, have been extensively field-tested, and have at least some reasonably sound data to show their effectiveness. And the Singapore series (Primary Mathematics) is universally endorsed by real mathematicians, as opposed to “math educators” (the term of art in ed-school precincts). Singapore Math may be the best math curriculum available in the English language.

For $100K Irvington children could learn math from the best math curriculum in the English language, or, for $0 Irvington children can learn math from engageny math modules the district downloads from the web.

We chose Door Number 2.


Here’s a question.

If we did not have a Curriculum Director, would we have math textbooks?

Would classroom teachers, acting on their own, choose to teach math without a textbook?

I don’t believe they would. Teaching math from packets is as hard as learning math from packets, or can be. I know because I teach grammar and writing from packets. My students need a good textbook, and so do I.

But education schools dislike textbooks, which they see as old-fashioned, sage-on-the-stage affairs, and curriculum directors are trained by education schools.

Untested math modules on the internet are “21st century” (a compliment in the education world), just like the position of “Curriculum Director itself,” which, like the math modules, did not exist at all in days gone by.


BUT!

We’ve still got timed worksheets, which is more than most districts can say. And we’re going to continue to have timed worksheets: RK mentioned “fluency” several times. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the concept of fluency incorporated into other subjects: a very good idea. We desperately need to give kids fluency in reading and writing (something I’m working on myself in my own teaching).

Things could be worse. (See, e.g.: Dobbs Ferry)


UPDATE: “Fluency” = “automaticity.” Both words describe actions — and “thoughts” — you can perform rapidly, accurately, and largely or entirely outside of conscious awareness.

People who are fluent in a skill or area of content are fluent. This is why the requirement that children “explain” how they reached their answer in math is so wrong. Very often, a student who is really good at math just “gets it” without having to resort to effort-filled, conscious  reasoning. When you force that student to “explain his reasoning,” you force him or her to “translate” his correct answer into words; you force him or her to function in the way a less talented student does.

Contra RK’s assertion last night, in the real world, NOT having to “think” is the goal. We need to acquire sufficient knowledge, and sufficient “automaticity” in our knowledge, that we look at a problem and know.

We should save thinking, which is tremendously effortful and rapidly drains mental resources, for advanced questions, and strive for fluency in everything else.

Fluency is reached through knowledge stored in long-term memory.

* UPDATE 10/26/2013: A friend reminds me that we do not have a 10-year textbook adoption cycle, as mentioned during the presentation. We have a 3-year curriculum cycle (or curriculum-review cycle). The 3-year cycle, as I recall, does not require that we change textbooks; we revisit textbook choices and review.

AND SEE:
Fund balance could pay for $385K administrative offices