www.tristateconsortium.org
The Tri-State Consortium, a group of public school administrators and teachers from nominally high-performing districts, will soon be returning to Irvington, this time to evaluate our World Languages program.

Tri-State reports are constructivist* in nature: they focus on “21st century skills” and the like as opposed to knowledge.

Constructivists value “skills” (21st century skills, critical thinking skills, critical inquiry skills, noncognitive skills, etc.), which they believe can be taught separately from knowledge. (Another constructivist claim: whatever knowledge one may need in order to execute a skill can be looked up on Google.)

“Instructivists” value knowledge (which includes skills).

That is the conflict.

You can see Tri-State’s “skills” focus in the text below, which is drawn from its 2007 evaluation of the district’s math program. A translation follows the text.

From the report:

1. How effectively does the K-12 Mathematics program prepare students for higher level thinking skills required in the 21st century?

The structure of the Trailblazers program includes a comprehensive mathematics curriculum that contains embedded quantifiable evidence of critical thinking skills, an important part of preparing students for their futures. The program consists of an approach to mathematics that develops resourceful and competent problem-solvers who can use a variety of tools, from manipulatives through to calculators, graphs and data tables. Students, K-5, will transition into sixth grade with a common vocabulary, a consistency of performance-based assessments, and computational fluency.

The Tri-State team’s concern relates to the challenge to maintain the critical thinking skills that students have acquired in the K-5 program as they move into the district’s more traditional math environment. With a clearly articulated balance of integrated critical thinking skills and traditional math, the student results will be a deeper and more enduring understanding of mathematical procedures and concepts.

Currently, there is a wide range of 21st century skills defined as vital for students’ future success; critical thinking is just one of them. The Tri-State team suggests that the district identify, analyze, and select those skills that are relevant and developmentally appropriate to the K-12 program. A coherent plan that identifies specific thinking skills that are assigned by grade level and course, scaffolded to ensure consistency, and agreed upon by administrators and teachers, will establish the framework essential for sustainability.

Tri-State Consortium Irvington Visit Report
November 7-9, 2007

Obviously, these three paragraphs contain a great deal of jargon and obfuscation. In fact, the reason I read the report in the winter of 2008 was that a friend who had tried to read it and failed asked me to read it for him. Reading is all about background knowledge, and to read a Tri-State Consortium report you have to know the Tri-State Consortium world and words.

1.

The first paragraph lavishes praise on Trailblazers. From the sound of it, Trailblazers would be a perfect choice for implementing Common Core standards (as our district interprets the standards).

Note that the report echoes Trailblazers marketing materials, which claimed students would achieve “computational fluency” without drill. Constructivism opposes memorization and drill.

2.

The second paragraph expresses “concern” over the “challenge” of K-5 students being able to “maintain the critical thinking skills” they possess when they enter “the more traditional math environment” of grades 6-12.

Translation: With the adoption of a constructivist math curriculum only in the early grades, K-5 is now on a collision course with 6-12.

The report is clear as to which math curriculum is superior: Trailblazers.

In Tri-State’s mind, the question is: How will Irvington students be able to “think mathematically” in middle school and high school if they use traditional math textbooks and are taught in traditional ways?

3.

The third paragraph recommends that the district create a 21st century skills-style math program for all grades, K through 12.

The final reference to “sustainability” is an allusion to the sustainability of Trailblazers. If grades 6-12 are not brought into alignment with Trailblazers, the report warns, Trailblazers may not survive.



..
In the end, the Consortium was right about the sustainability of Trailblazers, wrong about the notion that children could acquire “computational fluency” without practice.

Eventually the middle school teachers, possibly encouraged by the then-curriculum director (I don’t know),** protested 6th graders’ lack of preparation, and timed worksheets were introduced in grades K-5. Since one of Trailblazer’s main selling points was its promise that children would learn the math facts without timed worksheets, the worksheets amounted to a repudiation of the curriculum.

Two years later, Math Trailblazers was unceremoniously dumped in favor of a math curriculum that had yet to be written.


* Also see: constructivism, excerpted from An Electronic Textbook on Instructional Technology by Irene Chen
**During a board meeting I attended, the then-curriculum director praised the middle school math teachers for their courage in coming forward. Of course, by that point parents had been coming forward for years, but there was no public acknowledgment that parents had been right.

AND SEE:
Trailblazers “Math Night” in 2007
The Banality of Deeper Learning by Tom Loveless May 29, 2013
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