When Monroe middle school students start class in the fall, they won’t be starting with a new math curriculum, despite a months-long effort to choose one.
A school district recommendation in favor of a math curriculum called Big Ideas led to outcry from a number of teachers who favored another curriculum called Core Focus on Math. After several heavily-attended school board meetings at which the school board, district staff, teachers and parents weighed in, it has been decided to postpone the selection of a curriculum until a second decision-making process is completed.
The Monroe School District is shifting toward a new multi-state teaching standard called Common Core. In order to do that, they are changing some of the texts and materials used to teach classes and subjects. Among those subjects is middle school math.
The district appointed a committee that, for about a year, explored several options and narrowed them down to two; Core Focus on Math and Big Ideas Math.
They then voted unanimously in favor of Big Ideas Math, citing robust internet support offered by the company, but acknowledging that Core Focus seemed to be better written.
A second group of middle school math teachers was then invited to weigh in, and they saw the final presentations of each curriculum by the companies’ respective representatives.
Those math teachers then voted, and they were evenly divided, 3-3, until one teacher changed his vote to Core Focus and made the outcome 4-2 for Core Focus.
The district, however, still decided to recommend that the school board go with Big Ideas.
That decision was met with passionate opposition by some of the middle school math teachers, and one, Annette Woolley, addressed the Monroe School Board, criticizing the process and asking that the board opt for Core Focus.
In her comments, she said that assistant superintendent Fran Mester had been abrupt and dismissive of the teachers at that meeting.
“The teachers involved in this process where disappointed and frustrated and thought it was a waste of their time,” she said.
Teachers’ Union leader Shaerie Bruton later described the district decision as “a straw that broke the camel’s back,” saying that it was one of several issues that had brought teacher morale to a critical low amid accusations against the school district of bullying of teachers.
In subsequent school board meetings, teachers continued to speak before the board, mostly advocating for Core Focus, although at least one parent simply asked that the school board do something, rather than leave the kids and teachers without a new curriculum next year.
School administrators continued to support Big Ideas, however, largely because of the greater amount of online support offered with that curriculum.
“It’s a more robust system,” said Fran Mester. “On the of the current staff members said that Core Focus would be a step back from what we have.”
“The committee felt that Core Focus was slightly better written, but lacked online support equal to our current curriculum, which Big Ideas greatly exceeds,” said superintendent Ken Hoover. “Core Focus said such support would be developed eventually, but there is no way to know at this point if what is developed will meet our needs.”
Also, Big Ideas costs more initially, but workbooks are provided at no additional cost, where as Core Focus doesn’t include those materials.
Hoover also said that the school district faced a “lose/lose” situation, as selection of either curriculum would be seen as disrespectful to one group of teachers or another.
“Either way we are supporting teachers,” said Hoover. “Whether we support the ones who spent a year doing it, or teachers who weren’t part of the process who would like a different decision, either way we are supporting teachers.”
School board members were torn, and debated the merits of a process that seemed to have not been clarified sufficiently regarding who had the power to make a final decision.
Finally, the board voted not to adopt Big Ideas, but to let the process continue another year.
The superintendent took a moment to praise the teachers who raised the issue for their passion and commitment, even though his stated wish that the board select Big Ideas hadn’t been met.
“Annette, I know you disagree with some of things I have said, and I’d love to talk to you about it,” he said. “You are the kind of teacher we want here.”