District and critics at odds over ‘new math’ in Mercer Co. schools

Mercer County schools changed the district’s mathematics curriculum but not all classrooms have textbooks to support the new teaching, and not all parents support the change.

A letter was posted on the district website to explain the changes after parents and district patrons expressed “concern and frustration” for the new mathematics curriculum.

The letter explains Illinois is among 44 states that agreed to the “Common Core” standards for math and language curriculum.  The Common Core standards “are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing entry courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce,” according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website.

The curriculum is designed to push students to persevere through problems as they work to find solutions, involving less step-by-step input from teachers at earlier grade levels.

“What they’re trying to accomplish is to make our children problem solvers and critical thinkers,” said Trisha Hank, who has two kids in the Mercer County School District.

The letter from Mercer County school officials says that approach is part of the reason the district is also not using textbooks in some math classrooms.

“Much like real life where there are struggles and more than one way to solve those struggles, the new curriculum and math practices encourages students to use resources and peers to facilitate them to be successful, not just a book,” the district letter says.

“My daughter, the sixth grader likes the fact that she doesn’t have textbooks because the classes can be more individualized,” said Hank.

Not all parents agree. One mother, who did not want to be named, said her daughter is struggling without a textbook and with the new curriculum.

“They need to worry about the books. Kids need to learn, parents need help to teach them because I’ve been out of school for a long time, I don’t remember algebra,” she said.

The district letter goes on to explain that previous textbooks are not aligned with the new standards, and that the cost of those books is also an issue.

“At this time, our district does not have the finances available to purchase new textbooks,” the letter says.

The letter acknowledges the change will include challenges, saying, “We know that it is tough, but change is always hard.”

“Our teachers are not afraid of working hard and we hope you will join us and support our district and teachers as we work towards making our students the absolute best people they can become,” the letter said.

Mercer County School District Superintendent Alan Boucher said in a statement, “The teachers and staff are busy learning about the new standards and how they can effectively teach them to students.  We have made a lot of progress, and look forward to addressing the many challenges that are sure to come.  Teachers use a variety of resources when preparing lessons to support the Common Core, and those sources are often outside the realm of traditional textbooks.”

Read:  Mercer Co School District math curriculum letter 9-27-13

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