The Fayette Citizen-Opinion Page
Wednesday, August 19, 1998
Teachers caught in a 'catch-22' over Chicago math debates

Letters from Our Readers

Are our teachers situated somewhere between a rock and a hard place? Are they being positioned to take the heat for the Chicago math problem?

I keep hearing the question posed, "Is this a teacher problem or a program problem?" It all depends upon how you look at it.

One way that teachers are caught in the middle of a giant catch-22 is in the teaching/learning style referred to as the constructivist approach which the Chicago series espouses.

This is a philosophy which states that knowledge that is created by the student is more meaningful and will be retained longer.

This is contrary to more traditional teaching/learning philosophies which rely upon material being presented to students and then providing the students an opportunity to practice the information in class and at home.

If a teacher were to comply with the Chicago series at the middle and high school level, children would be given an assignment in their textbook to read at home, they would attempt to do the problems at the end of the lesson, then return to school the next day and ask questions about problems that they did not understand.

These teachers' students would in many cases become the students who are struggling in math in Fayette County. Many of these students' parents would be the parents who are unsatisfied with this program.

In essence, if the teacher adhered to the program, the result may well be failure for the students. Conversely, if a teacher refused to comply with the mandates of the Chicago program, and taught the children using a more traditional method, he or she may be accused of undermining the adopted math program.

Here is another example. Until recently, after parents began to come forward with their concerns publicly, teachers were encouraged and perhaps even compelled to rigidly follow the Chicago method for mathematics instruction in Fayette County.

Only recently has supplementation to the series become the buzz word for bandaging a controversial program at the urging of parents who are concerned about what their children may be missing in the Chicago program.

Because the Chicago series claims that basic skills are embedded in the program and do not need to be overtly practiced, it would be up to the teachers to provide supplementation for math facts and computational skills if they saw fit.

Yet I am told that teachers who spent considerable time on computation and math facts as a supplement to the Chicago series were also chastised for undermining the adopted program.

Furthermore, it is well known that teachers are limited in the numbers of copies that they may make, and if they are really serious about supplementing for computation and math facts, it might well have to be done at their own expense.

Teachers are in many cases given photocopy quotas, and have to divide those quotas up among each of the subjects taught. Most teachers already spend a great deal out of pocket for materials that add to their classroom supplies and enhance the educational process for students, and shouldn't be expected to pay for photocopies too.

Basic skills should not have to be covered in a supplemental format anyway. They should be right at the heart of elementary instruction as the starting point to all mathematical learning.

This brings us to the present. As surveys are being written to allow parents an opportunity to express their views about the Chicago series, and convey their own child's experiences, whether or not supplementation was done, and to what extent basic skills have been addressed, will be known.

If a teacher has strictly adhered to the Chicago program, and minimized supplementation because of instructional recommendations and cost, then he or she may now be viewed as part of the reason that parents are unhappy with mathematics in this county.

This is grossly unfair considering the teachers were complying with the adopted program for math.

As Concerned Parents, we would like to emphasize that the program, which only grazes over math facts and computational proficiency, is the problem.

The teachers are not to blame. They are teaching using the materials that have been provided.

We will not accept that this is an instructional problem. The biggest teacher problem we have as that these teachers are caught right in the middle of a huge dilemma.

In addition, teachers will soon be given the opportunity to grade the Chicago series in their own survey. As Concerned Parents, we very much want to know what teachers think of this program.

Yet I have been told on numerous occasions that teachers have been strongly discouraged from speaking out if they are opposed to this program and will only do so if it can be done anonymously.

The Math Task Force is not fully supporting anonymity by asking teachers to identify the school in which they teach, contrary to all arguments I could muster.

What kind of hand are these teachers being dealt? Those teachers who are also concerned about the deficiencies in the Chicago math program know that speaking out would dramatically increase the likelihood that parent concerns would be addressed and children would get a program that would better meet their needs.

Obviously, there is reason to be concerned that speaking out may not place them in the best of positions among their fellow teachers and administrators who are ardent supporters of the Chicago program.

So what are teachers to do? I would not want to be in their shoes facing these choices either.

So is this whole math business a teacher problem? You bet it is, if you are a teacher who disagrees with the Chicago method.

If you would like to join the Concerned Parents for a Better Fayette Education group, or message us your views, please e-mail to: or write to the address below.

The Concerned Parents will be presenting their case before the Board of Education on Monday, Sept. 21. We are depending on our elected Board to help us to solve this mathematics problem. At this point, they are the only ones who can.

Amy Riley
146 Ardenlee
Peachtree City, GA 30269

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