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Dec. 29, 2012

New MCPS math curriculum sparks concern

by Aanchal Johri, Online Editor-in-Chief
Earlier this school year, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) introduced Curriculum 2.0 to all elementary schools, generating both approval and concern among parents and teachers around the county. Recently, a petition against this new curriculum surpassed 1000 signatures and was brought to the Board of Education on Dec. 11.

Many parents and teachers are concerned that Montgomery County's new math curriculum will not cater to different learning abilities. Courtesy of Montgomery County Public Schools
Many parents and teachers are concerned that Montgomery County's new math curriculum will not cater to different learning abilities.
Previously, elementary school students were exposed to various math concepts one year and relearned many of those concepts the next. According to Blair Cluster coordinator Shruti Bhatnagar, teachers will teach fewer concepts a year under Curriculum 2.0, but will delve deeper in each one. "This curriculum is built around developing students' critical and creative thinking skills," she said. "The curriculum is created to build a stronger foundation for elementary school children so they are better prepared for greater success in middle and high school."

This change will also make it harder for students to skip ahead, as repetition of concepts will be nearly eliminated. Blair MCCPTA delegate Tom Jacobson supports this aspect of the curriculum. "I feel the benefits of more in-depth teaching outweigh those gained by students skipping levels, and I have heard evidence of kids skipping ahead too quickly," he said.

The curriculum had been piloted at several MCPS schools, such as Montgomery Knolls Elementary School in Silver Spring, during the past three years, but this year marks the first time that it has been implemented in kindergarten through third grade classes at all MCPS schools. Next year, the curriculum will expand to fourth and possibly fifth grade. The curriculum upholds the Common Core State Standards, which aims to boost American students up to par with Canada, Israel and other international countries that excel in education.

Some MCPS staff members and parents have expressed disappointment in the rigidness of the new standards and believe that the curriculum will not cater to different student abilities. According to an article published by the Gazette on Dec. 5, former MCPS Board of Education member Laura Berthiamue left her job at the Board earlier in December and pulled her kids out of MCPS schools. The decisions were made "for personal reasons, partly including Curriculum 2.0 and how math is being taught in Curriculum 2.0."

Both parents of accelerated kids and of struggling kids raised their concerns about the curriculum. While many parents are concerned that the curriculum will not allow their children to advance ahead, other parents believe their children will struggle under Curriculum 2.0. Bhatnagar believes that children are still challenged under the new curriculum. "Teachers can appropriately challenge the kids who need acceleration while staying within the curriculum 2.0," she said.

Blair parent Jaya Durvasula, who has a child in a MCPS elementary school, believes that the curriculum is pragmatic for students in the long run. "I think a deeper curriculum lends to a better assessment of student readiness for next level," she said. "Sometimes a quick brush though too many concepts may appear to be effective in the short run but does not get retained by the student for a prolonged period of time. I believe deeper dive into concepts will provide sound fundamental knowledge and the student is able to retain the concept and its application for longer period of time."

Jacob Scott, Blair Algebra I teacher, believes that the previous curriculum was flawed. "Students are inevitably not exposed to all the concepts they need to know." Scott, who also tutors private school students, believes that private schools curriculum goes more in depth than MCPS's does. "I definitely see a difference in the public and private sector."

Blair pre-calculus teacher John Giles agrees with Scott and recognizes that the previous curriculum needed reform, as he can see gaps in understanding in his high school students. "There's not a focus on having an understanding of what they're doing. It provides access to answers not understanding," Giles said. He especially opposes the previous practice of relearning concepts that were only exposed to students the year before. "Touching on topics briefly and coming back to them is illogical," he said.

For more information about Curriculum 2.0, click here.



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  • Billy on January 1, 2013 at 1:05 PM
    I don't really understand how this could apply to kindergarten...
    instead of brushing over what a "shape" is briefly, they examine it in more detail?

    Of course in mathematics classes, I prefer the freedom to deviate from curriculum mostly, and explore topics that are tangentially related, but the teachers don't like this so I've stopped using that intuition during class (sadly, for I believe it is a good skill to have to be able to think creatively in mathematics.)

    I can't really imagine what all this means though.
  • Shaun on January 6, 2013 at 11:00 AM
    I agree with Billy. The MCPS one-size-fits-all math curriculum will not succeed in educating both ends of the math competency spectrum. Some children will still struggle, and other children will still glean little from their math instruction. As with so much in MCPS, parents who want their children to learn something meaningful will have to teach their kids themselves. Moreover, I'm skeptical as to what deeper rigor the curriculum will include (and the MCPS website doesn't share much information). All of my math teachers in K through 3 were incapable of understanding any "deeper rigor" themselves, so it remains to be seen if this new system will do anything other than slow down students who are bored out of their minds.
  • Z on January 10, 2013 at 1:36 PM
    I have to agree with both Billy and Shaun. Math class has always moved sluggishly for me, but I know plenty of intelligent people who are just slow to solidify mathematical concepts in their head, so to me the question isn't necessarily a matter of depth as it is pacing. True, the courses aren't particularly in-depth outside of the magnet curriculum, but I think that kinda takes a backseat to engaging the students if you're looking for greater understanding.
  • Alumnus on January 11, 2013 at 7:27 PM
    Problems with MCPS math curriculum are twofold:

    1. The people writing the curriculum don't understand math.
    2. Many of the people teaching the curriculum don't understand math (admittedly, this is much less of a problem at MBHS than elsewhere in the county).

    Until these fundamental problems are addressed (and they're not likely to be within a decade or two), this is all just rearranging deck chairs on the titanic. Those who learn math well in MCPS (outside of the magnet program and the lucky few who end up with good teachers most of the way through) generally do so in spite of the education, not because of it.
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