Math report has sparked change
Publication Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 1996

SCHOOLS: Math report has sparked change

Consultant says communication is critical

The author of a math report that called the relationship between Jordan Middle School's and Palo Alto High School's math departments "dysfunctional" took questions about his assessment at the school board meeting last week.

Consultant David Greene, of the Bay Area Research Group of Palo Alto, told the board that the relationship between math departments at both pairs of schools-- Jordan and Paly, and JLS and Gunn--is troubled. He said it's going to take a lot of "mutual respect" and "good faith" to remedy the problem.

His report, submitted to the district last June, said that the math departments at Paly and Jordan, were hampered by "mutually reinforcing inflexibility," and noted that it is not either school's problem, but rather, "the district's problem." The report called upon the district to declare an "administration-enforced moratorium" on the "blame game."

Greene's report has sparked some change this school year, said Associate Superintendent Barbara Liddell.

"We feel we've gone to some lengths to follow his recommendations," she said. The district has hired a math liaison, who teaches at Gunn but spends about 60 percent of her time working with middle school and high school math teachers, observing classes and meeting with teachers. "She is our catalyst for providing opportunity for dialogue with staff," Liddell said.

Members of the audience, including several from HOLD (Honest Open Logical Debate), who have been advocating a more traditional, computational approach to math, questioned Greene's methods, wondering aloud if he had surveyed parent critics or only parent supporters.

Greene said he had read comments posted on HOLD's Internet Web page, pored over district documents, parent comments, interviewed staff and went over transcripts of parent and student surveys before writing his report, he said. He never intended to take sides in the debate.

"There is no way in the world that I'm going to get in the middle of an argument in which there are intense differences and arguments," Greene said.

Speaker Jon Reider, a Stanford University admissions officer, said "enrollment has dropped dramatically" in Paly's BC Calculus classes, and wondered why the report had no mention about how students are recruited into the honors math lane in middle school so they would have the course work to handle advanced high school math. He noted that many universities are not admitting students into math and engineering programs if they haven't taken BC Calculus.

"We're looking at the issue of the enrollment discrepancy between Paly and Gunn BC Calculus," Associate Superintendent Barbara Liddell responded. The district may start piloting a standardized test to measure the success of math teaching in middle and high school next month, she said.

Board member Susie Richardson asked Greene what his recommendation for next steps would be. "The differences that are felt are deep and are well-intended, and I don't know how to make them go away except with a lot of communication," Greene replied.

--Elizabeth Darling 

Back up to the Table of Contents Page