New math; New Milford (CT) Schools to try out new programs

By Lynda Wellman

The Greater New Milford Spectrum
August 26, 2005


Several New Milford elementary school math classes will be trying something new this year.

The Board of Education, at its meeting Tuesday night, authorized school officials to go ahead with a plan to pilot two new mathematics programs in approximately 14 to 16 classes.

During the past year, several parents have complained about the Everyday Math program currently used in the schools. That program will continue to be employed in the remaining 90 or so classrooms while the new pr ograms are piloted.

A committee has reviewed several programs and settled on Singapore Math and Saxon Math.

"Both these programs have some impressive credentials," said Assistant Superintendent of Schools Tom Mulvihill last week at a Committee on Learning meeting. "This is what we've been pushing for," said parent Cathy Farrell after the piloting plans were announced. "It's all positive so far."

Bill McLachlan, chairman of the Committee on Learning, asked for regular updates on how the pilot programs are going, and Mr. Mulvihill said if something is not working it would be halted.

"We're not going to hurt the kids," he said.

Mr. Mulvihill said school officials had been given "a clear direction" to look at a different approach to teaching math, but he said that "in the meantime we've got a program that for the most part has been OK."

He said the programs that will be piloted are more sequenced than Everyday Math.

The current Everyday Math program relies on worksheets that introduce children to a variety of problem-solving skills in a cyclic fashion. Parents and some board members asked for a more traditional program with textbooks that follow a more structured, sequential approach to teaching math facts.

Mr. Mulvihill said the programs being piloted are user-friendly, challenging and strong on fundamentals.

"We think both will deliver our curriculum," he said. "We want to hear what teachers say."

"No program has the corner on perfection," Mr. Mulvihill continued, remarking that he has no preference at this point. "We're not going to get 100 percent agreement."

Mr. Mulvihill said he's hoping there will be a consensus for one program or the other when teachers provide feedback.

"If there is not consensus, the committee will have to make some hard choices," he said, adding that the school board will also have to be careful about giving the pilots a chance and "not forming an opinion too soon."

"I'm not going to support making a change to placate folks if I don't think it's better for kids," Mr. Mulvihill cautioned. "We like a lot of things about Everyday Math, but there are some things we don't like."

Parent Monica Harcken said it's "wonderful" the school system will pilot the programs. She said she used the Singapore Math books over the summer with her children entering grades two and four.

She related that her daughter, Maren, asked, "Why didn't we learn it this way in the first place?"

Mr. Mulvihill said Singapore Math emphasizes problem-solving skills and number theory from the start by teaching particular skills, whereas Saxon Math offers a different approach and different types of review but also teaches the needed fundamentals.

There are also more written explanations in the Saxon books.

Board member David Lawson said he "wholeheartedly endorses" the piloting of the two programs, an initiative he described as "bold and visionary."

At last week's committee meeting, Mr. Lawson urged the panel to give the full board "an extremely favorable recommendation" on Tuesday (Aug. 23), adding that he's confident students, staff and parents will benefit.

"Here is an opportunity to set a benchmark of excellence that further enhances New Milford's already high standard of achievement," he said.

Mr. Lawson said the Singapore Math approach is interdisciplinary and the vocabulary is more user-friendly, but he commented that the Saxon approach is "much more sequential," building on previous concepts.

The Saxon program will be piloted in some grade five and possibly some grade six classes at Sarah Noble Intermediate School.

The Singapore Math program will be piloted in grades 1-3 classrooms at Hill and Plain School and Northville Elementary School where teachers have volunteered.

Mr. Mulvihill is also hoping for a volunteer to pilot Singapore Math at John Pettibone School.

Mr. Mulvihill explained that the school system would not be piloting Singapore Math in older grades since those familiar with the program said students in grades four and five who have not had the Singapore Math foundation might not do as well.

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