Despite the fact that parents and educators are complaining about a new math curriculum failing their students, Alberta Education refuses to change it back to a more conventional way of teaching.
In a letter to Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies, the author of a petition to bring back conventional math, Alberta Education deputy minister Greg Bass says, “I do not feel that immediate changes to the mathematics curriculum, as requested, are necessary at this time.”
Tran-Davies claims that Bass and his fellow Alberta Education bureaucrats are pushing ahead with a radical approach to teaching math, and this is failing Alberta Students. “How can you forsake the thousands of young lives negatively impacted by this curriculum for the sake of conforming to a fad, unproven theory?” she asks.
Alberta Education and provincial classrooms have adopted a “discovery math” approach over the past 10 years. Elementary teachers no longer teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to students in a standard way. Times table memorization is discouraged, and teachers are instead asked to guide students in group projects and discussion and let each child seek out their own way to do math. Bass is a strong believer in this type of learning and believes that teachers should be guides who assist their students, not experts who impart their knowledge.
Dr. Tran-Davies’ petition shows that many students have struggled with this approach leading to frustration and criticism. More than 6,100 parents, and educators have signed the petition. Over the past nine years Alberta students who have been found to be incapable of math has risen from 7.4 percent to 15.1 percent, and the number of students who have achieved excellence has dropped from 26.8 to 16.9 percent.
In response to parental concerns, Education Minister Jeff Johnson has said he will take action, but will make no changes to the curriculum until 2016. Tran-Davies is pushing for change to happen by the start of the 2014-15 school year, arguing that the longer changes are delayed, the more children will suffer or miss out entirely on math fundamentals.
Bass also stated in his letter that Alberta Education’s current approach with math is working.
“I believe that the current Program of Studies already makes it sufficiently clear that students are expected to master number facts. … The conventional methods to which you refer are included in the approaches that teachers and students may use to achieve the outcomes. in the program of studies. These conventional methods may work with some students, and when they do, they can be encouraged.”
Bass added that Alberta Education would clarify a few issues with parents, teachers and administrators, such as that Alberta Education would accept a variety of teaching methods to ensure the curriculum is met, including memorization of basic math facts such as times tables. Some teachers have complained that they were punished or discouraged by administrators and consultants when they tried to teach math the conventional way.
In response, Tran-Davies met with Johnson’s chief of staff Thomas Bradley and his team from Alberta University and presented a statement asking Johnson and Alberta Education to act immediately saying, “There is a very narrow window of time for our children to acquire mastery of such a vital fundamental skill”.
She continued by saying that her, and those who signed the petition believed that Bass “would act promptly with courage and fight for our children’s education” but that he did not, so instead “we are here today because we still have faith in all of you, that you are listening and do acknowledge that the actual harm does exceed the theoretical benefit. We still cling to a little bit of hope that you and Minister Johnson will indeed be the true leaders who will step in to lead this ministry and empower our children to succeed in this 21st century global economy.”