• slefko

What is the new school philosophy in River Forest anyway?

Have you noticed a difference in math homework?

Do you know about the new math curriculum?

Somebody the other day was asking why I keep describing District 90's Vision for Equity initiative as including a change in instructional philosophy. The board uses these words to describe it and here I’ll use facts and figures to put context around what it means.

Curriculum authors make choices to adopt a theory for learning, how children will learn through instruction, and not just which math or science facts and ideas to include. Evidently there has been great debate on best practices, the best theory to adopt in developing curricula. Kirschner et al. wrote an excellent review article and summarize the debate below.

On one side of this argument are those advocating the hypothesis that people learn best in an unguided or minimally guided environment, generally defined as one in which learners, rather than being presented with essential information, must discover or construct essential information for themselves. On the other side are those suggesting that novice learners should be provided with direct instructional guidance on the concepts and procedures required by a particular discipline and should not be left to discover those procedures by themselves.

They go on further to define direct instructional guidance:

Direct instructional guidance is defined as providing information that fully explains the concepts and procedures that students are required to learn as well as learning strategy support that is compatible with human cognitive architecture. Learning, in turn, is defined as a change in long-term memory.

It’s fascinating that modern brain mapping research is now able to strengthen support and explanation for effectiveness of different learning theories. Strong evidence links achievement to strategies that build up long term memory. There will always be two sides to every coin, and it seems D90 is flipping instructional philosophy.

If we use the D90 K-5 math curriculum (Investigations) adopted last year as evidence we can see the change in philosophy. Math Expressions, the prior curriculum, used a teacher to student pathway for learning. The teacher’s role is to explain, model and facilitate the production of ideas. The new curriculum uses a between students and teacher pathway. The teacher facilitates the student production of ideas. The table below is taken from a longitudinal study and the title gives the conclusion:

After two years, three elementary math curricula outperform a fourth.


The chart below is taken from the same study after year one. This was a large study including 1,309 student across 39 schools and carefully included both high and low achievement. The Institute for Education Sciences considers this the most powerful evaluation of the Investigations curriculum. One conclusion taken directly from this report follows:

For a student at the 50th percentile in math achievement, these effects mean that the student’s percentile rank would be 9 to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon, instead of Investigations or SFAW.

The chart above was taken from: Achievement Effects of Four Early Elementary School Math Curricula Findings from First Graders in 39 Schools. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance. CLICK FOR FULL

Our schools have a long and amazing blue ribbon track record. Now the community is hearing phrases like group-work, inquiry and problem based learning suggesting a shift in theory from direct instructional guidance to minimally guided instruction.

Improving math achievement is getting much attention in middle school. Math is a vertically organized subject needing a strong foundation, yet we adopted a K-5 curriculum shown to significantly reduce achievement across all ability levels. This seems inconsistent with a district's commitment to equity and raising math achievement.

· I believe the community deserves an explanation on the K-5 curriculum change, and how the new Investigations curriculum is more equitable and gives each child what they need to increase math achievement.

· The board and administration proclaims they've been telling the community about big changes but nobody was listening. I've been listening, and I believe it’s in the best interest of the community if this board of education cease all curriculum related initiatives until the community this board serves has greater understanding of the new instructional philosophy and how it will make a River Forest education better.

· I believe the level of transparency and scrutiny here is critical to a D90 board’s mission of educational excellence for all.

Friends, on the board I'll always ask the hard questions, always pursue the best answers and solutions to best serve the community and I'll always work to reach you with critical topics. Vote for increasing diversity of thought and action on the D90 Board, Vote for LEFKO.


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