The paradox of Harford's 'new math' [Editorial]

Time is of the essence. Some 17,000 kids' futures are at stake

If Harford County Public Schools' "new math" teaching program is giving as many students fits as we have come to believe, then how good as a teaching tool can it be?

There isn't really any such thing as "new" when it comes to math, a science which has its roots in ancient civilizations, but there's been plenty of new ways to teach that have come down the pike, none of them right or wrong, but many not always so kid-friendly.

The HCPS new elementary school math program, named enVisionmath 2.0, has made learning math so difficult for some students that it has caused them to hate a subject they once excelled in, according to some students and their parents who recently appeared before the county Board of Education to voice their frustrations.

The skeptic in us says, not so fast. Math has never been easy to teach; in fact, the holy grail of math instruction is to make it relevant to a kid's everyday life, and that surely isn't an easy task. Besides, anything new is going to be somewhat disruptive initially anyway.

Given the widely held belief that American students have fallen behind their counterparts in other countries when it comes to understanding and applying mathematics and hard sciences, educators in this country have been thrown into a kind of arms race where some of their weapons were left over from the last century.

Unfortunately, once our staff member David Anderson's story about the enVisionmath 2.0 program hit the Internet on Wednesday, the dissonance of criticism from parents reached a crescendo.

The school board voted unanimously last May to begin using enVisionmath 2.0 under of a four-year, $1.2 million contract with Pearson Education Inc., the nationwide provider of textbook series for elementary, middle and high schools, plus standardized tests.

Pearson also provides the PARCC tests administered annually in public school districts throughout Maryland, including Harford County.

What's most alarming, as seen by comments posted on our Aegis and SunBelair Facebook pages, are these recurring themes: Children who were good at math before enVisionmath 2.0 are turning away; it's no longer their favorite subject; they don't want to learn; they don't understand it; their parents don't understand it – so why should the kids?

These concerns come at a time when math scores on standardized tests, particularly at the higher levels of our school system, have been gradually on the rise. Backsliding could have very dire consequences going forward.

We're not qualified to say "yay" or "nay" about the new math curriculum, but we do believe school officials need to take a hard and very speedy look what's going on with enVisionmath 2.0. Is this a case of kids and their parents blaming substandard performance on teachers and the teaching materials? Or, are we truly seeing a situation where either the program is not suitable or is being poorly implemented or both?

Time is of the essence. An entire school year has nearly passed under the enVisionmath 2.0 program, and there are some 17,000 kids' futures are at stake. Finger-pointing, stonewalling or ducking for cover won't do.

The leadership of our school system must act promptly, decisively and transparently in evaluating enVisionmath 2.0 and making changes if warranted.

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