I hear you!

I hear you! I struck a nerve with the math post. I want to thank all the people who commented on social media, by email and in person. I especially want to thank all of the teachers who contacted me. I understand your daily struggle to implement a curriculum that is being forced on you and doing what is best for your students. It is an impossible situation and on top of that I know it is hard to speak out against those in charge. As I said in my previous post, my kids are so lucky to have the best teachers. And I am lucky to know so many fabulous teachers as well.

Let me share a little of what I learned last week…

Conceptual math is not working in our classrooms as a way to teach kids basic math facts. You told me that over and over again. It is a valid strategy to teach AFTER the kids have learned their facts. The research is pretty clear on this…email me if you’d like a link to some of the research I’ve read. 6,7 and 8 year olds simply are not old enough and do not have the foundation to understand these concepts. When we compare ourselves with other countries that use that method, somehow we ignore the fact that the other countries have already taught the basics first and usually at a younger age.

I spoke with several groups of parents last week and we are unable to pinpoint the exact year math changed for students in our area but we believe it started to change for kids who are currently in middle school. Ironically, our middle school put out a call for parents to come in as math tutors last week. Something none of us have seen in our years at the school. Parent after parent has told me their kids are getting hung up on their facts. They get stuck, worn out and defeated before they get to the meat of the problem because they have spent too much time doing the basics. They don’t have the numbers stuck in their heads like they need to and the struggle is leading parents to take their kids to one of the many math tutoring places that have popped up around us. And that is the common theme I heard over and over again…

So what are we to do? Well, I think talking about it and raising awareness will help. The teachers are doing all they can. Maybe if we, the parents, continue to raise the issue with the people who write the curriculum it will change. I know the teachers are raising their concerns when they are able.

But there is another thing the parents of the 2-3-1-1-3 have to be aware of…there’s a special School Board Election on March 18th. I reached out to all five candidates and asked them what they thought about the math curriculum and the lack of focus on memorizing basic math facts. Three candidates answered and I have continued to have conversations with two of them. Here’s a link to an article about all five candidates.

Dianne Mallory-Coble is one of the candidates running for school board. We have exchanged emails and hope to meet at a forum soon. Here was her response to my blog post…
Julie, thanks for reaching out to me and inviting me to check out your blog. First, I admire your discipline to even have a blog. Second, I enjoyed your refreshing way of sharing your stories.

Anyway, what you wrote about how your children were learning to add made me very curious. Just as you said, and I agree, much has changed in our classrooms over both short and longer periods of time.

One of my values, as a candidate and if elected as a school board member, is to be knowledgeable and to share what I learn with our community. So, I took advantage of an opportunity I had when visiting one of the our Midlothian elementary schools today. I asked the principal about how your young children were being taught how to add and subtract using ‘doubles’. I also checked with my daughter, who is doing her student teaching and who will be endorsed to teach K through 12. While they both answered in different ways, they both said that way of teaching adding and subtraction was one of several instructional strategies to teach young children how to do the math operations of adding and subtracting. So, what I gathered is that ‘double’ is one of a number of ways children are taught to add and subtract. I wonder what other strategies are being used at your school, too?

Just as you described the wonderful teachers at your children’s school, I saw many wonderful teachers (and administrators) at the four Midlothian schools I saw today. Our school system is worth making the highest investment we can.

Julie, thanks for making me do some research in order to some information about your observation regarding how your children are learning. You helped me to become more knowledgeable.

Here is the link to Dianne Mallory-Coble’s website.

Gary Powers sent me a copy of a speech he gave at the beginning of a forum last week that I’d like to share with you.
My name is Gary Powers. I am an Independent Candidate for the Midlothian School Board seat and would like your vote on March 18. I have lived in Midlothian since 2005 with my wife Jennifer and our son Trey. I have been blessed thought my career to be active in the communities where I have lived. In Midlothian, I am the Charter Secretary for the James River Rotary Club, a member of Masonic Lodge 211, a member of the Walton Park Pool, Secretary for the Grove HOA, and a periodic instructor at the Life Long Learning Institute. In addition, for the past five years I have been the PTA County Council Liaison for JB Watkins & now Midlothian Middle School where my son is in 6th grade.
Recently, my wife and I became concerned when we realized that our son was getting really good grades but was having trouble with spelling. Getting really good grades, but didn’t know his grammar well. Getting really good grades but could not sign his full name or read cursive well. And even though he was medically diagnosed with ADHD we couldn’t get help from the school system because in their own words, “his grades were too good”.
As a result of our concerns, I started talking with other parents and discovered that they shared similar concerns about their children’s education. I reached out to parents, educators, and Principals in Chesterfield County so I could learn as much as I could about their experiences. One educator told me flat out that they are teaching kids to solve math problems backwards on multiple choice tests in preparation for the SOLs. Really, solving math problems backwards.
I understand that students need to learn test taking skills but I believe we need to get back to the basics, focus on critical thinking skills, and not how to teach to the test. Students need to do math without calculators, spelling without spell check, and learn cursive so that they can sign their full name and will always be able to read the original Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and letters from their grandparents. This will give them a connection to our heritage, our history, and the principals on which this great nation was founded. Focusing on the basics will provide our children with a solid educational foundation, the ability to pass SOL’s without studying to the test, and will prepare them to utilize technology in school, within the work force, and for the rest of their lives. Most importantly this position is about being and Independent voice, your voice, and not a political voice in a nonpartisan position.
Today, I would not only like to ask for your vote on March 18 but also your help and support to make sure we do everything we can as a community to provide a solid educational foundation for our students. The future of our children starts here, starts now, and starts with us. Thank you.

Here is a link to Gary Power’s website.

Bob Olsen commented as well. His comment was as follows…
I have to agree with you. I believe the” old way” is the right way. Kids should learn their math facts. I would call the ” new method” a strategy for those who can’t remember the math facts, they should have been memorizing in the first place. I will ask my daughters about it since between the two of them they have 4 in elementary right now.

Here is the link to Bob Olsen’s website.

Now let me tell you what I liked about this conversation we started. I loved that all three candidates responded to me. I enjoyed the exchanges I had with two of them and was quite impressed that one took time to do a fair amount of research on the topic. It made me feel like they were interested in having a partnership and will be actively involved in the community and out listening to our concerns.

I’ve always wanted to get involved in elections of different sorts but the big national elections leave me feeling powerless and like I cannot affect real change. The School Board election is a perfect way for us to make changes in our daily lives and make a better life for our kids. I look forward to participating in a forum with the candidates soon and welcome an opportunity to meet with any of the candidates. Thank you to those who have taken the time to get in touch with me.

2 comments on “I hear you!

  1. Dianne Mallory-Coble on said:

    Dear Julie,
    THANKS for your contribution to increasing our community’s awareness about this important special election for the Midlothian District. Also, thank you for providing a non-partisan platform, “Julie’s Odyssey”, for the ‘parents of the 2-3-1-1-3′ and others to have a discussion about our school system. Your blog allows for open and frequent and honest discussion and the sharing of information about what is happening in our schools — on the ground, so to speak.

    We have one of the largest school systems in Virginia. We serve over 58,000 students with instructional needs that cross a broad educational spectrum. In addition, our school system is faced with dramatically changing social and economic demographics. I believe our teachers to be a ‘cut above’ and I want to keep it that way and we need to let them know that, too. We can, as a community, express that value and the importance of Midlothian schools being excellent and equitable — no matter what zip code. The challenges are real and so are our celebrations — of which we have many. Julie, you have inspired me and, again, I thank YOU!!

    • Julie Farley on said:

      Dianne, Thanks for another great comment! I love that you are so accessible and have been quick to respond when I have reached out.

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