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Newton Public Schools District statistics

11,556 students

15 elementary schools (k-5)

4 Middle schools (6-8)

2 high schools (9-12)

Over 40 languages spoken within the student/parent populations

91% of the 2006 graduating class were listed as going on to higher education.

Newton Prioritizes Math Curriculum

Although Newton receives some of the highest MCAS scores in the state, they are making improvements to their math curriculum to help students who are struggling in math.

By ALYSSA WOLF

Newton – Some Newton families aren’t relying on the public schools to do everything in helping their children do well in math. Instead they are seeking outside support for their children’s math education by turning to a unique and free tutoring opportunity.

“Before the Newton School Volunteers tutoring program,” said Barbara Joseph, a parent of a second-grade child at the Mason Rice School , “there was no system within our school to identify or consistently support kids who aren’t strong in math until the seventh grade.”

Joseph isn’t alone. Kathy Chan, a parent of a fourth grader at the Countryside school is frustrated with Everyday Math, the curriculum used at the elementary level. “Kids can’t master anything,” Chan said, “because the book skips too fast from one topic to the next.”

“The tutoring is available to help those children who are falling through the cracks,” said Carolyn Wyatt, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “What is challenging for one student in second grade could be challenging for another student in fourth grade. Children learn at different paces,” she said.

Click to see the video from a tutoring session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chan enrolled her son, Michael, in the tutoring program because she said she felt pressure to have him perform well on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. “It isn’t just about getting a failing grade in a math class anymore,” she said. “If Michael continues to struggle with the math on the MCAS in high school, he will get a “pseudo” diploma, which is embarrassing, to say the least.”

Newton schools are far from failing. The MCAS math scores place Newton in the top 50 school systems in the state, with three of the elementary schools in the top 20.

With all of the emphasis placed upon preparing students for the exam, some parents and teachers believe that the math curriculum is cheating their children of a well-rounded mathematical education.

“The schools’ greatest shortcoming,” said Jeffrey Sizemore, a third-grade teacher at the Zervas school, “when teaching for the MCAS is grazing over topics and not choosing two or three to study in depth.  This is why children cannot become problem solvers.”

Joseph agrees with Sizemore and worries that her daughter is being cheated of learning the math skills needed to compete in a global economy. “Students are relying on memorized formulas, which do not help them later in life when they encounter an obscure problem that they need to think of a creative solution for.”

Wyatt advocates for problem-solving skills to be taught starting in kindergarten. “Kids need to take the skills they have and be able to apply them,” she said. “Instead of asking children what 2+2 is, Newton teachers are increasingly asking, “If I have two pieces of chocolate and Mrs. Jones brings over two more, how many pieces of chocolate do I have?”

Wyatt also is pushing for elementary school math specialists, similar to the literacy specialists hired in response to the federal No Child Left Behind mandates in English. Newton schools introduced one full-time literacy specialist in each elementary school to ensure that at-risk students were identified and provided early support. 

“If we hadn’t focused on literacy early on,” said Wyatt, “we didn’t feel like we would be prepared for No Child Left Behind. We would like to see math rise to the same level and the reality is it is beginning to do that.”

This past summer, Newton hired four math coaches for the six elementary schools. The coaches help with curriculum development and work one-on-one with students who are struggling in math.

In response to parent and teacher complaints, by 2010 the School Department plans on introducing a new edition of Everyday Math. This textbook will include more practical applications of math topics and skills.

Chan won’t be happy with the math curriculum in Newton until the city becomes recognized for their math program. “I want neighboring communities to point to Newton and say ‘that is where you should go for math,’” she said.