Tuesday, November 17, 2009

‘Singapore Math’ is a world-beater

– How come only a “handful” of Kentucky school districts use it?

Kentucky schools have chronic problems with teaching math. For example, white eighth grade students – they comprise the vast majority of all students here – were recently outscored in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress by their peers in 42 other states around nation. Kentucky’s white kids only bested whites in one state, and it wasn’t Mississippi. Mississippi’s whites actually tied us!!!

In sharp contrast, the math program in Singapore consistently comes out on top every time there is international testing such as the Trends in International Math and Science.

Since Singapore math is readily available in a North American edition, and because math instruction here badly needs improvement, you’d think all Kentucky schools would be picking it up.

Well, guess again.

According to the November 2009 “Kentucky Teacher” article titled “Singapore Math digs deeper into mathematics learning (See Page 5),” only a “handful” of school districts in the state are using Singapore Math.

In fact, the article only names two districts, Fayette County and Marshall County, which use this top notch program. And, both have only used it for a short period of time even though “Singapore Math has rated tops in the nation in mathematics achievement for more than 12 years,” according to Natalee Feese. Ms Feese is the Fayette County mathematics coordinator.

Singapore does exactly what state education leaders said was needed during the CATS Task Force meetings in late 2008 and in the discussions that led up to Senate Bill 1 in early 2009. It goes deeper into fewer subjects rather than doing the ineffective “mile wide, inch deep” sort of thing that current math programs in Kentucky tend to do.

Says Marshall County teacher Julie Teague, “Singapore Math teaches each concept to mastery. The philosophy behind the program is that students gain a deep understanding and develop number sense, which will help them be more successful when entering higher-level mathematics classes at the middle school and high school levels.”

Teague adds that the program has a focus on problem solving – which is exactly what KERA has supposedly required from day one. She didn’t say it, but Singapore also helps kids master fractions, which is absolutely critical to learning algebra and higher level math.

I hope a lot more districts pay attention to Fayette and Marshall County. Their programs are too new to show results, but if they are competently taught as in other parts of the US and in Singapore itself, we should see some good things happening soon.

Certainly, if Kentucky’s kids are going to successfully compete against the rest of the world, they need what works best worldwide – and it looks like that is Singapore Math.

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