Did you know that math teachers at Oak Park District 97 middle schools have been relying on free — and old — resources for two years? And that the district currently doesn’t plan to have proven, uniform math materials until at least 2020? 

In a meeting with Dr. Helen Wei, the current curriculum director at D97, she said the middle school has a curriculum, and everything’s going according to schedule. Is there really a curriculum? To have this make sense, I’m going to define the word “curriculum.” If you can, stick with me because it’s important. 

The district says they have a math curriculum. What they have is a list of topics aligned to Common Core standards, learning objectives, and assessments that evaluate mastery of those standards. And it’s taken them two whole years to get to this point. I would argue that D97 doesn’t have a curriculum because they don’t supply the following to teachers, which, most education experts agree, are also essential components of a curriculum: 

Specific units and lessons that teachers teach 

Assignments and projects given to students 

Books, materials, videos, online supplements and readings 

The point is this: a curriculum without resources is not a curriculum, no matter how much the district insists they have one. The issue is an incomplete curriculum. D97 makes learning materials available, but they are free and old. I have two children at Brooks who come home with badly scanned materials on their Chromebook — worksheets that were meant to be printed, with instructions to measure, draw, and work on an actual piece of paper. Often, they have no background information to refer to when they don’t understand something. 

What’s worse is that materials and methods are inconsistent. As an example, one teacher uses a discovery-based learning method while in other classrooms students learn the same topics via traditional teaching methods. Sometimes these approaches are mixed within a single classroom. The problem is that students are encountering inconsistent notations, language and learning approaches. This adds to confusion and non-mastery. 

What happens when they move to the next grade? And what’s the point of a standard assessment if everyone is learning topics differently? There is no debate.

Our kids can’t wait. This muddle of materials and approaches is not up to the standards of this town or this district, and the 2020 target to get new materials is completely unacceptable. Children are only in middle school for three years. Thousands of children will get a sub-par math education until this issue is resolved, and, by the way, did you know Helen Wei announced her resignation? I can’t imagine that she’ll be rushing to resolve this issue before she leaves. 

So my ask for Superintendent Kelley and the board is this: Do not approve a 2020 — or longer — deadline to study and buy new math materials. Spend money from the referendum to get any and all help you need to evaluate and purchase proven math materials in a timely matter, at least by the start of the 2018-2019 school year. 

Students and parents deserve better. The district has the funds. And we don’t have time to wait.

Erika Gimbel is a resident of Oak Park. 

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