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Letters to the Editor: California’s new progressive math plan will be a burden on teachers

A high school senior looks at his laptop and takes notes
A high school senior in a math and statistics class at Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles in 2018.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: I read with dismay the proposal to replace tracking in K-12 math, where students in the same grade are put into different classes based on ability, with teaching to different levels within the same classroom.

While differentiated instruction sounds ideal, the reality is that there will be losers. Teachers, already stretched thin, cannot prepare for and teach multiple levels without burning out, so they will have to prioritize. As a teacher, I predict the struggling students will command most of the instructors’ attention, and the faster students will be left to fend for themselves.

So, faster students will lose, and private schools and tutoring services will fill the educational void for those with families that can afford them.

Smart teachers already know what the students need, yet new “frameworks” and “standards” are continually rolled out, and we are commanded to adapt to them, wasting time and effort. It would be much more useful to let educators teach in their own unique styles and reward creativity and dedication with autonomy and empowerment.

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Peter Halverson, Temple City

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To the editor: This math proposal sounds much like the innovative program implemented 20 years ago.

As a teacher at a continuation high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I saw how this approach, with its emphasis on critical thinking and working cooperatively on big ideas and real-world situations, could benefit learners of different skill levels. As a parent, I was happy to see a math class that would challenge my son, who did well but had lost his excitement for learning.

Unfortunately, the program was eliminated after a couple of years without a plan to transition the students back to the traditional math instruction. Students struggled to fill in the learning gaps, and not all succeeded.

The problem is not the program, but how education administrators handle it. A new program requires adjustments by students, teachers and parents, and enough time for the benefits to be seen.

Will the state commit to this program or drop it after a few years, hurting the students it is supposed to help?

Kathy Masaoka, Los Angeles

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To the editor: Ever heard of IMP math, or the Interactive Mathematics Program?

My daughter didn’t make the test score cutoff for freshman algebra at Lancaster High School in 2001, so she wasted a year in IMP working on “problems” without solutions like the bowhead whale “vignette” in your article.

IMP was an attempt to prove that even in math, the answer to a problem is trivial compared with the process used to reach it. I’m an engineer and a great believer in understanding the process, but the heart of math as a high school subject is that a problem has a correct answer that is not subject to debate or differences of opinion.

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The pendulum must have a 20-year period.

Ed Schlipf, Citrus Heights, Calif.

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To the editor: Compelling gifted math students to take courses with less advanced classmates makes even less sense than requiring Mozart to play triangle in the school band.

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It will deaden the enthusiasm for math and science among gifted students, who are the very people we are relying upon to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

James Stein, Redondo Beach

The writer is a professor emeritus of mathematics and statistics at Cal State Long Beach.


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