October 8, 2008

Grant Intact in Math Switch


Columbia Public Schools' recent decision to revert to a more traditional math curriculum won't affect a grant-funded partnership between the district and a math education center at the University of Missouri.

The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum - which includes MU and four other universities that partner with K-12 districts - was awarded a nearly $11 million grant in 2004 from the National Science Foundation. MU's specific emphasis is on researching math curricula and providing scholarships to math education doctoral candidates.

The National Science Foundation also helped pay for the development of the reformed math curricula - Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, and Connected Math - used in Columbia's public elementary and middle schools.

But the grant money is in no way tied to the district's decision to implement those programs, center Director Barbara Reys said, stressing that the district began using those materials years before the grant was awarded. Plus, she said, researchers do not use Columbia schools as test sites to study those curricula.

Both Investigations and Connected Math have been under fire from parents and mathematicians who contend the materials do not teach strategies to prepare students for algebra. In response to the public criticism, interim Superintendent Jim Ritter last month announced Columbia schools next year will switch to curricula emphasizing standard algorithms.

Although Reys and other MU math education professors continue to emphasize the need to first teach children concepts in math classes, Reys said the district's decision won't affect her professionally. "I'm going to do exactly what I've done over the last 25 years, ... and that is be of assistance in any way I can," she said, noting Columbia schools have not used reform math during her entire tenure.

Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon also said she does not see the district's switch hampering relations between the district and MU's math education department. The Center for the Study of Mathematics Curriculum "has been a tremendous resource to this school district, and we will continue to rely on their expertise, without question," she said.

The NSF grant technically ends in December, but the center will continue to receive supplemental funding for the next two years to continue paying for graduate students to earn doctorates. Reys said she also plans to see whether any extra dollars could continue going to Columbia Public Schools for professional development.

In the past, the center has allotted between $25,000 and $35,000 to the district for professional development, most of which is led by experts outside Columbia. The school district has also used those funds in the past to send 15 to 20 teachers to national mathematics conferences. In 2005, funds from that same grant also allowed 15 Columbia public math teachers to enroll in a graduate program through MU.

Reach Janese Heavin at (573) 815-1705 or [email protected]

Originally published by JANESE HEAVIN of the Tribune's staff.

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