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State's math curriculum criticized at forum

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

State Board of Education member, Mary Sue Murray, heard from Clayton and Henry county parents, teachers and local officials on a variety of education topics, but one issue that came up more than once was the state's integrated math curriculum for schools.

Murray, who represents the 13th U.S. Congressional district on the state school board, was holding a public forum on the state of education in Georgia. The meeting took place at the Clayton County Public Schools Central Administration Complex, in Jonesboro, on Thursday evening.

It was a rare opportunity for local residents to address a member of the State Board of Education. Although she has held other forums in the past, she said this was her first in Clayton County.

People who spoke out about the curriculum were adamant in their opposition to the concept. Under the curriculum, students take classes with titles, such as "Math I" and "Math II," and a single course will cover math topics ranging from algebra, to geometry, to calculus. A couple of years ago, it replaced the old math curriculum, in which a student would take a single course for each individual math topic.

"If integrated math is so great, then why are our colleges not doing it?" asked Luella High School Math Teacher Kerry Vanderford, during the public forum.

Critics of the state's current math curriculum told Murray that they believe it simply cannot work, because students are not getting enough exposure to complex math concepts. She said the criticism is not limited to Clayton and Henry counties, however. People in other congressional districts have been making similar complaints to state school board members.

And, earlier in the day on Thursday, Murray said, another, more influential group expressed concerns to state school board members about how well the math curriculum works -- State Superintendent of Schools-elect John Barge, and members of his transition team.

"They had some concerns about the math curriculum," she said. "We'll be taking a look at it [the curriculum] next year."

One of the main concerns raised by attendees of Thursday's public forum was whether enough time was spent in math classes to focus on each individual topic, for students to understand the concepts. Several attendees said they did not believe this was the case.

"I think the children are set up for failure," said Clayton County Board of Education Member Jessie Goree, to Murray. "You should not be putting students in a class that has a mixture of math [concepts], especially if they are poor [in math]."

Goree was the only local school board member who attended the forum.

Hampton parent, LaDonna Riby, who has two children in the Henry County School System, compared the math curriculum that her middle school-aged daughter has to take, to the "old school" curriculum the mother had to take in school. She said she was afraid her daughter was not going to be prepared to tackle a math concept as complex as calculus.

"I'm old school," Riby said. "I took calculus as a single course when I was in school, and personally, I don't see how she [the daughter] will be prepared to do well, if she were to be put in that [calculus] class now."