An Open Letter to the SMUHSD and SMFCSD Boards of Trustees

The public deserves better notification and input into major changes in the math and science curricula.

[ UPDATE on 3/5/2018: The letter below has led to some important contacts, and I hope to provide additional information to the public by the end of this week. ]

In our global economy, especially here in the Silicon Valley area, our children’s future and the future of our economy depends on strong training in mathematics and science.  These are the prerequisites for most technical fields.

Unfortunately, California has a checkered history of curriculum experimentation and this has impacted our local schools.

As I indicated previously on my blog, the San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD) is undergoing a major revision of the non-AP science courses this year, and I am personally seeing the disruption that this causes for some of my students.

As just one example, more students than in prior years have been encouraged to take AP Physics (which is supposed to be algebra-based college level physics) before they have had a good high school level physics class.  As a consequence, the Aragon H.S. physics teacher has five AP physics classes this year, no classes using Aragon’s previously excellent regular physics curriculum, while the Aragon AP chemistry teacher has been tasked with putting together a new regular physics class at Aragon in collaboration with other district teachers.

This was done in an attempt to implement the Next Generation Science Standards even though there are no textbooks available that are aligned to those standards.  These changes are also impacting the other regular science courses in addition to physics.

As another example of bad consequences for kids, the San Mateo – Foster City School District (SMFCSD) tried to implement the “Everyday Mathematics” program for several years and then abandoned it a few years back.  This program was supposedly “highly researched,” but when I personally looked into the research studies tabulated in the U.S. Department of Education’s “What Works” database, every single one of the studies was flagged as being statistically flawed.  However, a single study pointed “in the right direction” and the textbook publisher took that fumble and stretched it into a touchdown!  I have to wonder if any of the people involved in the curriculum evaluation took the time to examine the “research!”

Every time this happens, children suffer.

They suffer particularly when the mathematics curriculum is disrupted because each subsequent school year clearly depends upon the knowledge gained previously.

 

I am requesting that both local districts take no further action on major curriculum shifts in math and science without first sending out email or other notifications to parents that such changes are under consideration.

 

I have served previously on local school committees and know that putting these items solely on Board agendas does not insure that the issues will receive the recognition and public discussion that they deserve.  The obviousness of this fact is plain to anyone who looks at the lengthy Board meeting agendas on the local district websites.

Furthermore such agenda items are often relegated to the end of lengthy meetings that deal with routine district business.  This requires parents to sit through a couple of hours of discussions irrelevant to their concerns before they can discuss issues that may have major impacts on their children!

As one parent said to me recently about the school systems, “They just wear you down” and make people give up.  Also if they do not like your opinion, one is often met with stony silence.

Regarding the SMUHSD science changes, I have met in person with both the Director of Curriculum and Assessment and later with Superintendent Skelly as I wrote previously on my blog.

Members of the SMUHSD Board have remained conspicuously silent for the last two weeks despite my having directed emails to them about this topic (I have also copied the SMFCSD Board).

Perhaps they have “public meeting” Brown Act concerns about replying to me, but the Board’s own Bylaws clearly state that “Individual contacts or conversations between a Board member and any other person are not subject to the Brown Act. (Government Code 54952.2)

I would still like to know directly from Board members what they thought was the rationale for making this science curriculum change without the availability of a standards-aligned textbook.

As I stated previously after my conversation with Superintendent Skelly (and I emphasize that it was a cordial discussion), I left the meeting with the feeling that, once again, this train has left the station and there is no way to recall it.

My ongoing purpose is therefore to try to ensure that these kind of decisions do not happen again without greater public scrutiny.

PLEASE, make sure that all parents in the both the SMUHSD and SMFCSD are notified by email or regular mail if another major curriculum change is contemplated, especially in mathematics.

Our children are more than test statistics to be used to illustrate progress for the local districts.  I see their problems one-on-one, face-to-face on a daily basis.  I just wish that others could do so as well; perhaps that would put an end to this.

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Please see the Bio link in the right sidebar for my detailed background information.

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the SMUHSD and SMFCSD Boards of Trustees”

  1. Parents, as I state in the article above, while the Next Generation Science Standards train has left the station and I am not asking that it be recalled, it is not too much for all of us to request advance notification from the local school districts as soon as planning for future curriculum changes in math and science begins.

    I, for one, would be happy to provide input into the planning process, and I am sure that there are many other technically inclined parents in the area who could do likewise.

    Unfortunately, although one would think that the high school teachers would be able to do this on their own, it appears in the NGSS case that they may have had to knuckle under to demands from higher up. It is hard for me to tell for certain because of a curtain of silence from them.

    In the case of elementary school math, there is a bigger concern that elementary teachers may need assistance in reviewing curricula as was demonstrated by the Everyday Math example. Once again, my attempts to determine what happened provided me with a few tantalizing tidbits followed by people clamming up when I tried to ask follow-up questions.

    The only way we can avoid future curriculum debacles is if we can head them off in advance. At the very least both local K12 districts should extend parents the courtesy of an email notification well before starting an experiment on their children!!!

    I intend to continue both my public lobbying and my behind-the-scenes initiatives to get this to happen. I would appreciate your support.

    Like

    1. I emailed the comment above to both local boards along with the following note:

      “I remain astounded at the silence by Board members on this issue. I have no desire to run for school board or use this against you in an election campaign. I merely want to be able to spend my time helping my math and science students instead of having to spend most of it undoing the harm on them created by the decisions of adults.

      Sincerely,

      Dr. David Kristofferson”

      Like

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