Larry Winter likely got more than he bargained for when he asked parents what they thought about public education in Georgia.
Talk at a public hearing Tuesday night in Cumming eventually turned to funding for school nurses, merit pay and graduation coaches.
But not before upset parents gave Winter, the Ninth District representative on the state Board of Education, an earful on the state’s new math curriculum.
The night began with Carole Hoemeke talking about her eighth-grader, who is struggling in the new accelerated math program at South Forsyth Middle School.
“Our children, who have always been the top of their class in every class across the board, all of their grades are starting to fall," she said. "They are doubting themselves, they feel they are not smart enough.
“I have no problem about teaching them about failing, but the resources are not there to support them.”
Accelerated math is the new "integrated math" program for high school freshmen.
A state initiative, the integrated math program mandates math be taught by level, not by type.
That means freshmen will take math I instead of algebra and sophomores will take math II rather than geometry. Juniors will take math III and seniors math IV.
The goal is to incorporate all aspects of math every year, adding more depth as students progress through high school.
Eighth graders who excel in math, like Hoemeke’s son, had the option this year to take the accelerated program, a competitive and rigorous high school-level math course.
As ninth-graders, the same students would then skip math I and take either math II or accelerated math II.
After the meeting, Lissa Pijanowski said it is the first time the local school system has offered high school credit for a middle school course.
Pijanowski, associate superintendent for academics and accountability, said the students “really needed to be motivated, high-achieving math students."
"Because to do what we had to do in this transition, we are teaching ninth-grade mathematics and essentially they were squeezing in their eighth grade math as well,” she said. “It’s basically two years of math in one. It’s very rigorous coursework.”
Parents also voiced concerns about task-based learning, which also is new to the state’s curriculum.
Instead of textbooks, children are given a complex problem-solving task involving multiple steps to integrate all pieces of the math they’re learning.
Hoemeke said without a textbook, parents have limited resources to help their children.
Pijanowski said the school system still is working to embrace the concept, but has a variety of resources posted on its Web site for parents.
Forsyth has also changed its own curriculum after looking at student performance benchmarks.
“We were much more performance task-based at the beginning of the year, but as we have monitored curriculum and implementation and ... surveying our students, we have moved to the more balanced approach,” Pijanowski said.
While Pijanowski described the transition as difficult for teachers and students, the state’s curriculum is used in Georgia’s performance testing.
So while following curriculum may not be a total mandate, there’s little wiggle room while still being able to perform well on tests.
“Use of this Georgia curriculum is not an option if we want our students to be successful on state assessments,” she said.
Kim Tessmer’s story was similar to Hoemeke’s. Her daughter, an aspiring engineer, has struggled with a subject that once came naturally.
“My daughter scored perfect on the CRCT last year ... and this year she’s in this class and a girl who was going to become a mathematician and an engineer now thinks she can’t do it,” she said.
“All I’m saying is just remember that these are children, they’re not guinea pigs.”
Deputy State Superintendent Martha Reichrath, who also attended the meeting, said the new math curriculum wasn’t begun without research.
“We looked at everything from around this entire world to see the strength of curriculum ... to find out what was working for children to give them this increased rigor to meet the demands of this global economy where kids are going to need more mathematics,” Reichrath said.
Toward the second half of the meeting, a small group addressed their frustration with proposed budget cuts in education, specifically funding for school nurses.
Winter said it’s one of the cuts he tried to avoid, but noted they "haven’t found a [more] desirable place to take it from.”
The proposed budget also shows less funding for graduation coaches and schools with less than an 85 percent graduation rate.