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Step 2: Selecting the Appropriate New Curriculum

We have already determined a direction to go in secondary school mathematics, but we want more information about these programs.

Presumably you are convinced that, for the sake of our students, change from the "traditional" (i.e. pre 1980) mathematical education of students needs to happen. If not, we suggest you review Step 1 on the "Choosing a Curriculum" page.

A next step is to decide what mathematical experience you want your students to have. As you know, this requires a balance between standards (NCTM standards, state standards or guidelines, and any local standards or frameworks that exist), the educational vision in your district, and what materials exist to support and/or shape your vision. There are several ways to proceed. Probably one of the most effective ways would be to set broad goals for students (without sequencing of topics, yet) and then look more closely at all three matters (standards, vision, and materials) simultaneously.

Currently, there are no federal standards for secondary school mathematics education. The NCTM Standards (see Step 1 and Bibliography) - which have been agreed upon by a multitude of teachers, mathematics educators, mathematicians, policy makers, business and industry leaders, and other concerned and informed individuals - are suggested guidelines for what students should know and be able to do in school mathematics. Regulation of curriculum occurs at the state or district or, sometimes, the school level. Therefore, you will need to be familiar with your state and local guidelines, frameworks, and/or standards or other regulations concerning choices of instructional materials. At present, forty-two states have frameworks that shape the secondary school mathematics education of students. Some states or districts have written or rewritten their frameworks in a way that provides for considerable flexibility at the local level. You may also need to be aware of any policies and procedures that may apply if your decisions on what is best for your students conflict with the above frameworks or guidelines. Some states or districts may have provisions for exceptions or waivers for programs that to some degree conflict with the state guidelines.

If possible, we strongly suggest that you select an existing curriculum in your adoption process that could be adapted to meet local needs and vision, rather than try to develop a curriculum and supporting instructional materials from the beginning. It is extremely difficult and time consuming to develop a consistent, cohesive, and effective curriculum from scratch. A significant advantage of choosing one of the curricula associated with COMPASS is that each curriculum has been through a rigorous, multi-year program of design, testing, and evaluation by teams of secondary school teachers, mathematics educators, mathematicians, and professional evaluators before becoming commercially available. This rigorous development program was made possible, in part, through funding provided by the National Science Foundation.

We support the selection of one or more of the curricula associated with COMPASS for many other reasons. The overarching reason is that each of these curricula provides a cohesive, modern mathematical experience for all students that illuminates the essence and value of mathematics in a way that has not been available to most students ever before. Furthermore, each curriculum addresses the dual role of preparing today's students with mathematical abilities which are useful to an enlightened citizenry as well as preparing students for further study of mathematics beyond high school. In each curriculum, mathematical reasoning occupies a central position. Basic facts, however, are not sacrificed. Moreover, each of these curricula is integrated, providing a synergistic blending of topics from several mathematical disciplines including algebra, geometry, probability and data analysis, and discrete mathematics. Each utilizes technology in meaningful ways. Each outlines a variety of ways to assess student learning. Yet, each of these programs provides a different model of curriculum development by providing a somewhat different choice of topics, sequence of topics, and/or mathematical emphasis.

While there are slightly varying approaches to pedagogy, the emphasis in all of these curricula is on active student learning. Since these curricula suggest changes in virtually every phase of instruction (from content to pedagogy, use of technology, and assessment), the materials in each program are quite different from traditional instructional materials. (Note: Many users and experts warn that anyone is free to use current jargon such as "integrated curriculum" to describe their curriculum, when in fact there are only small or superficial differences between their curriculum and a traditional curriculum. For ways to watch for and identify other "trappings of reform," please see Gail Burrill's "President's Message" entitled Show Me the Math! in the April 1997 issue of the NCTM News Bulletin, Vol. 33, No. 9, p.3.) The newer materials cannot be evaluated using a cursory "flip" test or by reading the table of contents. Indeed, in some cases, it may not be immediately evident that practice with concepts is included in a curriculum because practice appears in a different place or in a significantly different format from traditional materials (which often regularly include "template" problems followed by pages of "ready-to-imitate" student problems).

The Questions for Discussion page on this site lists many important questions that might help you in your review of the instructional materials. They may also help you as you develop your vision concerning what secondary mathematics students should know and be able to do. The Curriculum Details button provides a broad overview of each curriculum associated with COMPASS. In addition, The Guide to Standards-Based Instructional Materials in Mathematics provides a detailed content overview of the materials designed to answer the question "What will a student know and be able to do as a result of completing each of these programs?" The next step is to begin to look at the actual instructional materials of programs which you would like to assess further (publisher information is included on each curriculum page). We encourage as thorough a review as possible of at least one unit from each curriculum, together with the supporting teaching materials and other resources provided by the program, for a heightened comparative view of the philosophy, pedagogy, and style of each set of materials.

The School and Community Data Form is also a valuable tool in assisting schools considering one of the standards-based mathematics programs. The data has helped schools assess their current mathematics program, make decisions related to curriculum support materials, develop and guide an implementation plan for new curricular materials, and identify professional development needs of school staff. The data has been organized into four areas: overview, student population and learning, the learning environment of the school, and the professional development resources available to support school staff.

It is important to remember that if you are changing from a traditional curriculum to one of the programs associated with COMPASS, the change is profound. Many groups that have a stake in the education of your students - such as teachers, parents and caregivers, administrators, school board members, members of the higher educational community, the business community, and other community leaders - need to be informed and involved. You will need to assess the constituencies in your community and ascertain where you will find support, where you can build support, and where you will face opposition. You may want to bring members from these groups to the table during some phase of the curriculum selection process. For more details, we suggest you review Step 3 on the "Choosing a Curriculum" page at this time.

We will be happy to answer any specific questions that arise during your general review. We can be reached directly via e-mail, surface mail, or phone.

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Last Revision: 05/24/06