Position Statement | Open Letter to Minister Eggen:
Math Learning and Parent Voice
Dear Minister Eggen;
A recent letter from Deputy Minister of Education Curtis Clarke states the department has cut off communication with Dr. Tran-Davies on the issue of math education.
“We consider the matter of how mathematics is taught at individual schools closed at this time and will not be communicating further with you on this topic,” Clarke says.
CAPSC executive is very concerned by this move, as the response seems to downplay the concerns of many Calgary parents who need solutions. Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies has gathered 18,000 signatures on her petition requesting changes to Alberta’s math curriculum.
Respected educators have echoed these concerns. Dr. John Bowman, professor of mathematical and statistical sciences at the University of Alberta, says significant problems are appearing at the post-secondary level in math-centric programs.
“In recent years, the high-school preparation of students enrolled in first-year Engineering Calculus and Honours Calculus courses at the University of Alberta has noticeably deteriorated,” Bowman says.
“Students are not coming in with the same level of skills. Exams that were the norm 20 years ago are too difficult these days. Ten years ago the discussion among the Math 100 and 101 instructors used to be where between 50 and 55 the cutoff for a passing grade should be. The discussion now is where between 45 and 50 that passing grade should be.”
As a voice for students, parents are the primary stakeholder in education. Parents don’t have the luxury of public financing for advocacy issues that other stakeholders do. Considering this, government should make every effort to ensure meaningful access exists, even when the opinions expressed do not support government’s current direction.
Parents are worried. CAPSC executive has heard from parent members who, in a financially challenging time, feel forced to engage math tutoring outside of school at their own expense. This is not accessible public education. Although CAPSC has requested the results of the Student Learning Assessments (SLAs) that were meant to replace PATs, and the curriculum redesign modules submitted in January, Alberta Education has not yet released them.
Transparency and access are critical to a system of checks and balances. Providing this key information to all stakeholders, including parents, is essential to meaningful consultation.
We believe the Minister cannot delegate responsibility for math performance away from the Department of Education. If a school is underperforming, parents have no effective way to hold a school accountable. If the Minister will not hold school boards accountable, then who will?
In February, CAPSC organized an event to discuss ‘Keys to Math Excellence,’ inviting educators from across the system to participate in a positive discussion about best practices in math. Feedback from that event indicated that although parents are seeing the results of poor math curriculum, school boards have not been responsive enough.
Parents speak on behalf of children, whom the education system exists to serve. Research shows that parent involvement has a positive impact on student achievement. A continuing meaningful conversation between parents, school councils and educators serves to improve our education system.
Our parent members have clearly demonstrated that they consider parent voice, independent of school boards, to be necessary. We hope that our democratically elected officials will continue to work with all parents to develop the best possible solutions.
We ask the Minister to re-open the discussion with parents, and to release the SLA results and curriculum redesign modules submitted to Alberta Education. We believe this is in the best interest of transparency and engagement with parents.
As the Minister just announced a complete overhaul of curriculum, we also look forward to hearing how CAPSC may assist the Minister in ensuring adequate consultation exists with parents.
Dr. John C. Bowman, quoted here, is Professor at the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Alberta, BS Eng (Alberta), MA (Princeton), PhD (Princeton).