NEW PORT RICHEY — Outside school walls, the recent purchase of $4.3 million in new math textbooks for Pasco schools has raised some eyebrows. The state-mandated purchase comes as revenues are shrinking, positions are being cut and teachers are facing another year without raises.
Several School Board candidates have questioned the practice of buying new textbooks if the material hasn't changed much.
"One plus one still equals two," said Steve Luikart, a retired high school assistant principal running for School Board in District 5.
"We don't need the textbooks every six years, especially for some of the subjects," added District 3 candidate Cynthia Armstrong, a former teacher. "We've got to beat out the textbook lobbyists."
But some Pasco math teachers have applauded the arrival of the new textbooks, which are part of a statewide overhaul in the way the subject is taught.
Math itself hasn't changed. But the teaching philosophy behind it has. Now students will cover fewer concepts each year so they can spend more time mastering each one.
"Before, there was a lot of overlap," said Nelson Chasney, who teaches seventh-grade math at Chasco Middle School. "Things we'd do in sixth grade we'd do again in seventh grade and again in eighth. Now, they're more independent."
Under the revamped math curriculum, seventh grade went from 89 benchmarks, all covered quickly, to 25 concepts that can be handled in greater depth. Integers, for instance, moved from a one-day lesson to a five-day study. Hands-on activities — such as a dice game in which students must roll one die with positive numbers and another with negative numbers, then calculate the total — are designed to make the concepts more real to children.
"It gets kids better prepared, and not just for the FCAT," Chasney said. "We need to get them ready for high school and the real world."
As if to prove his point, at least one of the seventh-grade students in his class struggled to add five and four during last week's lesson.
Wiregrass Ranch High math teacher Danna Sturman said she believed the new focus will bring students to her classroom needing less time to review materials they should have mastered.
"The sixth- through eighth-grade curriculum was almost the same standards every year," Sturman said. "They wanted them to do 100 things but they didn't go very deep with it. … We're hoping to see the results here in a couple of years."
Sturman said the new books for her geometry and precalculus classes similarly focus instruction, offering more hands-on applications and better technological support. Students can even access the textbooks and their supplemental materials online.
"Today's kids want to know, When am I ever going to use this? How does this relate to my life?" she said. "The new books do a lot better job with that."
The changes come amid a national movement to improve math and science education.
Florida's previous math standards, adopted in 1996, failed to meet the approval of outside reviewers, who determined they were not specific enough and did not push students. Then came a report from the National Council of Teachers of Math, which recommended that math instruction be more focused across the country.
Those suggestions played a prominent role when the state revamped its math standards about three years ago. The new ones, incorporated into the textbooks, take effect this year and will be tested on the new FCAT exam.
"These new instructional materials will help us immensely," district math supervisor Jill Nielsen said. "There are more assessments built in, along with directions on interventions."
Teachers were involved in the textbook selection process from the start, Nielsen said. And the general feedback was that the new materials, which arrived for classes this past week, should help make local students more competitive nationally and internationally, she added.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.