St. Tammany Parish parents packing School Board meetings to complain about Common Core and associated topics have become as much a part of the parish’s political landscape as leaders with an R after their names.
Thursday night was no different. The parish School Board was discussing a measure — already approved by the board last week as a committee as a whole — to remove Common Core-aligned Eureka Math curriculum materials from classrooms by the end of this school year. And just like at the last meeting, the room was packed.
But Thursday night, the script was flipped, to an extent. The expected handful of regular anti-Common Core speakers decried Eureka Math as age-inappropriate, confusing and full of errors and typos. But they were matched, if not outnumbered, by a steady procession of teachers who begged the board to allow Eureka Math to remain for at least the rest of this year, if not beyond.
An overwhelming majority of the teachers — many of whom were at the meeting because they had attended an earlier reception for teachers and principals of the year — praised the Eureka Math curriculum, and many said their students were grasping math at a more conceptual level than ever before.
“This curriculum is teaching students to think for themselves,” said Christen Timmins, a teacher at Fontainebleau High School. “It teaches them the why, rather than a rote mathematical process.”
Timmins acknowledged there have been some difficulties, but she said the curriculum needed to be broken in, “like a new pair of jeans.”
Donna Jones, who teaches at Bonne Ecole Elementary School in Slidell, said students have struggled at math no matter how it has been taught.
“I had students struggle in math well before we incorporated the new math,” she said. “Math is just hard.”
The Eureka Math materials don’t employ different concepts from those used in the past, but they do teach more strategies and tools, Jones said. “The new curriculum can help all students,” she said.
Jochen Kranz, a native of Austria who teaches eighth-grade math at Slidell Junior High School, said the school system should keep Eureka Math beyond the school year.
“We have to make our students more competitive,” Kranz said before relating a story about his fourth-grade son figuring out the perimeter of a dirt race track based on skills he learned in his math class.
Kranz’s words provided a brief moment of levity in a lengthy meeting that grew tense at times.
Some anti-Common Core activists were not impressed with what the teachers had to say.
“Eureka Math is not meeting the needs of our children,” said Sara Wood, a frequent critic of Common Core, the controversial set of state standards with which Eureka Math is closely aligned. She accused school administrators of “packing” the room with teachers and principals to speak in favor of Eureka Math.
Wood also said she was happy that Eureka Math would be removed by the end of the year but that she felt school administrators should have worked to remove it sooner.
One thing about Thursday’s meeting resembled earlier Common Core dust-ups — its length. Last week’s meeting ran past midnight, mostly due to the debate over Eureka Math. Thursday’s lasted almost four hours, a span that saw tempers begin to flare both in the audience and on the dais.
When it was over, the School Board did exactly what the board, acting as a committee, recommended last week. It voted to phase out Eureka Math by the end of the school year and to adopt new textbooks to guide the parish’s math curriculum.
The board also voted to set up small discussion groups of teachers and other educators to study Common Core and the curriculum, and report back to the board.
Follow Faimon A. Roberts III on Twitter, @faimon.