Math curriculum changes don't add up: experts

Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister has been told she's wasting money to tweak a math curriculum experts and parents say is simply not working.

Newfoundland and Labrador's education minister has been told she is wasting millions of dollars to tweak a math curriculum that experts and parents say is simply not working.

Education Minister Joan Burke admits there are serious problems with the current math program. ((CBC))

Joan Burke announced the government will spend $11 million to help improve student performance. A key focus is on math, where student grades have been found lacking for years.

Burke acknowledged there are problems with the curriculum— which emphasizes problem solving instead of more traditional skills, such as multiplication and division— but she is not ready to replace it.

"The curriculum is what they describe as a mile long and an inch deep," said Burke, adding that parents, students and experts alike have pointed out flaws in the math program.

"They felt that maybe we shouldn't cover as many curriculum outcomes but more depth to the topics that we cover."

Burke said instead of replacing the program, "we're going to strengthen it." The new plan includes hiring 25 specialists to help teachers and parents better understand the math curriculum.

Memorial Univeristy professor Sherry Mantyka said government should throw out its math curriculum. ((CBC))

However, Sherry Mantyka, a professor at Memorial University who has closely studied math performance, said the government is making the wrong decision.

"This curriculum, in its design, is fundamentally flawed," she told CBC News.

"There's no amount of teacher professional development that's going to correct that."

The curriculum, which is also used in the other Atlantic provinces, was adopted about a decade ago. It was intended to boost enrolment in university and improve overall math skills.

Instead, the opposite has happened. In 2005, the provincial average on a standardized Grade 9 test was just 55 per cent.

Kevin Foley, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association, said government is overlooking the fact that many students never acquire many math skills in the first place.

"I've heard some teachers say and some parents say the students don't get time to rehearse the concepts because [they say], 'Now I've got to move on'… because they have to be finished before the year is out."

Denise Pike, who chairs the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils, though, said extra supports could help.

"It's not so much that it's a bad math program— it's just too overcrowded," said Pike, adding that the curriculum tries to accomplish too much each year.

Meanwhile, Burke announced that regional school boards will be receiving more money to help keep the number of teachers they have.

Even though school enrolments have been consistently declining for years— and plummeting in communities that have been gutted by collapse in fisheries— the government will not be removing teacher positions in the fall.