James Shuls, a former elementary teacher working on a doctorate, and his wife, a Spanish teacher in the local school district, wanted their first-grade son to learn standard math algorithms, he writes on Education News. The teacher said the math program focused on “deep understanding.” When they asked for a meeting, the teacher called in the principal, which felt like “being sent to the principal’s office” for challenging the teacher.
The principal offered the chance to observe math classes in three grades.
The (first-grade) teacher was enthusiastic and had a great command of the classroom. I could tell she had experience and connected well with her students. To start the lesson, she read the word problem aloud with the students. It was a multiplication problem in which a boy had five bags and 12 cars in each bag. The teacher wanted to know the total number of cars. Students were reminded to use their strategies to solve the problem, but were not given any specific strategies. What struck me most was the labor-intensive nature of this form of instruction.
. . . even this good teacher could not get around to every student and take the time to help them understand the nuances of every problem-solving strategy that they had developed. As a result, some students were copying, some students had no one-on-one instruction, and other students looked just plain lost. In the entire hour-long lesson, the students worked on only this problem, and by the end, several students appeared no closer to an answer than when they began. Three students were invited to share their strategies at the end of the class, but after they shared their strategies, the lesson was over. The teacher never explained how to solve the problem.
My experiences in the second- and third-grade classes mirrored the first observation. Some students developed strategies, some did not. Never once did a teacher directly teach students how to solve a math problem. At the end of my three hours of observing, I realized that this instructional method encouraged even those students with deeper understanding to work extremely slowly and absolutely left behind all other students.
All the local public schools use the same math program and there are no elementary charter schools in the area. At significant financial sacrifice, they moved their children to private school. We need school choice, concludes Shuls.
In the comments, a parent says “deeper understanding” is code for low expectations.
Also: Why Johnny can’t subtract.