Providence School forum will explore fresh approach to math

Linda Borg writing in the Providence Journal:

Michael Lauro, the district’s new math coordinator, will discuss plans for a curriculum called FASTT Math.
PROVIDENCE – Osiris Harrell, an outspoken critic of the school district’s math curriculum, has invited parents and school officials to a meeting March 22 to discuss the effectiveness of the math program.
The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Federal Hill House, 9 Cortland St., Providence.
Michael Lauro, the district’s new math coordinator, will discuss plans for a fresh approach to math called FASTT Math. The district is considering trying it on a limited basis next year.
Harrell has met with Lauro to discuss his concerns about the current math program and to agree on how to work together, according to school spokeswoman Maria Tocco.
Harrell, in a recent interview with The Providence Journal, said he was distressed by the district’s approach to math instruction, a program called Math Investigations that teaches students how to think about problem-solving rather that drilling them in the basics. The district adopted it in 2003 at the urging of then-Supt. Diana Lam.

Harrell, who is forming a parents’ watchdog group called Project Future 2000 and
Beyond, has been circulating a petition that asks the district to prove that its current math curriculum works. When Harrell gets 800 signatures, he said he will present the petition to Mayor David N. Cicilline and Schools Supt. Donnie Evans.
After Harrell’s comments were published in The Journal, he said that a number of parents contacted him to share their frustration with Math Investigations, which encourages students to come up with their own solutions to basic math problems.
By contrast, FASTT Math is a return to the skill-and-drill approach familiar to many of today’s parents. After taking an on-line test to determine their skill levels, students spend 10 minutes answering basic math problems. The problems get harder as the student progresses.
“The theory is that students need to be able to recall these facts within so many seconds so they can free up their minds for higher-order math skills,” said Debbie Hodin, director of direct marketing for Tom Snyder Productions, the company that makes the software.
A number of school districts, including Hillsborough, Fla., Evans’ former employer, have adopted the program, which is designed for students who are struggling with basic math, especially those who are performing at least one grade level below their peers.
FASTT Math was developed by Ted Hasselbring, a professor of special education technology at the University of Kentucky, and Laura Goin, the CEO of Designs for Learning.