As I've written about often, rolling out programs from the top is bad policy for school systems, even when the programs are good educationally. When the program promotes lousy education approaches, the result is disastrous. And I thought I had a great post about this using a story about "anti-racist math" from Michael_the_Archangel installed by the superintendent of Newton, MA, schools between 1999 and 2001.
Between 1999 and 2001 the district superintendent 'redesigned' the math cirriculum to an "anti-racist multicultural math". What does that exactly mean? Well, it means that division, multiplication, fractions and decimals is no longer the first priority in math class. No, to quote from the article, the new priority in a math class is "...Respect for Human Differences - students will live out the system wide core of 'Respect for Human Differences' by demonstrating anti-racist/anti-bias behaviors." It continues, "Students will: Consistently analyze their experiences and the curriculum for bias and discrimination; Take effective anti-bias action when bias or discrimination is identified; Work with people of different backgrounds and tell how the experience affected them; Demonstrate how their membership in different groups has advantages and disadvantages that affect how they see the world and the way they are perceived by others..." It goes on and on."
However, this particular story has gotten extensive coverage in the blogosphere. Tangoman at GeneExpression has hit it twice, here and here. (The latter includes a 3,119-word riff on political correctness in pedagogy, complete with extensive quotes, AFTER he finishes with the Newton story!) Chris Correa responded to Tangoman's first post and has visited the subject again here. Not only the posts, but the comments are good.
What to make of all this? I've run into Connected Math before. My best guess is that this is a case of a teaching approach that, done well creates excellent learning gains, but, done poorly, falls much below other approaches that have less top-end potential. That's been my overall conclusion on a lot of the "constructivist" pedagogy argument. This could raise a question about the approach of getting poorer performing teachers to emulate their higher-performing peers. It could well be that "almost" teaching like a top-tier teacher will get far worse learning gains from students than teaching in a safer, if ultimately lower-potential manner.