To: Peel District School Board – Board of Trustees
September 23, 2008
Re: Year long Math and Physical Education in Semestered High Schools – Board Wide.
I wish to request that Board of Trustees work toward implementing the delivery of Grade 9 Math and Physical Education, to all Peel District School Board semestered high schools, as paired yearlong courses. These courses would be delivered on alternate school days. The long-term goal will be to extend this to Grades 10 and 11 also.
As background: My daughter is in Grade 11 and my son is in first year at U of Waterloo. They attend/attended Brampton Centennial SS and had to suffer through taking Math under a semestered system. This led them to receive intensive daily math instruction one semester and then NONE the following semester. This is a minimum gap of 7 months. My son’s schedule resulted in him taking math in the Fall of Grade 10 and then not again until the Spring of Grade 11. This was a gap of 12 months. My daughter is now faced with the same situation plus the added challenge of Grade 11 Physics after an extended 12 month period with no math instruction.
I have long felt that math instruction in our schools needed to be changed. On Feb. 13, 2008 the Globe and Mail printed an article entitled, “New secondary grads trail in math courses”, which inspired me to contact the high school principal to get involved and initiate this needed change. This article speaks to the results of a study on the academic performance of 10,000 first semester, community college students. This study found that 1/3 of these students received a D-grade or worse in first semester college math.
I look to this study to point out the general lack of success in the delivery of Math at the high school level. I disagree with the conclusion of the article which recommended that students going to community college should take the University stream courses. I think the researchers missed the point that there is something more fundamentally lacking in the system, and I contend that the root problem is the disjointed delivery of Math. However, the poor performance of graduating students is now clearly documented and action is needed.
In addition to my own gut-feel and common sense view that the delivery of math in a semestered format is an unacceptable situation to put young students in; I have consulted with 6 personal friends that are teachers whom agree that Math is a skill that requires regular re-enforcement to ensure proper development. To reiterate, Math has long been described as a language and as such must be re-enforced and practised regularly to develop an internal grasp of the language.
I have been in contact with Mr. Tom Wisnicki, Principal of Cardinal Leger High School, Brampton (Peel/Dufferin Separate School Board). He has implemented for the 3rd year running, Grade 9 Math on a yearlong basis within an otherwise semestered school timetable. He stated that the scheduling of this pairing was easily done using the standard timetable software. This is an example of this pairing working effectively right here in Peel.
He has chosen to pair Math with Phys. Ed. because he believes, as I do, that Phys.Ed. is also an essential core course that can not be properly delivered in the semestered framework i.e. Intensive activity every school day for one semester and then followed by NONE in the next semester. There can be no misunderstanding as to why a large number of students drop Phys. Ed. after the one mandatory course is completed. Any fitness trainer would immediately advise against such a lopsided program.
Critics of my proposal have tried to counter my arguments by saying there is no significant difference in the Grade 9 EQAO results between semestered and non-semestered schools. This counter argument misses my point entirely. Grade 9 students writing the EQAO test have all just completed 8 years of yearlong math instruction at Junior and Senior Elementary schools. The EQAO math test is administered at the end of each semester; there is no gap. The problem stems from the overloading of students within a semester and then long gaps in subsequent years.
Please, please help in turning the tide away from the semestered approach toward the yearlong delivery as discussed above.
It is clear that the semester system saves money; mainly by reducing the cost of textbooks i.e. exactly half the number of books are needed. I know this change will take extra financial resources but the current situation is not achieving the results needed and therefore is truly the more expensive approach because we are spending money without seeing a benefit in return.
The future prosperity of Ontario’s economy will require more and better trained technically competent workers and managers. Putting unreasonable demands on 14 to 16 year old students that ends up frustrating and turning them off math will have dire consequences in years to come. The naturally talented math students will still become engineers etc. but the demands of technically oriented economy go far beyond this group.
I understand that the Board of Trustees is bound to follow protocols and to seek the opinion of school board administrators and curriculum development specialists but the only way that change will be forthcoming will be through a decision made at the Trustee level. I cannot hold a great deal of hope in waiting for a group of experts to voluntarily reverse their own recommendations on the benefits of the semestered school system. There appear to be some advantages but Math and Phys. Ed. are not among them.
My goal is to see this in place for Grade 9 Math and Phys. Ed. The longer term goal is to see Physical Education mandatory for Grade 10 & 11 and then paired with Math thereafter. We need to promote physical fitness within the general population and the most effective means is to begin with our youth.
I look forward to your support in making this happen. As you can see these changes will be too late for my own children but none the less I am committed to protect others.
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