Aug 102012

I am planning several posts on this week’s time I spent with a math teacher from Phillips Exeter Academy. This first one, though, will be radically different from the others, and it is because I have to vent a little and lay out a difficulty I had today.

Today was the last day of the Exeter training, and it started with me staring at my computer at 6:45 am this morning thinking about the day ahead and looking at my notes from yesterday. Then I looked at my Google Reader and I read a post on Common Core that brought me to a realization.

As public school math teachers … we are screwed.

Let me explain how I reached this epiphany.

It is impossible to work on the Exeter math problems and not realize how carefully they are constructed and well developed the curriculum. After spending time with an Exeter math teacher and developing a deeper understanding of the Harkness Method they use (never once did this phrase come up, but the methods used by the instructor were clearly modeling the method) a person can’t help but really develop a strong affinity for their curriculum, which they GIVE away for FREE!

Okay, I really like their curriculum. It is rigorous, models real life situations constantly, allows learners to develop strong understandings without memorization, has multiple entry points for learners to develop strengths and and is completely free.  Point one to my depression today.

My state, like 44 other states (Utah backed out this week) is adopting the Common Core State Standards. This fact is point two to my depression. You see, when those two points are combined we are in a heap of trouble. Pearson and McDougal-Littel (among others) are developing many programs they are chomping at the bit to sell to our admins, and we all know they have a direct line through media and other means to our principals and curriculum directors.

And what does Exeter have? A curriculum that is fabulous, and is not aligned to any Common Core standards. They have the experience to build what is hands down the best math curriculum we could possibly use, and they give it away for free. They are not going to be lined up at our Admin Retreats pumping their product (but all the publishers had a booth at our local Admin Retreat this week, I looked.)

The next time textbooks are adopted who is going to be at the table? Pearson? Yes. McDougal? Yes. Exeter? No. Who has the better curriculum that will BEST meet the requirements of CCSS? Hands down, Exeter.  Are our admins going to even consider a curriculum that isn’t handed to them pre-aligned and packaged for the CCSS? No.

Who are our admins going to listen to; the missing voice of Exeter, or the loud and well funded voices of the textbook companies? Right.

And the worst thing is that this is NOT Exeter’s problem. They just write the problems. They write them for their own use and then make them available. They can not and SHOULD NOT be expected to advocate for their curriculum in public schools.

But, Exeter, WE have a problem.*


*I think I have a solution that I will write about after I detail some great stuff from this week. I am not sure my solution is achievable, but I don’t think we have a choice.

  3 Responses to “Exeter, we have a problem”

  1. Thank you. Waiting to hear more. I like their problems, but am eager to understand better why they’re so amazingly great. (You’ve described how they’re woven together – I want to see that.)

  2. Just when I was starting to warm up a little to the Common Core (e.g. I wrote a to drill myself on those domain abbreviations) and doing searches for CC.9-12.S.IC.6 and finding resources and clarification. I came across your post.

    How would you reconcile the elitist baggage that “Exeter Curriculum” would have in the flyover states with the potential for crowdsourcing a more excellent curriculum that is based on Common Core and built by thousands of creative teachers?

    p.s. I’ll warrant a guess that students admitted to Exeter for 2012-2013 already have mastered CC.9-12.S.IC.6, otherwise they wouldn’t have been admitted. Isn’t the power of the curriculum inherent in knowing the starting point of the student?

  3. John,
    Thank you for your comment. I like your quizlet on the abbreviations. I made a codebreaker for my department that has been shared in my district far and wide.
    Reconciling the elitist baggage – I don’t think this would be that much of a problem if it is approached correctly. Remember, I claimed this is OUR problem, not theirs, so we need to project the idea that we may be starting with their problem sets and pedagogy (I have a whole series of posts on Exeter Math, this post is the first of many) but we are and must end with OUR development from that beginning.
    Remember, those flyover states also are home to Knox College (exclusive private college in Illinois & my Alma Mater), Grinnell College, Coe, Simpson (exclusive colleges in Iowa) and a host of other private colleges in each of the Midwest States. The Midwest knows about private institutions giving back to the community, and Exeter TRULY is giving back. What I am more concerned with is the Western States. Out here in NV, we have no private colleges other than for-profit, suck the community dry, and leave them in debt colleges.

    As far as the idea that the learners already know, that is the subject of another post forthcoming. Exeter does NOT actually make that assumption. They have a placement exam they give their learners to put them in the right course. Their standards may be high, & they may have advantages we don’t in the public realm but they still have struggling learners just as we do.

    I have an idea, and that idea will take several posts to build up. Stick around. There are two posts now, and as many as 7 to 9 posts in the end (depending on the questions asked.)

    Thank you again for your thoughts!

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