Pro & Con: Should Georgia scrap its integrated math curriculum?


It leaves too many students behind, doesn’t integrate with science.

By John Konop

Math 123 may be a well-intended effort to prepare students for a globally competitive workplace, but it’s a proven failure that’s causing substantially more harm than good. Math 123 radically changed our high school math curriculum without properly reviewing it with teachers and parents. It replaced the traditional math sequence (Algebra I & II, geometry and trigonometry) with Math 1, Math 2 and Math 3, which teaches each subject in parallel, rather than starting and completing one topic before moving on to the next.

All Georgia students are now required to pass Math 123 to graduate from high school, which means they must complete the equivalent of Algebra II. That is too aggressive a goal for some students. Prior to Math 123, less than one-third of students were able to complete Algebra I. Those who can’t pass Math 123 are dropping out of school in shocking numbers, damaging their self-esteem and long-term economic prospects. Many resort to taking the GED, which doesn’t require Algebra II, to salvage their futures.

Math 123 makes the same mistake as President George W. Bush’s unpopular No Child Left Behind program: It’s unrealistic to ask all high school students to complete a college-prep curriculum. Some kids would be better served by a strong vocational and/or technical option.

Math 123 also harms teacher morale. It’s not reasonable to call our math teachers failures because they cannot teach every student Math 123’s higher requirements.

Math 123 leaves Georgia with an oddball math curriculum compared to other states, which puts our kids at a disadvantage as they compete for college acceptance. It has also created a nightmare for students transferring in and out of Georgia public high schools. That’s because it’s very difficult to determine where a student who is part way through Math 123 belongs in the traditional structure. Finally, Math 123 does not track correctly with the math skills needed to complete science courses such as chemistry and physics. Thus, students now face topics in science before they’ve learned the underlying math.

What can we do? First, Math 123 should be withdrawn and Georgia schools should return to the traditional math curriculum. Second, public high schools should link their curricula and graduation requirements with local universities, junior colleges and technical colleges to give kids a chance to pursue vocational training or advanced academics. Third, college-prep students should be eligible to have their course work coordinated with a university system. This would challenge Georgia’s top students and give them a leg-up when competing with kids from other states for college admissions.

Finally, we should increase the linkage between our schools and business communities by creating local all-star teams for math and science students based on criteria established and judged by the business community. This program could reward top students with scholarship money and truly celebrating their achievements.

John Konop is CEO of Greystone Business Resources Corp. in Woodstock.


Students learn more; benefits will show up over time.

By Dane Marshall

Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to discredit the integrated math curriculum. Informed people made the change after deliberate study. Input was sought from teachers who were recognized as outstanding in their field, as well as from university experts who had insight into the teaching of math. The new curriculum was introduced in stages beginning in fall 2005, so that teachers and students would have the opportunity to acclimate themselves over time.

I recognize that when talking with teachers and parents, an integrated curriculum gets mixed reviews.

But when studying standardized test scores, an integrated curriculum produces students who were stronger in mathematics than students who were instructed using a traditional approach, according to a recent statement by the Georgia Council of Supervisors of Mathematics.

Some school systems want to go back to the traditional curriculum because it is familiar to them. Comments I have heard include, “We taught math with algebra, geometry and trigonometry for 50 years and we did just fine.”

The reality is that we did not fare so well with that approach, as our test scores consistently showed. Sure, the old curriculum produced some students who were proficient in math, but I believe it failed many others. Some say that the new curriculum is too difficult and that students who once made an “A” in math are now struggling. There were some avenues in the old curriculum that allowed students to proceed on a watered-down path. Some of these were the same students who earned a “B” or better in high school math only to be required to participate in remedial math classes once they were in college.

In the late 1990s, I was part of a teacher exchange program, and I visited several schools in Germany. The instructors were using an integrated approach that I found both interesting and exciting. The students were proficient in math, and they also had a vision of how the various strands of mathematics complemented each other. When studying a topic in algebra, they were able to bring in a geometric approach that facilitated their understanding of the new concept.

Our students have, and have always had, the ability to do likewise, but our curriculum has not encouraged it. By compartmentalizing our math, many students didn’t see the “big picture.” Perhaps this is one reason students from other countries consistently score better than do our students on tests assessing mathematical understanding.

When our students are tested by any recognized international criteria, we are consistently near the bottom of the list. I believe that if we give the integrated curriculum the opportunity to show its benefits to Georgia students, that will change. To declare the integrated curriculum a failure at this time and to cavalierly dismiss it is a mistake. Let’s stick with an integrated curriculum and give it an opportunity to succeed.

Dane Marshall of Cumming is a retired mathematics teacher with more than 40 years of education experience.