New board members reject integrated math

Now group will consider whether to continue move to ‘Physics first’ science sequence

Students in Hinsdale High School District 86 will continue to learn math in a traditional course sequence.

In a split 4-3 vote June 9, the District 86 Board directed instructors to abandon the plan approved by the board last October to create an integrated math curriculum.

Board member Debbie Levinthal said she remained uncertain about integrated math’s ability to meet the range of students’ needs when they enter the district as freshman.

“I’m not convinced yet this is the approach that is going to accomplish (better student outcomes) over really fine-tuning our current trajectory,” Levinthal said.

After listening to a presentation and discussing the curriculum change for more than two hours at their May 26 meeting, the board continued the discussion for another three hours last week, ultimately rejecting a compromise plan the math team had created in the days prior to the meeting. The compromise would have preserved a traditional math curriculum for students starting in algebra 2 their freshman year and offered an integrated curriculum for more advanced students.

“We have come to you with what we consider to be a compromise that both keeps the tradition of excellence but provides a modified version of the integrated concept,” Chris Covino, assistant superintendent for academics, told board members.

Levinthal was joined by Peggy James, Jeff Waters and board President Terri Walker in rejecting the plan. The three board members who approved the integrated math pathway in October — Cynthia Hanson, Erik Held and Kathleen Hirsman — reiterated their support.

Walker said she would be more willing to consider an integrated math pathway if it could be offered as a pilot. Covino responded that it’s not possible to run two simultaneous math trajectories. He also noted the amount of work that is involved in writing a new curriculum, which happens at the high school level, versus purchasing one, as is done in lower grades.

“There are very significant differences between the concept of pilot at the high school level or at the middle school or elementary level,” Covino said.

Waters suggested the district’s time would be better spent helping students recover following the COVID-19 pandemic, especially given reports of record numbers of failing grades and rampant cheating.

“I just think there are better ways to serve kids,” he said.

James said she’s asked repeatedly for data showing integrated math would improve student performance and hasn’t received it.

“I can’t in good conscience vote (to move) forward at that point,” she said.

Board members and administrators also spent time clarifying when administrators need to bring curriculum revisions before the board.

“At what point does fine-tuning become curriculum change?” Covino asked.

“This is bigger than math,” he added. “This is a question about the direction of our district and whether or not we will be able to maintain the academic freedom on the part of the teaching staff to be able to do what they believe kids need on a daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, curriculum adoption cycle basis.”

James, Levinthal, Walker and Waters came under fire from their fellow other board members, who said they were getting too involved in curriculum decisions.

“I think we really need to decide as a board how ‘in the weeds’ we are going to get, how we are going to behave as a board,” Hanson said. “How we behave tonight with this is going to send a loud message.”

Held said the board should trust teachers to do their jobs.

“If we continue this, they won’t have to worry about being teachers in D86 anymore, because they will say, ‘I’m going to find a district that rewards my professional experience,’ ” he said.

Levinthal noted that move to integrated math already had been brought to the board as part of the strategic plan.

Held, Hanson and Hirsman’s frustration with the division on the board also surfaced at the meeting.

“I thought this was a wonderful opportunity to make a compromise,” Hanson said. “I don’t need to stick my heels in the ground and say only I’m right.

“With no compromise, then my voice means nothing.”

Following the vote, the board heard a presentation on the new Physics in the Universe science sequence set to be implemented this fall for incoming Hinsdale Central freshman. Leading up to the April 6 election, James, Levinthal, Walker and Waters had campaigned against the so-called “physics first” model.

Board members did not discuss any future action related to the science sequence, according to Chris Jasculca, director of communications.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean