As an elementary school principal, Chancellor Carmen Fariña had parents pushing her school to enhance its math curriculum to better prepare their kids for specialized middle and high schools.
Now, she’s hoping that changing the way fifth-grade math is taught will improve the quality of math instruction across New York City — even at schools without that particular brand of pushy parents, she said.
“If you look at your higher-achieving schools or parents who think their children should be higher-achieving, you’ll see that the coursework is different than in schools in other places,” Fariña told a group of teachers and principals on Tuesday. Later, she said, “I want to see a student in the South Bronx having the same access to algebra as a kid in Park Slope.”
The educators gathered Tuesday are a part of the first group planning to “departmentalize” math at their elementary schools by designating specific teachers to be laser-focused on the subject. That’s the city’s first step toward its goal of preparing every ninth-grade student for algebra, and one Fariña said has broader implications for reducing inequities among city schools.
“If you have a teacher who teaches [math] with passion, who’s going to teach it on a regular basis and is going to make that that all the kids are on grade level, no matter which class they’re in, that’s where equity and excellence comes in,” she said.
At the start of the three-day training session, Fariña said she had been inspired both by her own experience and by some schools in the city’s “Renewal” turnaround program that she had visited that were trying departmentalized math.
Maria Della Ragione, the principal of P.S. 230 in Brooklyn, began experimenting with departmentalized math last year. She said she designated a room in her building as the “math lab” with vocabulary words and projects filling the space. Separating math has allowed students to participate in more small-group instruction, she said.
“It’s been exciting to see this kind of change,” she said.
Currently, 75 schools are signed up to departmentalize math next year. The plan is to provide at least 15 more days of training during the summer and next school year, officials said.
“You are our schools we’re going to be watching very carefully,” Fariña told the teachers and principals, “because we want to be able to say to everybody, this is the way to go.”