Catholic elementary schools tend to produce students with much stronger scores in language arts than mathematics. This is generally true in dioceses across the United States.
Short of adopting the public school model, I am pessimistic that new programs or other curricular interventions in our Catholic schools will yield substantially better math results. The issue isn’t one of technique, design, or time on task. Rather, it resides in the natural proclivities of our teachers.
Sumner Academy, a small but highly regarded K-8 private school in Gallatin, TN (http://www.sumneracademy.org) has a simple solution: It departmentalizes disciplines all the way down to kindergarten. Each “unit” (K-2, 3-5, 6-8) has a math/science teacher, a language arts teacher and a third teacher. Kids stay in one classroom, but the teachers rotate to that classroom.
Organizing this way allows the school to hire teachers with a genuine love and depth of understanding for math (and science) for each grade level unit, without adding any additional salary costs to the school. The headmaster of Sumner Academy, Dr. Bill Hovenden, points out additional benefits:
- There’s better vertical alignment of the K-8 curriculum since it’s a matter of coordinating just three people in each discipline.
- Since a particular teacher teaches each kid for three years in their particular discipline, he or she begins the year knowing much more about his or her students’ strengths and weaknesses.
- When a teacher is on maternity leave or out for an extended illness, the other two teachers in each unit can guide and support the substitute as the third member of the team.
Because departmentalization at such a young age violates elementary school orthodoxy, I asked Dr. Hovenden if his kids seemed to have difficulty in adjusting to three teachers instead of one. He answers “no” rather emphatically. In fact, he argues that the trio of teachers can often provide more pastoral, loving support for a child than a single teacher because the teachers can talk as a team about each student, tackle issues together, and build longer term relationships with each student’s family. Students, families and teachers become very close to one another over the course of those three years.
That's not speculation, he adds. They’ve been doing it this way for over twenty years.