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Checklist for Evaluating New Educational Programs
Educators regularly encounter new educational programs that claim superiority over what is currently in place. The frequency of such encounters, and the extent to which they fail to meet the expectations they arouse, has led to an overall attitude of resistance toward anything new in education. Thus any new educational program, regardless of its merit, can expect major confrontations throughout its dissemination period, particularly as it grows in popularity.
New educational programs spark controversy: They raise emotions and polarize groups. Any movement about different ways of teaching or changes in the curriculum will be impacted by how people think elementary school children learn and their views on the best interests of children and the community. It will be affected by changing needs and perceptions and the social and political climate of the times.
In studying the criticisms of new educational programs, one learns that they tend to center about certain recurring themes that may be presented in the form of questions for evaluating a new educational program:
Is it needed? Does it address social and/or economic issues? Who are the main benefactors? Is it for a select group of students or all students?
Does it have clear goals? Does it have a plan for attaining them? Is the plan realistic? Does it contain strategies for attaining both short-term and long-term goals? Does it involve the different stakeholders (students, teachers, parents, business, the community…)? Is it in competition with the goals of other new educational programs?
Does it accelerate learning? Does it challenge the traditional placement of content and perceptions of children’s abilities? (e.g., teaching the "times table" or multiplication facts in grades K-2 as in MOVE IT Math instead of grades 3-4 as usual). If it does, what is to be done with the standard curriculum?
Does it supplement or supplant existing programs? If the latter, how politically energized are those who have a vested interest in preserving those programs?
What are the key concepts and principles? Are they aligned with local and state requirements? How and when are they introduced? Are they taught effectively? Is there a balance between skills, concepts, and problem solving rather than one being emphasized at the expense of the other two as was the case with the New Math of the 60s that emphasized concepts at the expense of basics and problem solving and the "New" New Math of the 90s that emphasized problem solving at the expense of basics and concepts?
Is it compartmentalized/departmentalized? (e.g., math from 10:30–11:20). Interdisciplinary? (e.g., math in relation to, say, the desecration of the rain forest in Brazil).
Is it developmentally appropriate? Does it account for different learning styles? Does it build on the strengths and interests of the learner?
Does it agree philosophically with other educational innovations that are gaining in popularity like cooperative learning? Does it support current thinking on educational issues? Is it in concert with current state and national recommendations regarding education?