Conceptua Math + TFA: Bad Alone, Worse Together?

I don’t blog all that often, and my subjects are usually very specific, so it was oddly coincidental when two of my favorite targets, Scabs for America, er, “Teach for America,” AND a misguided online content provider known as Conceptual Math, (which seems to be some kind of unwieldy appendage to a midtown advertising agency, judging by the rampant use of hyperbole in describing its materials) have now joined forces to  bring you, well, why not let the press release explain it all:

UST THE TWO OF US:Teach for America (TFA) recently announced a new partnership with online math curriculum provider Conceptua Math to create a Common Core math curriculum for incoming TFA teachers.

The partnership will manifest in two movements. For the 2013-2014 school year, 90 TFA teachers (representing grades 3 through 8) and staff members will pilot Conceptua’s all-digital Common Core math curriculum. Following, new TFA recruits attending the 2014 Chicago summer institute (where incoming corps members receive teacher training for approximately 5 weeks) will receive access to Conceptua math curriculum if they are teaching grade 3-5 math classes in their permanent school placement. They will also receive access to the curriculum for the entirety of their two-year teaching commitment with TFA.

Scott Painter, TFA’s Managing Director of Math and Science Design, describes the switch to Common Core as “a fundamental shift in what’s being taught;” he believes that Conceptua is not just a good resource for developing content knowledge, but also helps teachers develop pedagogical knowledge.

So what’s in it for Conceptua Math? Over 300 Teach for America corps members will use their curriculum product this coming summer. And if the pilot proves successful, Conceptua Math could be looking at a much longer and more lucrative partnership with TFA.

Good Lord!

I think the last 4 words of the last sentence say it all: Conceptua Math gets novice teachers who are programmed to use their extremely mediocre (but no doubt expensive) materials, and in return TFA gets to tell the public that their teachers do get training in their subject areas, even though there is a less than even chance that a TFA recruit will actually be placed in either the subject area or grade level for which he or she was drilled during the 5 week long “boot camp” indoctrination. The implications are scary, to say the least: hundreds of impressionable soon-to-be “teachers” will be brainwashed to believe they can pop open a can of Conceptua Math and immediately set their charges on the course for full mathematics proficiency.

What more is there to say? Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, we all have to sell our souls sometime. That Conceptua Math was willing to do so while imperiling its “reputation’ speaks volumes about the desperate nature of educational industrial complex. That TFA would make such a blatant self-serving connection only shows how much propping up the organization requires to forge ahead in its discredited mission.

About rmberkman

This blog is the sole musings of one Robert M. Berkman, an educator who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York. You can react to all his posts by emailing him at
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