My father worked in factories from age 16 until he retired in 1980. He started out as an apprentice to a foreman in a picture frame factory and retired as the plant manager of a large mirror manufacturer.

Part of my father’s job was to try to reduce costs or speed production without reducing product quality. He was always searching for a way to make things cheaper or produce them faster while maintaining or improving quality. He never settled for the status quo. Sometimes his ideas worked, and sometimes they didn’t.

In today’s Daily Pilot, there is a an article about the new Swun Math program at N-MUSD schools. Before this story ran, parents and teachers had been giving me anecdotal information about Swun Math’s shortcomings but I was not aware of the blatant errors in some of the materials.

The switch to Swun Math is an attempt to improve student math comprehension by trying a different approach and the brain trust at the school district should not be faulted for acting in this best interest. That larger goal they are trying to achieve is an example of good leadership, particularly in light of the fact that the latest available math scores for several schools would cause one to think, “These schools are performing well – why mess with success?”

Why? Because continuous improvement is not optional and the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality leads to complacency and decline

But switching to a new program is just the beginning. The true test of leadership comes when the Swun Math assessment results are in. If the program is performing well, everyone wins. But if it is not, someone at the district must do the responsible thing for students and taxpayers and say, “We tried it and it did not work so we’re going back to what we were doing before.”

That admission is not only the responsible thing to do, it is the courageous thing to do. The alternative is to let students flounder in a failed program because someone’s ego – or several egos – prevents them from admitting a mistake. Admitting a mistake is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength.

Still, there are some questions:

  1. Which school districts using Swun Math were reviewed before approving the program?
  2. What were the positives and negatives of those reviews?
  3. What are the testing benchmarks that will determine whether the program is succeeding or failing?
  4. To which address do we send the Swun folks the invoice for the time our teachers are spending correcting Swun errors?

Until test results are in, it seems premature to fault a program that was adopted with the expectation that students would have a better understanding of a subject that many students find challenging.

Attempts at continuous improvement should be encouraged and applauded. But if the results show that Swun Math does not work, we should applaud even louder when someone at Bear St. declares defeat and returns to the tried and true.

It’s what my dad would do.

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