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Why Local Schools Are Choosing Singapore Math

What is Singapore math and why is it so popular?

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Singaporean students have long been among the world’s highest-ranking math students, according to the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study. American kids lag behind, not even cracking the top 10 at the elementary school level in 2011. To catch up in a globally competitive world, local schools are turning to the curriculum that has proved so successful in Singapore.

Devised from that country’s internationally acclaimed K-6 math curriculum, Singapore math and its two main textbooks — Math in Focus and Primary Mathematics — aims to instill improved conceptual understanding, problem solving skills, number sense and math mastery.

The Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School (FACT) of Philadelphia opened its doors in 2005 with Primary Mathematics in place. “A main strength is the three-step learning process, which goes from concrete to pictorial to abstract; each new concept builds on the foundation,” says math coordinator Janice Fan. “The program is unique and the mathematical skill of our students is phenomenal.”

An added bonus? “The Singaporean approach directly supports the eight Common Core Mathematical Practice standards and very closely aligns to the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Content.” says James DiDonato, curriculum/instruction director at Mt. Holly Public Schools. The South Jersey town changed to Math in Focus in the 2012-13 school year in an effort to comply with the recently adopted Common Core initiative, which promotes a nationwide set of K-12 educational standards.

The Singapore switch

The Kuumba Academy Charter School of Wilmington, DE switched to Primary Mathematics in 2007-08, after a detailed analysis revealed that its math curriculum lagged behind its reading program. A query to the Delaware Math and Science Foundation led Kuumba to the Singapore method.

Other schools made the change to break away from the spiral curriculum widely taught in the Everyday Math textbook. (A spiral curriculum circles back to basic tenets multiple times, so students attain mastery when they are developmentally ready; Singapore math eliminates the need for reteaching by requiring concept mastery before moving ahead.)

The Westtown School in West Chester, PA eschewed Everyday Math for Singapore math four years ago. Math specialist Wendy Dubas says she likes “the way the program bridges from the lower grades to the middle school; we are seeing strong cohesive progress.”

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