I have to respectfully disagree with my colleague’s tacit approval of "integrated math," which is not an "intuitive or interesting" approach to mathematics. Rather, it’s a tool to justify falling academic standards and low test scores, and the district should seriously consider abandoning the program.
The same logic was used to justify the teaching of Ebonics in several California school districts in the late 1990s. Whatever your opinion may be regarding the defining characteristics of a lexicon, I think it is safe to argue that teaching Ebonics as the primary form of English in urban schools did a disservice to students. Teachers marginalized their students’ opportunities for success by teaching them a language with dubious credibility and zero applicability to the world in which they lived.
Mathematics is a language just like any other language, and it is imperative that students learn how to speak that language correctly if they want to be able to communicate effectively in society. The language equivalent of "integrated math" would be teaching Spanish that emphasized hitting the "high points" of the language, with no regard to grammar, conjugation, or syntax. As long as the basic message was clear, that would be all that was important.
Yes, mathematics can be a difficult subject, just like learning any language can be. But the idea of a "flexible" math curriculum invites the criticism that the curriculum is focused more on student self-esteem and higher test scores than actual learning. And as an article in today’s Southeast Missourian suggests, the fact that Missouri students are increasingly unprepared for college-level mathematics courses implies that academic standards have dropped. Students that sail through grade school with high grades from well-meaning teachers find themselves completely unprepared for college. Shouldn’t we be more focused on whether students are learning than whether they make straight A’s?
In my opinion, a far more effective approach to making math more accessible is to encourage and expand the pursuit of studies in math-heavy subjects, such as physics, statistics, and even computer programming (which relies on logic and set theory), rather than teaching "integrated math." Although students may fail to see the value of learning traditional algebra by itself, if they view algebra as a tool for understanding a subject which they enjoy, they will be more likely to excel in it.
Integrated math is not about "kids learning in different ways." It is a deliberate attempt to inflate math test scores by dumbing down the subject in the interest of "accessibility." And while that may be a short-run gain for school administrators focused on the metrics of individual school success, it is a long-run failure for their students’ future academic progress.