ARLINGTON, Va. — This school year, at least two “task forces” will look at possible changes to two core DODDS programs: the math curriculum and remedial help for elementary students, according to the military school system’s top director.

One advisory committee will focus on how to best offer remedial education to elementary students, whose full schedule leaves them no time to get corrective help, Joseph Tafoya, director of the Department of Defense Education Activity, said Friday during an interview about the start of the upcoming school year.

“In high school, when we have kids who are not doing well in reading, not doing well in math … we can schedule them into … reading support classes to give them that extra help. And although they may have to give up an elective or something else they may want to take, they’re not losing instruction in algebra class. They still have a regular English class, etc.

“We can also do that in middle school to some degree. … [B]ut in the elementary schools, we have some real difficulty in addressing individual student needs.

“Any time you pull a kid out, be it third grade, fifth grade, first grade, you’re pulling them out of a class assignment. So they are missing something other kids are getting in order to get some remediation,” Tafoya said.

The committee will research the structure of the elementary school days, and concepts such as whether teachers could be trained to give remedial attention within the regular class setting, how technology might help and how other school systems address the issue.

He expects no immediate changes, but a yearlong probe into the topic.

Math Matters program

Also this year, the Department of Defense Dependents Schools will launch its “Math Matters” program, an emphasis on the mathematics program that mirrors the emphasis placed on reading few years back, Tafoya said.

“Our system has very good math scores, but they’re not as high as our reading scores. That’s why we’re making this particular emphasis,” Tafoya said.

However, it won’t be for another year until students see a new curriculum and new textbooks, he said. About every six years, administrators replace subject-specific textbooks at all grade levels.

“In terms of seeing new books or new approaches, in isolated places they may as we do pilot things, but overall it’s still a year away.”

While the Defense Department’s global war on terrorism as not directly dipped into the educational coffers, the department is feeling the pinch of budget constraints felt by other federal agencies.

And he’s no stranger to dealing with budget crunches.

Last year, coming on the heels of controversial program cuts made to extracurricular activities that directly impacted students, Tafoya faced a $61 million shortfall in payroll accounts due to the weak dollar overseas against foreign currency.

He said he refused to make more cuts in programs directly impacting students. Instead, he left vacant positions at the headquarters officer, cut overtime, and shifted funds such as using $3 million director’s reserve.

“As adults, we can make do without some things. We can learn to adapt. But you’re only a senior once. You only get so many chances to play football. I couldn’t make any more cuts.”

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