Seattle Math Group Update

Martha McLaren:

Thanks to all the people who have written, expressing your support and dedication to this effort, and also to those who have so generously made financial donations. We are many, many people nationwide standing in solidarity in our commitment to make effective math education accessible to all students.
I apologize to those who have looked for news recently on this blog: I’ve been following other math ed news, but little has been happening directly regarding our lawsuit, so I haven’t sat down to give updates.
In the last 6 weeks, there has been an outpouring of support for our lawsuit and its outcome, as well a surge of determination to deflect the tide of inquiry-based math instruction that has flooded so many of our schools. I’ve been very moved by letters from parents who have struggled (heroically, and often poignantly, it seems to me) to support their children in developing strong math skills despite curricula that they found confusing, unintelligible, and deeply discouraging. I strongly believe that, whether the Seattle School District’s appeal of Judge Spector’s decision succeeds or fails, the continuing legal action will only heighten public awareness of the tragic and devastating results of the nationwide inquiry-based math experiment. The public NEEDS TO KNOW about this debacle. I think/hope that our lawsuit and its aftermath are helping this to happen.

Seattle Public Schools Will Start Teaching That Math Is Oppressive

Robby Soave: Math is a deeply frustrating subject for many elementary and high school students. But Seattle public schools are gearing up to accuse math of a litany of more serious crimes: imperialism, dehumanization, and oppression of marginalized persons. The district has proposed a new social justice-infused curriculum that would focus on “power and oppression” … Continue reading Seattle Public Schools Will Start Teaching That Math Is Oppressive

Dumping Everyday Math? The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

But I would suggest an even more important vote will occur on Wednesday, one that will decide the future of tens or hundreds of thousands of Seattle students over the next decade: the Seattle School Board’s vote on the future elementary math curriculum. As I have noted in previous blogs, Seattle Public Schools is now … Continue reading Dumping Everyday Math? The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

Failing Math Curriculum in Seattle Public Schools

Cliff Mass:

If I was a Seattle Public School parent, I would be getting angry now.
Why? Most Seattle students are receiving an inferior math education using math books and curriculum that will virtually insure they never achieve mastery in key mathematical subjects and thus will be unable to participate in careers that requires mathematical skills.
There are so many signs that a profound problem exists in this city. For example,
Parents see their kids unable to master basic math skills. And they bring home math books that are nearly indecipherable to parents or other potential tutors.
Nearly three quarters of Seattle Community College students require remediation in math.
Over one hundred Seattle students are not able to graduate high school because they could not pass state-mandated math exams.
Minority and economically disadvantaged students are not gaining ground in math.

Much more on Seattle’s math battles, here.

It’s Time to Turn the Page on Math in Seattle Schools

Rick Burke:

Days are getting longer, the weather is warmer. The smell of spring is in the air. But if you inhale deeply down by JSCEE, there’s another smell. It’s the smell of math. After years of sideways movement, the stars are aligned for systemic changes to math instruction in Seattle Public Schools.
When you look at Seattle kids’ math achievement against other urban districts, Seattle might seem to be doing OK. As a district-level statistic, we’re not too bad. But closer inspection of disaggregated data and the view from inside the system prompt a cry for help. Seattle still has a large number of struggling students and a persistent achievement gap which we can’t shake. Outside tutoring has become commonplace, with math as the most frequent remediation subject. However, recent national and state developments have identified common ground and outcome-proven methods which can serve as a model for Seattle.
This brings us around to a community support initiative for math education. Seattle has a math-focused School Board, and Seattle’s new superintendent, Jose Banda, came to Seattle from proven math success with a diverse student population in Anaheim. Recent news reports are that staff at JSCEE are planning a K-8 math instructional materials adoption soon. Examples of success are scattered through Seattle classrooms and it’s time for those successes to take root across the district.

Related: Math forum audio/video and Seattle’s “Discovery Math” lawsuit.

Appeals court sides with Seattle schools over math text choice

Katherine Long:

The Washington State Court of Appeals has reversed an earlier decision in King County Superior Court that found Seattle’s choice of a new high-school math series was arbitrary and capricious.
The appellate court found no basis for the Superior Court’s conclusion in February 2010 that the Seattle School board “was willful and unreasoning in coming to its decision” when it chose the Discovering Math series of textbooks for algebra and geometry in high school math.
The school district has been using the series since the start of the 2009 school year.
Some parents have criticized the Discovering Math series, saying it is inferior to other series and that its emphasis on verbal descriptions makes it difficult for some students to understand, especially those for whom English is a second language.

Much more on the Seattle Discovery Math lawsuit, here.

Seattle Public Schools Administration Response to the Discovery Math Public Lawsuit Loss

602K PDF.

Respondents focus their brief on arguing that no reasonable school board would adopt “inquiry-based” high school mathematics textbooks instead of “direct instruction” textbooks. There are “dueling experts” and other conflicting evidence regarding the best available material for teaching high school math, and the Seattle School Board (“the Board”) gave due consideration to both sides of the debate before reaching its quasi legislative decision to adopt the Discovering series and other textbooks on a 4-3 vote.
The trial court erred by substituting its judgment for the Board’s in determining how much weight to place on the conflicting evidence. Several of the “facts” alleged in the Brief of Respondents (“BR”) are inaccurate, misleading, or lack any citation to the record in violation of RAP l0.3(a)(4). The Court should have an accurate view of the facts in the record to decide the important legal issues in this case. The Board is, therefore, compelled to correct any misimpressions that could arise from an unwary reading of respondents’ characterization of the facts.

Much more on the successful citizen lawsuit overturning the Seattle School District’s use of Discovery Math, here. Clusty Search: Discovery Math.
Local links: Math Task Force, Math Forum Audio/Video and West High School Math Teachers letter to Isthmus.

Seattle Discovery Math Lawsuit Update

Martha McLaren:

On Monday, June 21st, we filed our “Brief of Respondent” in the School District appeal of Judge Spector’s decision. (Sorry to be late in posting it to this blog; our attorney left town after sending me hard copy, but neglected to email an electronic version of the document we filed.) A link to the brief can be found in the left-hand column, below, under “Legal Documents in Textbook Appeal.”
There’s no new information, either in the District’s brief or our response. You might notice that, rather than acknowledge the catalog of unrelated miscellany in the Seattle Public School District’s brief, our attorney, Keith Scully, chose to essentially restate our original case, upon which Judge Spector ruled favorably. He did emphasize certain statements which pertained to claims in the District’s brief.
I think Keith has, once again, done a masterful job.

5.4MB PDF file.

Seattle Board Work Sessions – Math and Advanced Learning

Charlie Mas:

The Board has two work sessions scheduled for this month.
The first, today, Thursday June 10 from 6:00pm to 8:00pm, will be on Math. No agenda details are available but there is sure to be a powerpoint and it is sure to appear on the District web site soon. I have to believe that the Board is looking for a report on the implementation of the curricular alignment, the implementation of the Theory of Action from the High School textbook adoption, and some update on student academic progress in math.
Next week, on Wednesday, June 16, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm, will be a Board Work Session on Advanced Learning. I honestly cannot imagine what the District staff will have to report

Seattle School District Files Appeal in “Discovery Math” Lawsuit Loss

Martha McLaren:

The District’s Appeal Brief is in — A link to the appeal is shown on the lower left.
The Seattle School District’s first brief in its appeal of Judge Spector’s decision was filed on Friday. To me, it is not surprising that its arguments are weak. I don’t think we could ever have scored this unprecedented victory had our case not been extremely well founded. Nonetheless, one can’t predict what the appeals panel will rule.
Basically, the brief restates the district’s original contention that, because the specified process was followed, any decision made by the board, (I might add — regardless of how it flouted overwhelming evidence) must stand. Also, the brief misstates and misinterprets many aspects of our case. One of the most egregious examples is the contention that the court overstepped its authority by making a decision on curriculum. Not so – the court simply remanded the board’s decision back to the board on the basis of the lack of evidence to support the decision.
We have 30 days to file our response brief (by June 21), and SPS has 15 days after (by July 6) to file its rebuttal. Our attorney tells me that a hearing will be scheduled after all briefs have been filed.

Much more on the initial, successful rollback of Seattle’s Discovery Math program here

Seattle Public Schools Appeal Discovery Math Implementation Court Loss

Martha McLaren:

Today we received notice of the Seattle School District’s decision to appeal the Decision of Judge Spector which required the SPS board to reconsider its high school math text adoption vote.
I am deeply disappointed that SPS will funnel more resources into this appeal, which, I suspect, will be more costly than following the judge’s instruction to reconsider.
Our attorney tells me: “…. I’ll put in a notice of appearance, and then we wait for the District to complete the record by having the documents and transcripts transmitted to the Court of Appeals. They write the first brief, due 45 days after the record is complete.

More Rhetoric on the Seattle School District’s Court Loss on the Use of Discovery Math

Melissa Westbrook:

For entertainment value read the Discovering Math Q&A in this article in the Seattle Times. The Discovering Math guy (1) doesn’t always answer the question asked, (2) answers but doesn’t address the topic properly – see the question on if Discovering Math is “mathematically unsound” and (3) sounds like he works for the district.
Here’s one example:
The Discovering books have been criticized by parents, but they’ve been the top pick of a couple of districts in our area, including Seattle and Issaquah. Any thoughts on why the textbooks seem to be more popular with educators than with parents?
Ryan: I think because (parents) lack familiarity — this doesn’t look like what I was taught. I don’t know how you get students to a place where more is required of them by repeating things that have been done in the past. That’s not how we move forward in life.

Much more on the successful community lawsuit vs. the Seattle School District’s implementation of Discovery Math. Math Forum audio / video.

Comments on Seattle’s Math Curriculum Court Ruling, Governance and Community Interaction

Melissa Westbrook:

I attended Harium’s Community meeting and the 43rd Dems meeting (partial) yesterday. Here are some updates (add on if you attended either or Michael DeBell’s meeting).
We covered a fair amount of ground with Harium but a lot on the math ruling/outcomes. Here’s what he said:

  • the Board will decide what will happen from the math ruling. I asked Harium about who would be doing what because of how the phrasing the district used in their press release – “In addition to any action the School Board may take, the district expects to appeal this decision.” It made it sound like the district (1) might do something different from the Board and (2) the district had already decided what they would do. Harium said they misspoke and it was probably the heat of the moment.
  • He seems to feel the judge erred. He said they did follow the WAC rules which is what she should have been ruling on but didn’t. I probably should go back and look at the complete ruling but it seems like not going by the WAC would open her decision up to be reversed so why would she have done it? He said the issue was that there are statewide consequences to this ruling and that Issaquah and Bellevue (or Lake Washington?) are doing math adoptions and this ruling is troubling. I gently let Harium know that the Board needs to follow the law, needs to be transparent in their decision-making and the district needs to have balanced adoption committees or else this could happen again. No matter how the district or the Board feel, the judge did not throw out the case, did not rule against the plaintiffs but found for them. The ball is in the Board’s court and they need to consider this going forward with other decisions.

Skydiving without Parachutes: Seattle Court Decision Against Discovery Math Implementation

Barry Garelick:

“What’s a court doing making a decision on math textbooks and curriculum?” This question and its associated harrumphs on various education blogs and online newspapers came in reaction to the February 4, 2010 ruling from the Superior court of King County that the Seattle school board’s adoption of a discovery type math curriculum for high school was “arbitrary and capricious”.
In fact, the court did not rule on the textbook or curriculum. Rather, it ruled on the school board’s process of decision making–more accurately, the lack thereof. The court ordered the school board to revisit the decision. Judge Julie Spector found that the school board ignored key evidence–like the declaration from the state’s Board of Education that the discovery math series under consideration was “mathematically unsound”, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction not recommending the curriculum and last but not least, information given to the board by citizens in public testimony.
The decision is an important one because it highlights what parents have known for a long time: School boards generally do what they want to do, evidence be damned. Discovery type math programs are adopted despite parent protests, despite evidence of experts and–judging by the case in Seattle–despite findings from the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Key Curriculum Press Response to Seattle Discovery Math Court Decision

Charlie Mas:

Key Curriculum Press is in quite a snit over the Court’s decision about the high school textbooks.
Check out this web page they wrote in response.

Much more on the recent successful community vs. Seattle School District Discovery Math court case here.

Contact the Seattle Public Schools’ board and administrators, asks Where’s the Math

Martha McLaren:

On February 4th, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector ruled that last year’s Seattle School board decision to adopt the Discovering high school textbook series was arbitrary and capricious. Judge Spector’s ruling was heard and hailed across the country by private citizens and math education advocacy groups.
This unprecedented finding shows school boards and district administration that they need to consider evidence when making decisions. The voice of the community has been upheld by law, but the Seattle School district indicated they plan to appeal, demonstrating the typical arrogant, wasteful practices which necessitated the lawsuit in the first place.
Concerned individuals in Seattle and across the country need to speak up now, and let Seattle administration know that it’s time to move forward and refocus on the students, rather than defend a past mistake.
The ruling states:
“The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.”

More on the Successful Seattle Lawsuit against Discovering Math

Laurie Rogers:

Decision favors plaintiffs in court challenge of Seattle math text adoption
Statement from Laurie Rogers:
Last year, Seattle Public Schools adopted the Discovering math series despite valiant opposition from parents and math professionals, despite poor assessments of the Discovering series’ rigor and adherence to the new state math standards, and despite the fact that OSPI did NOT ultimately recommend the Discovering math series.
In response, three people filed a lawsuit, saying that Seattle didn’t have sufficient supporting evidence for its adoption, and also that the Discovering series was associated with an INCREASE in achievement gaps.
Recently, a judge agreed with the plaintiffs and – while stopping short of telling Seattle to cease and desist in their adoption – told Seattle to revisit its adoption. The district can continue to use the Discovering series, and Seattle administrators have stated their clear intention to do so.
Nevertheless, the court decision is momentous. It sets a precedent for districts across the country. When board members can’t justify their adoption decisions, the people now have legal recourse.

Seattle Court Reverses School Board Decision to Implement Discovery Math

Judge Julie Spector’s decision [69K PDF], via Martha McLaren:

THIS MATTER having come on for hearing, and the Court having considered the pleadings, administrative record, and argument in this matter, the Court hereby enters the following Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order:
1. On May 6, 2009, in a 4-3 vote, the Seattle School District Board of Directors chose the Discovering Series as the District’s high school basic math materials.
a. A recommendation from the District’s Selection Committee;
b. A January, 2009 report from the Washington State Office of Public Instruction ranking High School math textbooks, listing a series by the Holt Company as number one, and the Discovering Series as number two;
c. A March 11, 2009, report from the Washington State Board of Education finding that the Discovering Series was “mathematically unsound”;
d. An April 8, 2009 School Board Action Report authored by the Superintendent;
e. The May 6, 2009 recommendation of the OSPI recommending only the Holt Series, and not recommending the Discovering Series;
f. WASL scores showing an achievement gap between racial groups;
g. WASL scores from an experiment with a different inquiry-based math text at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools, showing that W ASL scores overall declined using the inquiry-based math texts, and dropped significantly for English Language Learners, including a 0% pass rate at one high school;
h. The National Math Achievement Panel (NMAP) Report;
1. Citizen comments and expert reports criticizing the effectiveness of inquiry-based math and the Discovering Series;
J. Parent reports of difficulty teaching their children using the Discovering Series and inquiry-based math;
k. Other evidence in the Administrative Record;
I. One Board member also considered the ability of her own child to learn math using the Discovering Series.
3. The court finds that the Discovering Series IS an inquiry-based math program.
4. The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there IS insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering Series.
I. The court has jurisdiction under RCW 28A.645.010 to evaluate the Board’s decision for whether it is arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law;
2. The Board’s selection of the Discovering Series was arbitrary;
3. The Board’s selection of the Discovering Series was capricious;
4. This court has the authority to remand the Board’s decision for further review;
5. Any Conclusion of Law which is more appropriately characterized as a
Finding of Fact is adopted as such, and any Finding of Fact more appropriately
characterized as a Conclusion of Law is adopted as such.
The decision of the Board to adopt the Discovering Series is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Dated this 4th day of February, 2010.

Melissa Westbrook has more.
Seattle Math Group Press Release:

Judge Julie Spector today announced her finding of “arbitrary and capricious” in the Seattle School Board’s May 6 vote to adopt the Discovering Math series of high school texts despite insufficient evidence of the series’ effectiveness.
Judge Spector’s decision states, “The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering series.”
Plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools, Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fifth grader, and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, had filed their appeal of the Board’s controversial decision on June 5th, 2009. The hearing was held on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Response to Danny Westneat 1/27 Math column in Seattle Times

Martha McLaren:

I am one of the three plaintiffs in the math textbook appeal. I am also the white grandmother of an SPS fifth grader, and a retired SPS math teacher.
Mr. Westneat grants that the textbooks we are opposing may be “lousy,” but he faults us for citing their disproportionate effect on ethnic, racial, and other minorities. He states that we can’t prove this claim. I disagree, and West Seattle Dan has posted voluminous statistics in response to the column. They support our claim that inquiry-based texts, which have now accrued a sizable track record, are generally associated with declining achievement among most students and with a widening achievement gap between middle class whites and minorities.
We’ve brought race and ethnicity (as well as economic status) into this appeal because there is ample evidence that it is a factor. True, this is not the 80’s, and true, in my 10 years of experience teaching in Seattle Schools, I found no evidence that people of color are less capable than whites of being outstanding learners. However, in my 30+ years as a parent and grandparent of SPS students and my years as a teacher, I’ve developed deep, broad, awareness of the ways that centuries of societally mandated racism play out in our classrooms, even in this era of Barack Obama’s presidency.

On Seattle’s “Discovery Math” Lawsuit: “Textbook argument divides us”

Danny Westneat:

Can an algebra textbook be racist?
That’s what was argued Tuesday in a Seattle courtroom. Not overtly racist in that a book of equations and problem sets contains hatred or intolerance of others. But that its existence — its adoption for use in Seattle classrooms — is keeping some folks down.
“We’re on untested ground here,” admitted Keith Scully.
He’s the attorney who advanced this theory in a lawsuit challenging Seattle Public Schools’ choice of the Discovering series of math textbooks last year.
The appeal was brought by a handful of Seattle residents, including UW atmospheric-sciences professor Cliff Mass. It says Seattle’s new math books — and a “fuzzy” curriculum they represent — are harmful enough to racial and other minorities that they violate the state constitution’s guarantee of an equal education.
It also says the School Board’s choice of the books was arbitrary.
Mostly, Mass just says the new textbooks stink. For everyone. But he believes they will widen the achievement gap between whites and some minority groups, specifically blacks and students with limited English skills.

Lawsuit Challenging the Seattle School District’s use of “Discovering Mathematics” Goes to Trial

Martha McLaren, DaZanne Porter, and Cliff Mass:

Today Cliff Mass and I, (DaZanne Porter had to be at a training in Yakima) accompanied by Dan Dempsey and Jim W, had our hearing in Judge Julie Spector’s King County Superior Courtroom; the event was everything we hoped for, and more. Judge Spector asked excellent questions and said that she hopes to announce a decision by Friday, February 12th.
The hearing started on time at 8:30 AM with several members of the Press Corps present, including KIRO TV, KPLU radio, Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, and at least 3 others. I know the number because, at the end, Cliff, our attorney, Keith Scully, and I were interviewed; there were five microphones and three cameras pointed towards us at one point.
The hearing was brief; we were done by 9:15. Keith began by presenting our case very clearly and eloquently. Our two main lines of reasoning are, 1) that the vote to adopt Discovering was arbitrary and capricious because of the board’s failure to take notice of a plethora of testimony, data, and other information which raised red flags about the efficacy of the Discovering series, and 2) the vote violated the equal education rights of the minority groups who have been shown, through WASL scores, to be disadvantaged by inquiry based instruction.
Realistically, both of these arguments are difficult to prove: “arbitrary and capricious” is historically a very, very difficult proof, and while Keith’s civil rights argument was quite compelling, there is no legal precedent for applying the law to this situation.
The School District’s attorney, Shannon McMinimee, did her best, saying that the board followed correct procedure, the content of the books is not relevant to the appeal, the books do not represent inquiry-based learning but a “balanced” approach, textbooks are merely tools, etc., etc. She even denigrated the WASL – a new angle in this case. In rebuttal, Keith was terrific, we all agreed. He quoted the introduction of the three texts, which made it crystal clear that these books are about “exploration.” I’m blanking on other details of his rebuttal, but it was crisp and effective. Keith was extremely effective, IMHO. Hopefully, Dan, James, and Cliff can recall more details of the rebuttal.

Associated Press:

A lawsuit challenging the Seattle School District’s math curriculum went to trial Monday in King County Superior Court.
A group of parents and teachers say the “Discovering Math” series adopted last year does a poor job, especially with minority students who are seeing an achievement gap widen.
A spokeswoman for the Seattle School District, Teresa Wippel, says it has no comment on pending litigation.
KOMO-TV reports the district has already spent $1.2 million on Discovering Math books and teacher training.

Cliff Mass:

On Tuesday, January 26th, at 8:30 AM, King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector will consider an appeal by a group of Seattle residents (including yours truly) regarding the selection by Seattle Public Schools of the Discovering Math series in their high schools. Although this issue is coming to a head in Seattle it influences all of you in profound ways.
In this appeal we provide clear evidence that the Discovery Math approach worsens the achievement gap between minority/disadvantaged students and their peers. We show that the Board and District failed to consider key evidence and voluminous testimony, and acted arbitrarily and capriciously by choosing a teaching method that was demonstrated to produce a stagnant or increasing achievement gap. We request that the Seattle Schools rescind their decision and re-open the textbook consideration for high school.

Seattle School Board Delays New Math Program

Nick Eaton:

Divided on whether to adopt a recommended new high school textbook program Wednesday, the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors postponed voting on the issue until next month.

The reason? The attending directors, indicating how they planned to vote, split 3-3 on Wednesday. Director Cheryl Chow, who was absent while traveling, could be the tie-breaker at the board’s May 6 meeting.

“This is one of the few times when we have the opportunity to change the direction when it comes to the school district’s instruction,” board President Michael DeBell said.

No official vote took place, but DeBell said he planned to vote against the math-adoption motion.

Up for approval was a policy that would overhaul the Seattle school district’s math program by adopting new textbooks, standardizing its curriculum and renaming its classes. The Integrated Math 2 classes, for example, would become Advanced Algebra, said Anna-Maria de la Fuente, the district’s K-12 mathematics program coordinator.

A Seattle Public Schools math committee, after about six months of investigation and debate, recommended a textbook program called Discovering Mathematics for all of the district’s math classes, except for statistics.

Much more on math here.

“Fuzzy Math” War in Seattle

Rachel Tuinsta: Educators and parents say it’s a debate between conceptual vs. computational math. It’s a battle centered around curriculum, teaching materials and textbooks with the question on everyone’s mind: What is the best way for students to learn math? The debate has spurred Eastside parents to sign petitions and lobby district officials for changes; … Continue reading “Fuzzy Math” War in Seattle

Seattle School District Does the Math on Surplus Properties

Kathy Mulady: Preschoolers walk in wiggly, giggly lines through the wide halls of the old Crown Hill Elementary School. They clamber on playground equipment, building up appetites for lunch being prepared in the kitchen. The Seattle School District closed the doors more than 25 years ago, but these days it has found new life. As … Continue reading Seattle School District Does the Math on Surplus Properties

Seattle School Board Puts off Decision on Math Textbooks

Jessica Blanchard: New math textbooks for Seattle middle- and high-school students are on hold. Concerned that it may cost too much and not produce results, School Board members have delayed a decision to allow more time to study the issue. At stake is whether the district adopts a single style of teaching math that focuses … Continue reading Seattle School Board Puts off Decision on Math Textbooks

Seattle’s Teaching of Math adds up to Much Confusion

Jessica Blanchard: Rick Burke remembers looking at his elementary-school daughter’s math homework and wondering where the math was. Like many Seattle schools, his daughter’s school was teaching “reform” math, a style that encourages students to discover math principles and derive formulas themselves. Burke, an engineer, worried that his daughter wasn’t learning basic math skills. “It … Continue reading Seattle’s Teaching of Math adds up to Much Confusion

Wealthy Folks Try to Take Over the Seattle School Board, Again. It is something about human nature.

Cliff Mass:

It is something about human nature.
An individual does fabulously well in some endeavor, often gaining great wealth and power, and they assume their competencies extend to other areas. Like education. And as I will show, a bunch of wealthy folks are determined to ensure that the Seattle School Board follows their “corporate-ed” ideas.
A critical race is now occurring for an opening in the Seattle School Board. On one hand there is Suzanne Estey, with very little experience in Seattle School affairs, but enjoying the deep support of the ultra wealthy and powerful interests. On the other, there is Sue Peters, with a decade-long record of working in Seattle Public Schools, a stellar background in pushing for better math curriculum, a record of independence, and grass roots financial support. For reasons described below, I am strongly supporting Sue Peters, with whom I have worked for several years.

‘Alarming’ new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools

Brian M. Rosenthal:

African-American students whose primary language is English perform significantly worse in math and reading than black students who speak another language at home — typically immigrants or refugees — according to new numbers released by Seattle Public Schools.
District officials, who presented the finding at a recent community meeting at Rainier Beach High School, noted the results come with caveats, but called the potential trend troubling and pledged to study what might be causing it.
Michael Tolley, an executive director overseeing Southeast Seattle schools, said at the meeting that the data exposed a new achievement gap that is “extremely, extremely alarming.”
The administration has for years analyzed test scores by race. It has never before broken down student-achievement data by specific home language or country of origin — it is rare for school districts to examine test scores at that level — but it is unlikely that the phenomenon the data suggest is actually new.

Seattle teacher discusses the challenges teachers face

Laurie Rogers:

Written by an experienced elementary school teacher, Seattle
Dear Laurie Rogers:
Thanks for writing your book. One of the things that you discuss in your compelling discourse is the low standards that our colleges have had in the subject matter (as opposed to teaching theory, sociology, and psychology) for those who have a desire to become teachers in our public schools.
For the past twenty-two years, I have diligently taught 4th and 5th grade students. For the first eighteen years, I taught math according to the classical mode that you describe in your book. As the reforms took hold, and we were monitored ever more closely, I was forced into using Everyday Math according to a pacing guide set by the district. As you have rightly observed, it is a program that emphasizes coverage and not mastery.
For much of the year, I had 34 students. Of these 34 students, seven had Special Education IEPs and were to be served according to a pull-in model which never quite materialized. I did have a special ed. instructional assistant for 50 minutes a day until she was pulled to serve in a more “needy” classroom. One of my students was mentally retarded and never once scored about the first percentile on the MAP test. Another student started the year almost totally blind and had a personal assistant for two hours out of the day to teach her Braille. Two were removed from their homes by CPS and placed under foster care: one for neglect and the other for domestic violence. Three students were absent for more than 30 days each. I could go on, but I think that you get the picture.

Seattle Schools’ Strategic Plan Update

Melissa Westbrook:

Here is the presentation from today’s Work Session on the Strategic Plan with survey results.


  • 5905 responses – 64% family member, 26% teacher or school staff, 1% principals, 5% community, 4% Central Office
  • By zip code – looks like a somewhat even distribution with  NE – 98115 with 528 responses, SE – 98118 with 221 responses, SW – 98136 with 118 responses, West Seattle – 98116 with 182 responses and NW – 98117 with 433 responses.  (There were more zip codes than those.)
  • page 8 has a breakdown of coaches and costs – overall it costs $6.4M for 65.6 coaches  (the salary swings are interesting)
  • Professional development in math, science and reading helping teachers and students – the big answer was …. no opinion.  And, out of the nearly 6,000 responses, only 3443 people answered this question.  Effective/somewhat effective (families-27%/teachers-51%). Ineffective/somewhat ineffective (families-22%/teachers-28%)
  • MAP test results effectiveness.  Effective/Somewhat Effective (families-41%/teachers-33%).  Somewhat effective/ineffective (families-45%/teachers50%).   Out of 6k responses, only 3682 respondents answered.
  • MAP- how many times a year should it be used?  3x- families-30%, teachers-23%, principals-40%.  Hmm, looks like principals like it more than teachers.   2x -families-29%,teachers-30%, principals, 40%.  That’s a lot closer.  And hey, they ARE reducing MAP to two times a year for 2011-2013 (winter and spring)
  • NSAP.   More efficient/somewhat more – families-42%/teachers 23%/principals 55%.   Somewhat less/less efficient – families-27%/teachers-29%/principals-31%. 

Download the Seattle Strategic Plan update, here.

OK, So Here’s Who’s Running for Seattle School Board 2011

Riya Bhattacharjee:

I have been trying to find the campaign websites for all the candidates running for Seattle School Board this year (candidate filings closed 5 p.m. Friday), and the final list looks something like this. Two things: there’s like a ton of them and only four open seats; not all of them have a website yet.

Most of the new candidates are running because they are tired of the corruption and cronyism in Seattle Public Schools. Some want to focus on closing the achievement gap and raising test scores. Others are just sick of the influence a plethora of foundations have on education these days.

At least one of the candidates is a reluctant one who says he’s running because he is tired of mediocrity in our schools and the “business as usual approach” of our school board. Another lists this thing as his campaign website. This one sued the district against its new high school math textbooks in 2009.

The incumbents say they are fed up of the same things their challengers are (of course, I mean there can only be so many problems in one district, right?).

Washington should stick to proven state math standards

Clifford Mass:

IF our state Legislature takes no action this session, Washington state will drop its new, improved math standards for an untested experiment: Common Core “national” standards that have never been used in the classroom and for which assessments have yet to be developed.
And there is a high price tag for such a switch, an expense our state can ill afford. Surprisingly, one of the most profound changes in U.S. education in decades has been virtually uncovered by the national media.
Until two years ago, our state had some of the worst math standards in the country, rated “F” by the Fordham Foundation, and lacking many of the essentials found in standards used by the highest-performing nations. That all changed in 2008, when under the impetus of the state Legislature, a new set of standards, based on world-class math requirements, was adopted.

Summary of the possible Forgery in Seattle Schools $800,000 New Tech contract approval

Dan Dempsey, via email

ssential background:
On 1-29-2010 the Superintendent received two memos from Eric M. Anderson, a Gates Data Fellow, in the Seattle Schools’ Research, Evaluation, and Assessment division. Dr. Anderson is a real statistician and knows statistics well.
One of his two memos was more complete than the other. It analyzed 8 schools that someone else had given him to analyze. This memo was forwarded to the School Board on 2-02-2010. I shall refer to it as the Authentic Memo.
The other memo was not sent to the School Board. I refer to it as the Draft Memo, as it was less complete and was not sent to the school board.
The Superintendent claimed to have written the Action Report of 3-12-2010 using the Authentic Memo but this was untrue. She used the Draft Memo and thus deceived the Public and perhaps the Board as well.

Math, science teachers get paid less, report says

Donna Gordon Blankinship

UW researchers have found that despite the spoken commitment of state officials and lawmakers, teachers in math and science earn less than other high-school instructors.
Researchers at the University of Washington have found that despite the spoken commitment of state officials and lawmakers, math and science teachers earn less than other high-school instructors.
In a report released Wednesday, the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that 19 of the state’s 30 largest school districts pay math or science teachers less than they spend on teachers in other subjects.
The way Washington and many other states pay teachers — with more money going to those with more years of experience and graduate degrees — has led to the uneven salaries.
Jobs that pay better at nearby high-tech companies may also be a contributing factor, because math and science teachers may be recruited away before they have a chance to reach the higher rungs on the pay ladder, said Jim Simpkins, a researcher on the report, with Marguerite Roza and Cristina Sepe.

Jim Simpkins, Marguerite Roza, Cristina Sepe

Washington State recently passed a law (House Bill 2621) intending to accelerate the teaching and learning of math and science. However, in the two subject areas the state seeks to prioritize, this analysis finds that nineteen of the thirty largest districts in the state spend less per math or science teacher than for teachers in other subjects.
Existing salary schedules are part of the problem. By not allowing any differential compensation for math and science teachers, and instead basing compensation only on longevity and graduate credits, the wage system works to create the uneven salaries.
The analysis finds that in twenty-five of the thirty largest districts, math and science teachers had fewer years of teaching experience due to higher turnover–an indication that labor market forces do indeed vary with subject matter expertise. The subject-neutral salary schedule works to ignore these differences.

Lack of fiscal discipline in Seattle Public Schools

Lynne Varner:

The latest state audit of Seattle Public Schools didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know: The district is stuck in a culture of lax indifference when it comes to taxpayers’ money.
Despite the last decade’s phalanx of highly paid budget and money managers overseeing the district, few inroads have been made in transforming this culture.
Let’s start with the audit’s biggest discovery for the 2008-09 school year. The district overpaid at least 83 employees to the tune of $228,860. The district says the number of accidentally overpaid employees could be as high as 144.
Repayment plans have been set up for most of the employees. But others left the district, requiring costly measures, including collection agencies, to recover the money. Expect this debacle to reverberate as tax implications and impacts to the state retirement system unfold.

There’s a great deal of citizen activism underway in Seattle, including: a successful lawsuit that overturned the District’s adoption of Discovery Math, a recall drive for 5 of the 7 school board members and a lawsuit regarding the New Student Assignment Plan. Melissa Westbrook offers additional comments.
Spending and governance questions are not unique to Seattle.

Math Curricula

Charlie Mas:

I know that I’m inviting trouble with this, but something that Reader wrote in a comment on another thread piqued my interest. I would like to discuss only a narrow question. Please don’t expand the discussion.
Writing about Everyday Math and Singapore, Reader wrote: “The fact is, the newer curricula stress more problem solving and discovery. That is, it’s doing more than a lot of older curricula.”
Here’s my question: can problem-solving be taught?
I mean this in the nicest possible way and I don’t have an answer myself. I’m not sure, I’m asking. Can people be taught or trained in problem-solving techniques or is it a talent that some people just natively have more than others? Problem solving requires a certain amount of creativity, doesn’t it? It can require a flexibility of perspective, curiosity, persistence, and pattern recognition. Can these things be taught or trained?

Related: Math Forum audio/video links.

Governance, or Potted Plant? Seattle School Board To Become More Involved In District Operations and a view from Madison

Phyllis Fletcher:

The Washington State Auditor told the district this week it has problems managing its money. They’re the same problems he’s told them about before. The school board oversees the district. And auditors for the state say it’s time for board members to get more involved.
Carr: “To the State Auditors’ point, we have work to do. And they’re right: we do.”
Sherry Carr chairs the audit and finance committee of the Seattle School Board. She says the board needs to do more to make sure problems that are found in audits don’t pop up again.
Carr: “We haven’t always had the check in prior to the start of the next audit. So, I think that’s the key.”

Washington State Auditor’s Office:

The Washington State Auditor’s Office released an audit report this week about the Seattle School District’s accountability with public resources, laws and regulations.
We found the School Board and the District’s executive management:
* Must improve oversight of District operations.
* Are not as familiar with state and federal law as the public would expect.
We identified instances of misappropriation and areas that are susceptible to misappropriation. We also found the School Board delegated authority to the Superintendent to create specific procedures to govern day-to-day District operations.
The Board does not evaluate these procedures to determine if they are effective and appropriate. Consequently, we identified 12 findings in this report and in our federal single audit and financial statement report.


  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Complete Report: 700K PDF
  • Washington State Auditor’s Office Accountability Audit Report 190K PDF
  • The Seattle School District’s response 37K PDF:

    Seattle Public Schools establishes rigorous process for addressing financial year 2008-09 audit findings.
    As part of the Washington State Auditor’s Office annual audit process, an Accountability Audit of Seattle Public Schools was issued on July 6, 2010. The audit’s emphasis on the need for continued improvement of internal controls and District policies for accountability is consistent with multi-year efforts under way at Seattle Public Schools to strengthen financial management.
    “Because we are deeply committed to being good stewards of the public’s resources, we take the information in this audit very seriously,” said Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D. “We acknowledge the need to take specific corrective actions noted in the report. It is a key priority to implement appropriate control and accountability measures, with specific consequences, for situations in which policies are not followed.”
    The School Board will work closely with the Superintendent to ensure corrections are made. “We understand and accept the State Auditor’s findings,” said School Board Director Sherry Carr, chair of the Board’s Audit and Finance Committee. “We accept responsibility to ensure needed internal controls are established to improve accountability in Seattle Public Schools, and we will hold ourselves accountable to the public as the work progresses.”

Much more on the Seattle School Board.
After reading this item, I sent this email to Madison Board of Education members a few days ago:

I hope this message finds you well.
The Seattle School Board is going to become more involved in District operations due to “problems managing its money”.
I’m going to post something on this in the next few days.
I recall a BOE discussion where Ed argued that there are things that should be left to the Administration (inferring limits on the BOE’s oversight and ability to ask questions). I am writing to obtain your thoughts on this, particularly in light of:
a) ongoing budget and accounting issues (how many years has this been discussed?), and
b) the lack of substantive program review to date (is 6 years really appropriate, given reading and math requirements of many Madison students?).
I’d like to post your responses, particularly in light of the proposed Administrative re-org and how that may or may not address these and other matters.

I received the following from Lucy Mathiak:

A GENERAL NOTE: There is a cottage industry ginning up books and articles on board “best practices.” The current wisdom, mostly generated by retired superintendents, is that boards should not trouble themselves with little things like financial management, human resources, or operations. Rather, they should focus on “student achievement.” But what that means, and the assumption that financial, HR, and other decisions have NO impact on achievement, remain highly problematical.
At the end of the day, much of the “best practices” looks a lot like the role proposed for the Milwaukee School Board when the state proposed mayoral control last year. Under that scenario, the board would focus on public relations and, a distant second, expulsions. But that would be a violation of state statute on the roles and responsibilities of boards of education.
There are some resources that have interesting info on national trends in school board training here:
I tend to take my guidance from board policy, which refers back to state statute without providing details; I am a detail person so went back to the full text. When we are sworn into office, we swear to uphold these policies and statutes:
Board policy:
“The BOARD shall have the possession, care, control, and management of the property and affairs of the school district with the responsibilities and duties as detailed in Wisconsin Statutes 118.001, 120.12, 120.13, 120.14, 120.15, 120.16, 120.17, 120.18, 120.21, 120.40, 120.41, 120.42, 120.43, and 120.44.”
Because board policy does not elaborate what is IN those statutes, the details can be lost unless one takes a look at “the rules.” Here are some of the more interesting (to me) sections from WI Statute 120:
120.12 School board duties.
The school board of a common or union high school district shall:
Subject to the authority vested in the annual meeting and to the authority and possession specifically given to other school district officers, have thepossession, care, control and management of the property andaffairs of the school district, except for property of the school dis-trict used for public library purposes under s. 43.52.
(2)GENERAL SUPERVISION. Visit and examine the schools ofthe school district, advise the school teachers and administrative staff regarding the instruction, government and progress of the pupils and exercise general supervision over such schools.
(a) On or before November 1, determine the amount necessary to be raised to operate and maintain the schools of the school district and public library facilities operated by the school district under s. 43.52, if the annual meeting has not voted a tax sufficient for such purposes for the school year.
Keep the school buildings and grounds in good repair, suitably equipped and in safe and sanitary condition at all times. The school board shall establish an annual building maintenance schedule.
Determine the school course of study.
Pay the tuition of any pupil enrolled in the school district and attending an institution within the University of Wisconsin System if the pupil is not participating in the program under s. 118.55, the course the pupil is attending at the university is not offered in the school district and the pupil will receive high school credit for the course.

Ed Hughes:

Thanks for contacting us. Can you be a bit more specific about what you are looking for? A general statement about the appropriate line between administration and Board responsibilities? Something more specific about budgeting and accounting, or specific program reviews? And if so, what? I confess that I haven’t followed whatever is going on with the Seatte school board.

My followup:

I am looking for your views on BOE responsibilities vis a vis the Administration, staff and the community.
Two timely specifics, certainly are:
a) ongoing budget problems, such as the maintenance referendum spending, and
b) curricular matters such as reading programs, which, despite decades of annual multi-million dollar expenditures have failed to “move the needle”.
The Seattle District’s “problems managing its money” matter apparently prompted more Board involvement.
Finally, I do recall a BOE discussion where you argued in favor of limits on Administrative oversight. Does my memory serve?
Best wishes,

Marj Passman:

Here is the answer to your question on Evaluation which also touches on the Board’s ultimate role as the final arbiter on District Policy.
Part of the Strategic Plan, and, one of the Superintendants goals that he gave the Board last year, was the need to develop a “District Evaluation Protocol”. The Board actually initiated this by asking for a Study of our Reading Program last February. This protocol was sent to the Board this week and seems to be a timely and much needed document.
Each curricular area would rotate through a seven year cycle of examination. In addition, the Board of Education would review annually a list of proposed evaluations. There will be routine reports and updates to the Board while the process continues and, of course, a final report. At any time the Board can make suggestions as to what should be evaluated and can make changes in the process as they see fit. In other words, the Board will certainly be working within its powers as Overseer of MMSD.
This Protocol should be on the MMSD web site and I recommend reading it in
I am particularly pleased with the inclusion of “perception” – interviews, surveys with parents and teachers. I have been leery of just masses of data analysis predetermining the success or failure of children. Our children must not be reduced to dots on a chart. Tests must be given but many of our students are succeeding in spite of their test scores.
I have a problem with a 7 year cycle and would prefer a shorter one. We need to know sooner rather than later if a program is working or failing. I will bring this up at Monday’s Board meeting.
I will be voting for this Protocol but will spend more time this weekend studying it before my final vote.

Bill Gates visits Foothill to observe math program

Town Crier:

Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp. and co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, attended math class at Foothill College April 20.
The software pioneer visited the Los Altos Hills campus to do some homework on Foothill’s Math My Way program, designed to help students grasp basic math concepts, outperform their peers and advance faster to college-level math classes.
Nineteen Math My Way students were told in advance that a special guest wanted to observe instructors Nicole Gray of Sunnyvale, Rachel Mudge of Mountain View and Kathy Perino of Campbell, to gain a better understanding of how they teach developmental math. Students were surprised when Gates and members of his foundation walked into the classroom, but quickly got to work on the math problems at hand. Later, the students had an opportunity to talk with Gates about how the methods used in the class are making a difference for them.
Gates and his team are reviewing models and best practices in developmental mathematics education. They heard about Math My Way during a meeting at the Gates Foundation offices in Seattle with Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Linda Thor, who was invited to discuss her experiences with online learning programs.

Bellevue School Board chooses traditional math, budget cuts next

Joshua Adam Hicks:

The Bellevue School Board adopted a traditionalist-favored math curriculum last week, and the superintendent revealed her final budget-cutting recommendations on Tuesday, making April a pivotal month for the school district.
Regarding math, the school board voted 3-0 on April 13 to adopt the Holt series, snubbing an inquiry-based Discovering curriculum that had math purists and many district parents up in arms.
Board members Paul Mills, Peter Bentley, and Michael Murphy voted in favor of the Holt textbooks. Chris Marks, Karen Clark, Judy Bushnell and Cudiero were not present.
The math decision fell in line with a recommendation from the district’s textbook-adoption committee, which favored Holt over Discovering.

Comments on the Seattle Public Schools’ Strategic Plan Update

Charlie Mas:

So I was just thinking about the progress on the Strategic Plan. I know I shouldn’t. It only serves to upset and frustrate me. Nevertheless…
Focusing just on the primary themes and elements of the Plan, it still doesn’t look good.
1. Ensuring Excellence in Every Classroom
1A. Adopt an aligned curriculum in math and science
They haven’t done this. They’re nowhere with regard to science; I don’t think they’ve even gotten started. They’re not much further along with math. They have standardized the textbooks (for the most part), and they have posted pacing guides, but there’s no evidence that they have aligned the curriculum. In fact, it doesn’t appear that they have any ability to align the curriculum, that they even know how to align curriculum, or that they know what aligned curriculum would look like. After making bold statements on PowerPoints and paying millions to vendors, they appear to be completely adrift.
1B. Develop districtwide assessments in math and reading
This is a reference to the MAP, but it isn’t districtwide yet and teachers either don’t know how to use the results or simply aren’t choosing to use them. There were supposed to be a lot of other common assessments, but there’s no evidence to suggest that they are either in use or useful. Mostly this was an excuse to funnel millions to a vendor for a data warehouse which isn’t ready yet and will be of questionable utility when it is ready.

Related: Madison School District Strategic Plan.

Math lessons in Mandarin? Local schools go global

Linda Shaw:

For nearly an hour, no one speaks a word of English in this first-grade math class.
Not the teacher, Ying Ying Wu, who talks energetically in Mandarin’s songlike tones.
Not the students — 6- and 7-year-olds who seem to follow along fine, even though only one speaks Mandarin at home.
Even the math test has been translated, by Wu, into Chinese characters.
At Beacon Hill International School, many students learn a second language along with their ABCs by spending half of each school day immersed in Mandarin Chinese or Spanish.

Will Issaquah Pick Poor Math Books?

Charlie Mas:

Issaquah and Sammamish are home to a well educated population, many of which are employed in professional and high tech occupations. Thus, it is surprising that the Issaquah School District administration is doing everything possible to place very poor math books in its schools.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, March 24) night the Issaquah School Board will vote on the administration’s recommendation for the Discovering Math series in their high schools. These are very poor math texts:
(1) Found to be “unsound” by mathematicians hired the State Board of Education.
(2) Found to be inferior to a more traditional series (Holt) by pilot tests by the Bellevue School District
(3) That have been rejected by Bellevue, Lake Washington, North Shore, and Shoreline (to name only a few)
(4) Whose selection by the Seattle School District was found to be arbitrary and capricious by King County Judge Spector.
(5) That are classic, weak, inquiry or “reform” math textbooks that stress group work, student investigations, and calculator use over the acquisition of key math skills.

School Districts vs. A Good Math Education

Charlie Mas:

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed–being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations–and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.
Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math “wars”, including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.
I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student’s “discovering” math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial “spiraling” of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn’t. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

Related: Math Forum audio / video.

The secret of Schmitz Park Elementary School is Singapore Math

Bruce Ramsey:

Sally made 500 gingerbread men. She sold 3/4 of them and gave away 2/5 of the remainder. How many did she give away?
This was one of the homework questions in Craig Parsley’s fifth-grade class. The kids are showing their answers on the overhead projector. They are in a fun mood, using class nicknames. First up is “Crackle,” a boy. The class hears from “Caveman,” “Annapurna,” “Shortcut” and “Fred,” a girl.
Each has drawn a ruler with segments labeled by number — on the problem above, “3/4,” “2/5” and “500.” Below the ruler is some arithmetic and an answer.
“Who has this as a single mathematical expression? Who has the guts?” Parsley asks. No one, yet — but they will.
This is not the way math is taught in other Seattle public schools. It is Singapore Math, adopted from the Asian city-state whose kids test at the top of the world. Since the 2007-08 year, Singapore Math has been taught at Schmitz Park Elementary in West Seattle — and only there in the district.
In the war over school math — in which a judge recently ordered Seattle Public Schools to redo its choice of high-school math — Schmitz Park is a redoubt or, it hopes, a beachhead. North Beach is a redoubt for Saxon Math, a traditional program. Both schools have permission to be different. The rest of the district’s elementary schools use Everyday Math, a curriculum influenced by the constructivist or reform methods.

Related: Math Forum Audio / Video.

Have things (Math Education) really changed that much? A letter to a friend.

Martha McClaren:

You ask whether things have changed — since math wasn’t being taught well 40+ years ago either. You’re absolutely right on that, but I believe it’s only gotten worse over the years, as more and more math phobic people have gone into the field of education. These people never understood math well, so their teaching had to be based on rote following of procedures, etc. Then came “new math”, which was an effort to reinvent math and make it more accessible. That bombed, and the efforts to reinvent continued.
What happened is that eventually those bright, math-phobic folks took over the education establishment. They reinvented math to be gentler, kinder, and more fun. Some of the hallmarks are: Small group problem solving, with students figuring our their own solutions to challenging problems. Visiting many topics for only a few weeks each year and moving on, regardless of whether any real mastery was attained. The thinking was/is that students will revisit the topics again in successive years, and will painlessly absorb the concepts. This turns out to be an extremely inefficient way to teach math, so, in order to have enough time to do all these hands-on projects in groups, the explanation of the underlying structure of math and and practice with standard algorithms have all been chucked.

What’s your experience with the new (Discovery) math textbooks?

Last year Seattle Public Schools selected new, “inquiry-based” math textbooks. Now there’s a lawsuit against the district over the Discovering Mathematics series of textbooks.
Do you have a child in school who is using the new textbooks? What is your experience with inquiry-based math education? KUOW’s Ross Reynolds is planning a show on Wednesday, February 3 in the 12 o’clock hour. We’d like to hear from you by Wednesday morning. Share your experience with KUOW by filling out the form below, or call 206.221.3663.

Discussing Rigor at Seattle’s Rainier Beach High School

Michael Rice:

I was reading the comments in an earlier post about the new assignment plan and there were many comments about the rigor or lack there of at Rainier Beach High School. I would like to dispel the myth that Rainier Beach does not offer rigor to the high achieving student. If you have a high achieving 8th grader and are in the RBHS attendance area, here is just a sample of what you can expect:
In math as a Freshman, you will start in at least Honors Geometry with Ms. Lessig who is our best math teacher. Once you get through that, you will take Honors Advanced Algebra with me, then Pre Calculus with Mr. Bird (a math major in college) and then as a Senior, you take AP Calculus with Ms. Day, a highly experienced and skilled teacher. As a bonus, in either your Junior or Senior year, you get to take AP Statistics with me. All of these classes are demanding and well taught by teachers who know what they are doing and are passionate about teaching math.

Seattle Times Editorial “Wrong on Everything”

Charlie Mas:

The Seattle Times has a sort of Year-In-Review editorial about education in today’s paper. Nearly every statement in the editorial is either incorrect, unsubstantiated, or misguided.
“Academic standards were raised” They were? Where? How? By whom? I didn’t see anyone raising any standards this year.
“The Legislature amended the Basic Education Act, a giant leap forward in an 18-year education-reform effort.” Yes, they voted for it, but they didn’t fund it and they are now in Court saying that they are already fulfilling their obligation to funding education, so they are denying it. The amended act is lip service – hardly a step forward, let alone a giant leap.
They said that the delay in making high stakes math and science tests a graduation requirement was a gaffe. No, the gaffe has been miseducating students in math and science for the past ten years. These tests were supposed to be used to hold adults accountable, not students. Where are the adults who have suffered negative consequences for these failures? Why punish the students, the people with the least power to influence the system?

Will Cleveland High School Become Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s Crown Jewel or Albatross?

Nina Shapiro:

As Seattle Public Schools released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually-troubled Cleveland High School over the past week, there’s been a collective eye roll among some teachers there.
“I’ve been here for 15 years and every other year we do this,” says math teacher David Fisher, referring to a long string of ballyhooed overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the behest of the district.
One thing is different: The district is promising to pour money into this reinvention of Cleveland as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It proposes to spend more than $4 million over the first three years, according to a report at last Wednesday’s school board meeting by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. That’s a lot of money for a school that is already up and running. (See the breakdown of spending on page 8 of this pdf.)

Melissa Westbrook has more.

Washington School Superintendent Calls for Delay on Math and Science Requirements

Teodora Popescu:

Yesterday, at the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) conference at the Westin in downtown Seattle, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn announced his new plans for math and science graduation requirements to an audience of over 1,000 statewide school board members.
Dorn, elected as a reformer last year, said it was necessary to postpone stricter graduation requirements for math until the class of 2015, and all graduation requirements for science until the class of 2017, to give students and teachers appropriate time to adjust to pending reforms.
For math graduation requirements until 2015, Dorn is okay with giving students a fall back option of earning two credits of math after tenth grade in order to graduate (a choice that is set to disappear in 2013) in place of passing a set of exams. Reformers want the scheduled changes–getting rid of the additional course work graduation option–to kick in for the class of 2013. They want students to have to pass either a state exam or two end-of-course exams to graduate starting in 2013–without Dorn’s fallback.
For 2015 and onward, Dorn offered a two-tier proposal: Students either meet the proficiency level in two end-of-course exams or students meet the basic level in the exams and earn four math credits. Students who don’t meet the basic level in the exams have the option of retesting with a comprehensive exam or using state-approved alternatives such as the SAT.
As far as the science graduation requirement, Dorn proposed postponing any requirements until the class of 2017, and replacing the current comprehensive assessment with end-of-course assessments in physical and life sciences. The 2010 legislature (starting this January) is supposed to define the science requirements.

Seattle School Board candidates talk about equity

Sara Kiesler:

This election season, with so much money pouring into the King County executive race and the media attention given to the Seattle mayor’s race, School Board races have received far fewer eyes.
But with a new student assignment plan, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s five-year strategic plan starting to take off and a $34 million budget gap, this election is as important as ever for the board.
District 5
In the District 5 race, Seattleites have the choice between Mary Bass, an eight-year board member known as the dissenting voice on the board and Kay Smith-Blum, a businesswoman and fundraiser with big ideas that could be challenging to implement.
Smith-Blum won the primary with 42 percent of the vote; Bass got nearly 36 percent. Smith-Blum has raised five times as much money: $52,000 compared to Bass’ $10,000.
Bass, who unsuccessfully fought the reform math curriculum that was passed 4-3 in this year, said she is “proud of my long track record of fighting failures.” Her battles include the $34 million budget collapse when she recently joined the council in 2002 and fighting the race tiebreaker, she said.
Smith-Blum appears to have energy, a knack for fundraising and passion for both early education and extending the school day with more cultural and arts programs. She said she established the first-ever Annual Fund for Montlake Elementary in 1991, helping raise $300,000 in five years.

Wash. Board of Education revises math requirement


The State Board of Education has made a minor revision in the high school math credit requirements.
During a meeting in Gig Harbor on Friday, the board gave students more flexibility in their choices for high school math.
The board decided earlier that beginning with the class of 2013, high school students will be required to earn three credits of math to earn a diploma.
When the requirement was changed, the state rule said students who took a high school level math class without credit as an eighth grader were required to repeat that same course for credit in high school.

Seattle School District’s Community Advisory Approach

Via a kind reader’s email [900K PDF]:

Seattle Public Schools has pockets of excellence and many outstanding principals, teachers and programs. WASL scores have improved consistently over the last five years and SAT scores surpass state and national averages. However, we cannot accept a system with a 59% graduation rate and a 22% dropout rate. We cannot accept the lack of proficiency demonstrated in core subjects, particularly in math. We cannot accept a system with uneven school quality. And we cannot accept the glaring, persistent achievement gap among student groups.
We cannot accept a system facing years of multimillion dollar structural deficits. Nor can we accept the burdensome, complex and inadequate state-funding model to which the District is subjected.
We cannot accept these conditions and results. Instead, we must view this as an opportunity for decision makers to demonstrate true leadership and respond to this call to action.
It begins with leadership, including:

  • More forceful direction from the Superintendent and greater unity and cohesion on the part of the School Board
  • Greater mission clarity and a more focused and concise strategic plan;
  • An organizational culture-shift that values creativity, fosters adaptability, demands accountability and rewards innovation, teamwork and risk-taking.

It will take resourcefulness to increase investment inacademic outcomes. This will entail a financial strategy truly driven by student achievement goals and aimed at improved outcomes for all.
It will take a resolute approach to establishing long-term fiscal viability. This must include an honest assessment of demographic realities and opportunities for improved operational and program efficiencies across the board. Business as-usual cannot continue.


Seattle School Board’s New Goals

Linda Shaw:

The Seattle School Board approved a five-year plan Wednesday that sets specific targets for raising test scores, graduation rates and even the number of credits earned by ninth-graders.
By 2012, for example, the district wants 88 percent of third-graders to pass reading on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, and 95 percent of the 10th-graders to do the same. Some of the most ambitious goals are in math and science, especially a passage rate of 80 percent on the science section of the 10th-grade WASL. In spring 2007, 33 percent passed.
To reach those and other goals, the plan calls for everything from better math and science instruction, to more consistency in what’s taught from school to school, more tests to track student progress, and hiring teachers earlier so classes don’t start the year with substitutes.
District officials have described the goals as ambitious, but achievable. And some of the most ambitious ones simply match what’s required under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, or reflect increasingly tough graduation requirements for high-school students.
Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson at Wednesday’s School Board meeting said her plan doesn’t cover everything, but that a strategic plan is meant to focus on “deficits.”

Is Reform Math a Big Mistake?

Via a Linda Thomas email:

Flash cards are out. Math triangles are in.
Mrs. Potter grabbed a chunky stack of flashcards, stood in front of the classroom and flipped through them every day when I was in second grade: 6 + 6 = blank, 7 + 3 = blank, 5 + 6 = blank. In unison, we responded 12, 10, 11. Our robotic pace slowed a bit when she held up subtraction cards.
That’s so old school.
The triangles my second-grade son brought home from school this year have plus and minus signs in the middle, with one number on each point. Students learn number families. For example, on a triangle of 6, 8 and 14 students see that 6 + 8, 8 + 6, 14 – 6 and 14 – 8 are all related.
Math triangles are part of the reform math curricula taught in more than one quarter of the nation’s schools. (See article “Math Wars” for a history of U.S. math education.) Seattle’s public elementary and middle schools teach reform math. This month the Seattle School Board will hear a recommendation for a new high school math curriculum that will be reform based. A key feature of this type of instruction is an emphasis on concepts, as opposed to computations.
In a traditional classroom, solving 89 + 21 involves lining the numbers up, carrying the one and arriving at 110 as the answer. Students learning reform math would think about the problem and reorganize it in several ways: 80 + 20 + 10, or 80 + 30, or 90 + 20. Same answer, different method.

Washington State’s Math Standards Review

Donna Gordon Blankinship: The board’s executive director, Edie Harding, said public comment required some changes to a draft report the committee circulated last month, but the basic message is the same: The state needs tougher math standards and clearer guidance for teachers, parents and students. The draft report called for putting more emphasis on learning … Continue reading Washington State’s Math Standards Review

Schools streamline how math is taught: Same textbooks, same lessons, at the same time

Via a reader, interested in this issue:Jessica Blanchard: When Seattle elementary-schoolers open their math textbooks this fall, they’ll all be on the same page — literally. In an attempt to boost stagnant test scores, elementary teachers will start using the same math textbooks and materials and covering lessons at the same time as their colleagues … Continue reading Schools streamline how math is taught: Same textbooks, same lessons, at the same time

Washington Governor Wants More Math

David Ammons: Gov. Chris Gregoire urged lawmakers Monday to plow nearly $200 million into Washington’s classrooms to help students who are struggling with math and science. The governor’s sweeping proposal includes smaller middle school and high school math and science classes, recruiting hundreds of new math and science teachers, offering master teachers up to $10,000 … Continue reading Washington Governor Wants More Math

NYT Letters: The New New Math: Back to Basics

NYT Letters to the Editor regarding “As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics“: s a middle school tutor, I’m always amazed at the pride many schools feel because their middle school curriculum includes topics in pre-algebra/algebra. This sounds like good news until it becomes clear that it’s not pre-algebra that students find … Continue reading NYT Letters: The New New Math: Back to Basics

National Council of Teachers of Math Changes Course on Teaching Math Fundamentals

SEATTLE — For the second time in a generation, education officials are rethinking the teaching of math in American schools. The changes are being driven by students’ lagging performance on international tests and mathematicians’ warnings that more than a decade of so-called reform math — critics call it fuzzy math — has crippled students with … Continue reading National Council of Teachers of Math Changes Course on Teaching Math Fundamentals

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

Erin O’Connor: And parents shouldn’t only be concerned about math instruction. They should be looking hard at the reading and writing parts of their kids’ educations, too. Are they learning grammar? Can they spell? Punctuate? Understand what they are reading? Most of the Ivy League English majors whose writing I grade have trouble in these … Continue reading As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

Watch Out! Here Come the ‘Woke’ Tech Oligarchs.

Joel Kotkin: Indeed, as researcher Greg Ferenstein suggests, the new oligarchs favor an active state that will subsidize worker housing or even a guaranteed minimum income, and keep their businesses off the hook for providing decent benefits to their ever expanding cadre of gig-economy serfs. He points out that the former head of Uber, Travis … Continue reading Watch Out! Here Come the ‘Woke’ Tech Oligarchs.

A University of Washington student found success, and answers about her father’s addiction

Evan Bush: Nearly eight years later, Mackenzie is a 21-year-old brimming with success. Soon, she will graduate with two University of Washington degrees: one in neurobiology, and another in bioengineering. She was nominated for the engineering school’s Dean’s medal. She’s a powerlifting champion and a budding entrepreneur. University lecturers rave; classmates can’t understand how she … Continue reading A University of Washington student found success, and answers about her father’s addiction

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds

Aleszu Bajak: Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active … Continue reading Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds

Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say

Matt Richtel There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday. The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should … Continue reading Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say

Charter schools raise educational standards for vulnerable children

The Economist:

The Credo study has been criticised for not comparing the results of children who have won charter-school lotteries with those who have not–a natural experiment in which the only difference between winners and losers should be the schooling they receive. Such studies suggest that charters are better. For example, a lottery study in New York City found that by eighth grade (around 13), charter-school pupils were 30 points ahead in maths.
However, recent work by Mathematica, an independent policy group, suggests that the Credo study is sound. The bigger problem is that its findings have been misinterpreted. First, the children who most need charters have been served well. Credo finds that students in poverty and English language learners fare better in charters. And a national “meta-analysis” of research, done last year for the Centre on Reinventing Public Education in Seattle, found charters were better at teaching elementary-school reading and mathematics, and middle-school mathematics. High-school charters, though, fared worse. Another recent study in Massachusetts for the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that urban charter schools are shown to be effective for minorities, poor students and low achievers.

Lies, damn lies and the myth of “standardized” tests

Marda Kirkwood:

[Note from Laurie Rogers: Recently, results from the 2011 state standardized test scores came out, and the general impression given to the public — for example from the state education agency (OSPI) and from media in Seattle and in Spokane — was that improvements had been made. It’s all in the definitions: How do you define “improvement”? Did some of the numbers go up? Assuredly. Did that mean that real improvments in real academic knowledge had been made? It’s best to remain skeptical.
Most students in Spokane are as weak in math skill this year as they were last year. Given a proper math test that assesses for basic skills, many high schoolers still test into 4th or 5th-grade math. College remedial rates are still high. Parents are still frantic, and students are still stressed out about math. So … what do those higher scores actually mean? I’ve been trying to find out. It’s hard to say.

Those “So-called” Achievement Gaps

Parker Baxter: I am disappointed to see Jonathan Kozol, a lion in the struggle for education equity, refer to “so-called” achievement gaps. Ingraham High School in Seattle, WA, is both racially and economically diverse. Of the 1051 students, half are low income, 30 percent are White, 30 percent Asian, 24 percent African American, and 12 … Continue reading Those “So-called” Achievement Gaps

Being Upfront about Teacher pay

Michael Rice:

There has been much gnashing of teeth and consternation going on about teacher pay and a 3% pay cut teachers may be forced to swallow. What gets to me more than anything else is the vile comments that get posted afterward when an article is posted on teacher pay in the local newspapers. Given the comments, one would think that teachers were getting rich and not doing much to earn the vast sums of money they make. I have to say I look at that with bemusement. I guess it is time to put my cards on the table.
For regular readers of the SSS blog, you already know my story. However, many of you don’t. I switched careers in my mid 40’s to become a teacher. I am honored to teach math at Rainier Beach HS. I am in my 6th year. I love my job and I love teaching math to students. I think I have a great job. However, here are the facts of my situation.
I hold an undergrad in Accounting and a Masters in Finance. Before I decided to become a teacher, I worked for a bank in investment accounting. In 2003 (my last full year there), I made $75,000 (that included my bonus), had a defined benefit pension plan that my employer fully funded that would make it possible to retire comfortably after 25 years of service with basically with what I would be making in my last year of working, a 401k that the employer matched dollar for dollar up to 4% of my salary. On top of that, my health care was fully paid for and my wife was on the plan at no charge to me also. The plan was a top notch Blue Cross plan with no co-pays and a very, very large network of doctors, dentists, vision and mental health providers available to us. I also had 4 weeks vacation and every holiday off. I also was given a yearly bus pass, so I did not have to drive downtown.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Young People Are Heeding Austin’s Call, Data Shows

Sabrina Tavernise:

Austin, Tex., drew the largest numbers of young Americans from 2007 through 2009, according to an analysis by a senior demographer at the Brookings Institution, replacing Riverside, Calif., which was the most popular destination for young people in the middle of the decade.
Migration slowed greatly during the recession, and rates have continued to remain low. But in an analysis of migration still occurring among some of the country’s most mobile citizens — people ages 25 to 34 — the cities at the top of the list were those that had remained economically vibrant, like Dallas, and those that were considered hip destinations, like Austin and Seattle, the demographer, William H. Frey, found.
In the middle of the decade, before the recession, the top five destinations were Riverside, Phoenix, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, N.C., according to the analysis, which was based on Census Bureau data. Austin ranked ninth in that period, and Las Vegas was No. 10.

Compare Wisconsin & Texas NAEP scores here (White students in Texas outscore Wisconsin students in Math) and have a smaller difference between black students.
A Capital Times perspective on Texas, here. A look at College Station vs. Madison, here

School Board Governance: Surrendor Dorothy, or Who Does the Superintendent Work For?

Charlie Mas

What would it be like if we just gave up? I suggest that it would essentially the same as it would be if we continued the struggle.
What would it be like if the superintendent didn’t get any pushback on any of her initiatives? Despite all of the pushback, she has been able to move forward with just about everything that she has wanted to do, starting with the decision to co-locate Sealth and Denny. Elementary and middle school APP were split. Schools were closed. Schools were re-opened. Discover Math was adopted. Millions were spent on STEM, including $800,000 going to NTN. The District bought MAP. The District has paid through the nose for consultants including consultants for high school LA curriculum alignment, consultants for performance management, and consultants for a whole list of strategic plan initiatives.
What would it be like if no one followed up on unfilled promises? Not much different that it has been because she hasn’t fulfilled many – if any – promises. The promises around the Denny/Sealth co-location have been broken. The promises around the Southeast Initiative were broken. The promises around the APP splits were broken. The promises around the school closures were broken. The promises around the school openings were broken. The promises around the math adoption were broken. The promises around curricular alignment were broken. The promises around the new student assignment plan were broken. The promises around capacity management were broken. The promises around the strategic plan were broken. All of the promises were broken and she has successfully evaded any kind of authentic community engagement.

More on “who does the Superintendent work for”, here.

More Comments on the Los Angeles Value Added Assessment Report

Melissa Westbrook:

So most of you may have heard that the LA Times is doing a huge multi-part story about teacher evaluation. One of the biggest parts is a listing of every single public school teacher and their classroom test scores (and the teachers are called out by name).
From the article:

Though the government spends billions of dollars every year on education, relatively little of the money has gone to figuring out which teachers are effective and why.
Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.
The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Interestingly, the LA Times apparently had access to more than 50 elementary school classrooms. (Yes, I know it’s public school but man, you can get pushback as a parent to sit in on a class so I’m amazed they got into so many.) And guess what, these journalists, who may or may not have ever attended a public school or have kids, made these observations:

States push to pay teachers based on performance

Dorie Turner:

For parents and politicians hungry for better schools, the idea of paying teachers more if their students perform better can seem as basic as adding two and two or spelling “cat.”
Yet just a handful of schools and districts around the country use such strategies. In some states, the idea is effectively illegal.
That could all be changing as the federal government wields billions of dollars in grants to lure states and school districts to try the idea. The money is persuading lawmakers around the country, while highlighting the complex problems surrounding pay-for-performance systems.
Some teachers, like Trenise Duvernay, who teaches math at Alice M. Harte Charter School outside of New Orleans, want to be rewarded for helping students succeed. Duvernay is eligible for $2,000 a year or more in merit bonuses based on how well her students perform in classroom observations and on achievement tests.

Gates Funds Aid University of Oregon’s College-Prep Efforts

University of Oregon:

Developing a set of core content standards to prepare high school students with the academic foundation and skills necessary to succeed on any college campus is the goal of a new initiative at the University of Oregon.
Specifically targeted are the subject areas of mathematics and English, as well as a set of career-oriented two-year certificate programs.
David T. Conley, a professor of education and founder and chief executive officer of the non-profit Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC), will lead the ambitious project, which is partially funded by a $794,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Seattle-based foundation announced in February a $19.5 million package of 15 grants to develop and launch new instructional tools and assessments to assure college readiness across the nation. Other support for the UO project comes from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

An exchange with the director of the Washington State Board of Education

Martha McLaren:

Here is an open letter which I sent last night to Edie Harding, Executive Director of the State Board of Education. Under the letter I have paraphrased her reply; below that is my response to her.
I am responding to your comment today in the Seattle Times:
‘ “It’s long been established that in our state, the local board is always the prime decision-maker on curriculum.” ….the Seattle decision was “a surprise, and if I were the Seattle School Board, I would — well, I might take issue with the judge,” she added.’
Having been one of the plaintiffs in the recent textbook appeal in Seattle, I’m well aware that School Boards make curriculum decisions. However, Ms. Harding, what recourse do you suggest to parents when School Boards abdicate their decision making power – refusing to consider voluminous, compelling, evidence from parents and community members, and instead give school administrators carte blanch to turn math education in directions that are unacceptable to informed parents and community members?

Times Guest Column on STEM Education

Charlie Mas:

There was a guest column in the Seattle Times by Bonnie Dunbar, the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight and a former astronaut, encouraging the community to support STEM education efforts.
The column itself was the usual pointless pablum that we typically see in these guest columns. Lots of goals with no action plan. The interesting bit, as usual, comes in the reader comments in which members of the community writes that we DON’T need more engineers because there are lots of them standing in unemployment lines and that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and China or to people from India and China who come to the U.S. on guest worker visas.
This article is also written completely without reference to the ineffective math education methods adopted over the past ten years.

Pay bump for teachers with master’s degrees could be put to better use

The Center on Reinventing Public Education via a Debra Britt email:

Seattle, WA, July 20, 2009 — In this recessionary climate of depressed revenues and budget cuts for education, school districts across the U.S. “would be foolhardy” not to rethink paying teachers for master’s degrees, according to a new report out today.
“On average, master’s degrees in education bear no relation to student achievement,” say education researchers Marguerite Roza and Raegen Miller in their short paper, Separation of Degrees: State-By-State Analysis of Teacher Compensation for Master’s Degrees.
The brief was produced jointly by the Center on Reinventing Public Education and the Center for American Progress.
“During this time of fiscal stringency, it should raise eyebrows when a state automatically allocates such large sums of the average per-pupil expenditure in a manner that is not even suspected of promoting higher levels of student achievement,” say the authors.
In hard dollars, this means New York state spends an extra $416 per student (for a total of $1.121 billion a year) just because 78 percent of its teachers hold master’s degrees. In Washington state, the analogous numbers are $319 per pupil (or $330 million a year total) for the 56 percent of its teachers with a master’s. These expenditures, respectively, represent 2.78 percent and 3.30 percent of the total federal, state, and local money devoted to education in each state.
Roza and Miller chart these numbers for each state and suggest that the money now committed to the master’s bump in pay could be better spent, writing that: “Teaching candidates with salient and meaningful master’s degrees should be given preferential attention when competing for jobs, all else being equal. A master’s degree in engineering, for example, should be construed as evidence that a candidate possesses a deep understanding of a subject matter that is relevant to teaching mathematics or science.”

A Retired Teacher on Governance, Administrators and Education Flavor of the Month Theories

James Behrend:

Extraordinary times command extraordinary measures and grant extraordinary opportunities. Our state’s budget crisis calls already for kids and schools to sacrifice. It does not have to be. This is Olympia’s chance to substantially improve our entrenched education system and save some money.
Here are three problems Olympia must tackle to make a real difference:
1. Washington taxpayers support 295 independent school districts. Each district is top-heavy with too many administrators: superintendents, assistant superintendents, executive directors, curriculum directors, special ed directors, human resources directors, finance directors, transportation directors, purchasing directors and other nonteaching executives.
2. The second problem is lack of stability. Administrators introduce too often “new” educational theories. With each new administrator come new ideas. What was the silver bullet in education one year ago is toxic with a new principal or new superintendent.
I experienced over a period of 12 years changes from a six periods day to a four periods “block system” (several years in the planning). After starting the block, my school planned for two years to establish five to six autonomous Small Schools, but only one was eventually organized. In the midst of those disruptive changes, Best Practices was contemplated but never enacted; special ed and ESL students were mainstreamed, and NovaNet, a computerized distant learning, was initiated with former Gov. Gary Locke present and praising our vision. Finally, all honors classes were abandoned and differentiated instruction was introduced.
Eventually, all these new methods were delegated to the trash heap of other failed educational experiments. By 2008, the school was where it had been in 1996, minus some very good teachers and more than a few dollars.
3. The third problem is the disconnect between endorsements and competency. A sociology major gets a social sciences endorsement from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and may teach history, or math, or Spanish. A PE teacher may instruct students in English literature or history. A German or English teacher may teach U.S. history.

Problems Without Figures For Fourth to Eighth Grade

A Math book for “High Schools and Normal Schools by S.Y. Gillan [9.6MB PDF]:

Arithmetic can be so taught as to make the pupil familiar with thc fact that we may use a number in a problem without knowing what particular number it is. Some of the fundamentals of algebra may thus be taught along with arithmetic. But, as a rule, whenever any attempt is made to do this the work soon develops or degenerates into formal algebra, with a full quota of symbolism, generalization and formulae — matter which is not wholesome pabulum for a child’s mind and the result has been that teachers have given up the effort and have returned to the use of standardized knowledge put up in separate packages like baled hay, one bale labeled “arithmetic,” another “algebra,” etc.
Every problem in arithmetic calls for two distinct and widely different kinds of work: first, the solution, which involves a comprehension of the conditions of the problem and their relation to one another; second, the operation. First we
decide what to do; this requires reasoning. Then we do the work; this is a merely mechanical process, and the more mechanical the better. A calculating machine, too stupid to make a mistake, will do the work more accurately than a
skillful accountant. Adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing do not train the power to reason, but deciding in a given set of conditions which of these operations to use and why, is the feature of arithmetic which requires reasoning.
The problems offered here will furnish material to promote thinking; and a few minutes daily used in this kind of work will greatly strengthen the pupils’ power to deal with the problems given in the textbook.
After consultation with teachers, the author decided to print the problems without regard to classification. They range all the way from very simple work suitable for beginners up to a standard adapted to the needs of eighth grade pupils. As a review in high school and normal school classes the problems may be taken in order as they come, and will be found Interesting and stimulating. For pupils in the grades, the teacher will Indicate which ones to omit; this discrimination will be a valuable exercise for the teacher.
A few “catch problems” are put in to entrap the unwary. To stumble occasionally into a pitfall makes a pupil more watchful of his steps and gives invigorating exercise in regaining his footing. The groove runner thus learns to use his wits and see the difference between a legitimate problem and an absurdity.
It is recommended that these exercises be used as sight work, the pupils having the book in hand and the teacher designating the problems to be solved without previous preparation.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin, May 21, 1910.

Many thanks to Dick Askey for providing a copy (the!) of this book.
From the book:

To answer in good, concise English, affords an excellent drill in clear thinking and accurate expression. This one is suitable for high school, normal school and university students, some of whom will flounder in a most ludicrous fashion when they first attempt to give a clear-cut answer conforming to the demands of mathematics and good English.
224. After a certain battle the surgeon sawed off several wagon loads of legs. If you are told the number of legs in each load and the .price of a cork leg, how can you find the expense of supplying these men with artificial legs? Writeout a list of twenty other expense items incurred in the fighting of a battle.
225. The American people spend each year for war much more than for education. If you know the total amount spent for each purpose, how can you find the per capita expense for war and for schools?
227. A boy travels from Boston to Seattle in a week. Every day at noon he meets a mail train going east on which he mails a letter to his mother in Boston. If there is no delay, how frequently should she receive his letters?

Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [].
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact–the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.
The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn’t mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her “ability to communicate” than in what she actually said.
Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays “holistically”–at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).
Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but “when it comes to the writing section, there’s one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point.” According to Shaw, the state’s education office announced that “making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL.”
Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content–think James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces–is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.
All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected ‘R’, The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows “how powerfully children can express their emotions.”
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,

Want Schools to Work? Meet the Parents

Sandra Tsing Loh, making sense, continues her whirlwind media tour, this time at the Washington Post (thanks to a kind reader’s email for this link):

Yea, public school parents’ priorities are routinely placed below those of building inspectors, plant managers, even, given an errant bell schedule, cafeteria workers. Although, teachers are down in the bunkers with us, too. You’d be amazed how many extraordinary schoolteachers, who’ve served faithfully, conscientiously, daily for 40 years, just keep their heads down at this point.
Since most politicians have never dealt with U.S. public schools as customers themselves (in the same way that precious few of them put their own children in the Army), it might shock you, Mr. Future President, how poorly parents are treated out here in Public-School-Landia. You know how when you walk into a Wal-Mart or a McDonald’s, someone greets you with, “Hello! May I help you?” It’s startling how seldom you can expect this basic courtesy in public schools, how often we parents approaching the counter are treated as felons, or more often simply ignored by the frantically typing office-administrator-type-person. It’s a peculiar thing, in this 21st century. Forget best-practice research and technology-driven classrooms. I really believe if anyone in the multibillion-dollar industry called U.S. public education were ever listening to us, improved schools would start, simply, with this: “Hello! May I help you?”
Where does this culture of committee-oriented time wastage — even for parents who work — spring from? Here’s a clue. L.A. Unified recently faced such a budget shortfall that the district was actively recruiting potential save-our-schools spokesparents to submit their resumes and come to the central offices for “media training” if selected. Cut to the bone as it is, though, next year’s budget still slates a hefty $78.8 million for consultants (last year a consultant was paid $35,000 to teach our superintendent how to use a computer). And yes, I realize that I’m getting off-message by noting that our school district wastes money.. . . That’s like waving red meat in front of America’s seniors, who’ll probably vote to cut taxes again! Even though it’s not the bureaucracy, but the children who get squeezed. That’s all budget cuts mean, in the end. My kids have their assemblies on cracked asphalt. Now the cracked asphalt will have weeds.
But here’s the good news, Mr. Future President. In a testament to the incredible can-do American spirit (and I mean that in the most drop-dead-serious way), activist public school parents are fighting back against U.S. public education’s wasteful and unresponsive corporate “professionalism.” (Remember George Bernard Shaw’s quip about the professions being “conspiracies against the laity”?) City by city, homegrown “parents for public schools”-style Web sites are springing up daily, little rebel force fires on the horizon. From New York to Chicago, Seattle to San Francisco and beyond, activist parents are starting to blog their outrage over millions of education dollars wasted on non-working computer technology, non-child-centered programs and, of course, those entities whose education dollars are never, ever cut — the standardized-testing companies.

Some years ago, I sketched a chart illustrating the influence of various factions on our nearly $400M local school system. Topping the list were Administrators of both the school system and local teachers union. Far down were teachers (think of the “downtown math police”) and parents. Further still were students themselves. Taxpayers were not represented.
Observing public education rather closely for a number of years, it seems to me that all players, especially teachers, parents and students, would be better off with a far more diffused governance model (charters, smaller districts/schools, choice?).

Bellevue, WA Teacher Strike: District Offers Teachers a 5% Raise over 3 Years

Lynn Thompson:

The Bellevue School District increased its salary offer to teachers in a late-night bargaining session Thursday.
The total pay raise would be 5 percent over the three-year contract.
Union officials praised the move and said they planned to hold an “optimism” rally at Crossroads Park in Bellevue today while bargaining was expected to continue.
“It’s a move in the right direction,” said Michele Miller, Bellevue Education Association president.
The school district initially offered teachers 3 percent in wage increases over the three-year contract but raised the offer to 4.5 percent last week, saying the increase was contingent on voter approval of a levy in the third year of the contract.

Bellevue, WA Teacher Salary Schedule with 2008-2009 District Offer: 16k PDF
Curriculum is also an issue in this strike [32K PDF]:

Language Arts 4th – 12th grade: Many teachers believe there far too few lessons on punctuation and grammar. You cannot add lessons in these areas, since that might supplant the scripted lesson goal of the day.

Middle School Math: Since the district only allows one level of math at each grade in Middle School, there are many bored and overwhelmed students simultaneously stuck in the same class. The District’s current curriculum proposal wouldn’t allow a teacher to develop entirely new topics of instruction to engage the bored students. Additionally, while teachers would be allowed to make small adjustments for struggling kids, they couldn’t use those changes the following year without the approval of the Curriculum Department.

Certainly, Math and writing skills are fertile ground for curriculum controversy.
I asked Madison’s three superintendent candidates earlier this year if they supported a “top down” curricular approach or, simply hiring the best teachers. It’s hard to imagine a top down approach actually working in a large organization.

Does State Education Funding Shortchange Our Children?

Marietta Nelson:

Schools receive local property tax money through levies and federal money, but the majority of funding comes from the state.
The current public education funding system emerged from a 1977 state Supreme Court decision in which Seattle schools sued the state over inadequate funding. The ruling held that the state must fund equally across districts a “basic education” program that went beyond reading, writing and math. Subsequent court rulings over the years have expanded the formula, resulting in an extremely complex system.
It’s been called antiquated, outdated, ossified. Even Byzantine.
“Our system is pretty equitable now in that everyone gets ripped off,” Hyde said. “Just think, do you live now like you lived 30 years ago?”
The formula begins with all schools receiving a basic education allocation per student. The allocation varies from district to district based on teacher experience and education levels, teacher-student ratios, allocations for administrators and classified staff and several other factors.

The article includes a number of interesting comments.

Sham Standards

Joanne Jacobs:

Kate Riley’s 10-year-old son received a letter of congratulations signed by Washington’s governor and state superintendent.

“Congratulations!’ it started. “… We are very proud of you, and you should be very proud of yourself.”
Apparently, my son “achieved the state reading, writing and mathematics learning standards.”

But her autistic son, who spends most of his time in a special-education classroom, is years behind. He “can read some words, can add a little and can barely draw a straight line.”
An editorial writer, Riley has backed high standards since she tutored a 30-year-old high school graduate with a third-grade reading level. But she agreed that students with special needs should have alternative ways to show mastery of the standards, such as providing a portfolio of work.

Gates Foundation’s Small Learning Communities Have Yet to Yield Big Results

Linda Shaw: The experiment — an attempt to downsize the American high school — has proven less successful than hoped. The changes were often so divisive — and the academic results so mixed — that the Gates Foundation has stopped always pushing small as a first step in improving big high schools. Instead, it’s now … Continue reading Gates Foundation’s Small Learning Communities Have Yet to Yield Big Results

ACT scores are best in 20 years, with a catch, MMSD Curriculum & Upcoming Elections

The issue of curriculum quality and rigor continues to generate attention. P-I:

The good news is that the high school class of 2006 posted the biggest nationwide average score increase on the ACT college entrance exam in 20 years and recorded the highest scores of any class since 1991.
The bad news is that only 21 percent of the students got a passing grade in all four subject areas, including algebra and social science.
“The ACT findings clearly point to the need for high schools to require a rigorous, four-year core curriculum and to offer Advanced Placement classes so that our graduates are prepared to compete and succeed in both college and the work force,” Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in Washington, D.C.

Alan Borsuk has more:

Wisconsin high school graduates are better prepared to succeed in college than students nationwide – but that means only that more than 70% of state students are at risk of having trouble in one or more freshman-level subjects while the national figure is almost 80%, according to ACT, the college testing company.
The message still isn’t getting across,” Ferguson said in a telephone news conference. If students want to go to college and do well, they have to take high school seriously and take challenging courses, he said.
ACT results showed that students who took at least four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies in high school did substantially better on the tests (22.9 in Wisconsin, 22.0 nationwide) than those who took lighter loads in those core areas (21.0 and 19.7, respectively).
Elizabeth Burmaster, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, said she believes that if schools in Wisconsin stay focused on efforts such as early childhood education and small class sizes in the early grades, combined with strong academic programs in middle school and high school, achievement will go up and racial and ethnic gaps will close.

Individual state data is available here.
Burmaster’s statement, along with the ACT information will increase the attention paid to curriculum issues, such as the ongoing questions over the Madison School District’s math program (See UW Math professor Dick Askey’s statement on the MMSD’s interpration and reporting of math scores). Will we stick with the “same service” approach? This very important issue will be on voters minds in November (referendum) and again in April, 2007 when 3 board seats are up for election. See also the West High School Math Faculty letter and a recent open letter to the Madison School District Board and Administration from 35 of the 37 UW Math Department faculty members. Vaishali Honawar has more.
The Madison School District issued a press release on the recent ACT scores (68% of Wisconsin high school graduates took the ACT – I don’t know what the MMSD’s percentage is):

Madison students who took the 2006 ACT college entrance exam continued to outperform their state and national peers by a wide margin, and the scores of Madison’s African-American test takers increased significantly. Madison students’ composite score of 24.2 (scale of 1 to 36) was higher for the 12th straight year than the composite scores of Wisconsin students and those across the nation (see table below). District students outscored their state peers by 9% (24.2 vs. 22.2,) and their national peers by 15% (24.2 vs. 21.1).
Compared to the previous year, the average ACT composite score among the district’s African-American students increased 6% — 18.8 vs. 17.7 last year. The gap between district African-American and white student ACT scores decreased this year. The relative difference this year was 24% (18.8 vs. 24.8) compared to 30% last year.
Scores also increased this year for the district’s Asian students (22.1 to 23.0) and Hispanic students (21.5 to 21.8).

The Madison School District recently published this summary of student performance vs other similar sized and nearby districts (AP, ACT and WKCE) here. Madison’s individual high schools scored as follows: East 22.9, LaFollette 22.1, Memorial 25.1 and West 25.5. I don’t have the % of students who took the ACT.

I checked with Edgewood High School and they have the following information: “almost all students take the ACT” and their composite score is “24.4”. Lakeside in Lake Mills averaged 24.6. Middleton High School’s was 25 in 2005. Verona High School’s numbers:

222 students took the ACT in 2005-2006.
Our composite score was 23.6 compared to the state at 22.2
87% of test takers proved college ready in English Composition (vs. 77%)
66% of test takers proved college ready in College Algebra (vs. 52%)
77% of test takers proved college ready in Social Science (vs. 61%)
45% of test takers proved college ready in Biology (vs. 35%)
37% of test takers proved college ready in all four areas (vs. 28%)
(#) as compared to the state %

Waunakee High School:

Score HS Mean (Core/Non-Core)
Composite 23.3 (24.3/21.5)
English 22.5 (23.9/19.5)
Mathematics 23.2 (24.2/21.8)
Reading 23.3 (24.1/21.5)
Science 23.7 (24.4/22.7)

McFarland High School’s 2006 Composite average was 23.7. 110 students were tested.
UPDATE: A few emails regarding these results:

  • On the Waunakee information:

    In the Waunakee information I sent to Jim Z, our mean for the Class of 2006 comes first, followed by the core/non-core in parentheses. So, our mean composite score for our 157 seniors who sat for the ACT was 23.3, the mean composite for those completing the ACT suggested core was 24.3, the mean composite for those who did not complete the core was 21.5.
    With ACT profile reports, the student information is self-reported. It’s reasonably accurate, but some students don’t fill in information about course patterns and demographics if it is not required.
    Please let me know if there are any other questions.

  • McFarland data:

    It appears that Jim Z’s chart comparing scores uses Waunakee’s “Core score” as opposed to the average composite that the other schools (at
    least McFaland) gave to Jim Z.. If Jim Z. wishes to report average “Core” for McFarland it is 24.5. Our non-core is 22.2 with our average composite 23.7.

  • More on the meaning of “Core”:

    Probably everyone is familiar with the ACT definition of core, but it’s 4 years of English, and three years each of math, science, and social studies. ACT is refining their position on what course patterns best position a student for undergraduate success, however.

Additional comments, data and links here

Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

When the Cincinnati Public Schools devised a reform strategy for improving student performance, it became clear that the district’s traditional budgeting system was inadequate. The authors trace the district’s process of moving to a system of student-based budgeting: funding children rather than staff members and weighting the funding according to schools’ and students’ needs. By … Continue reading Leveling the Playing Field: Creating Funding Equity Through Student-Based Budgeting

Tim Olsen on Generating Cash from the Doyle Administration Land/Building

Tim Olsen’s email to Madison Board of Education Member Ruth Robarts: And below are the specifics you requested re calculating an estimated value for the Doyle site. You are welcome to share this email with anyone interested. And thanks for the opportunity to speak to the Board, for your comments, and for including Lucy Mathiak’s … Continue reading Tim Olsen on Generating Cash from the Doyle Administration Land/Building