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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

District view of AP at odds with universities

Updated February 5, 2009:

In October, a parent of a student in Spokane Public Schools sent me copies of his email to the district and the district’s response. The parent was concerned that “the math District 81 is teaching will not prepare our students for entry into colleges both in WA and around our nation… Students are graduating from local high schools with A's in honors math and are having to take remedial math to get into college.”

The district response to this parent came from Rick Biggerstaff, secondary mathematics coordinator and AP calculus teacher at Lewis & Clark High School. Biggerstaff reassured the worried parent, noting (in part) that Advanced Placement enrollments and “passing scores” are increasing. (Advanced Placement classes are college-level classes that are taken in high school. School districts often point to increasing AP enrollments and pass rates as indicators that mathematics achievement is improving.) Biggerstaff wrote:

“… I can say that our district continues to increase enrollment in AP classes and statistically performs very well on the AP exam. In the 12 years that I have personally been involved with the AP calculus program I have watched the number of students in AP mathematics throughout our district double in volume, seen the program go from no high school statistics programs, to each high school having at least one AP statistics class, and watched the number of passing scores on these tests grow significantly. … What matters is the level of cognitive engagement in our classrooms. Whether you arrive at that through a traditional approach or non-traditional approach is not nearly as significant as focusing on student engagement. We believe our increased numbers in ‘honors’ level math along with a growth in passing AP scores reflects our work in this area.”Naturally, this response piqued my interest. The entire point of school is to gain useful information and skills for the next grades and for postsecondary life. If AP enrollment and pass rates are increasing, these could be indicators that student knowledge is increasing. Recognizing, however, that there has been much speculation in the nation about what education statistics actually represent, I called the district to determine Spokane’s AP enrollments and pass rates. Staff members were unable to give me AP enrollments specifically (that data is lumped in with honors enrollment), but they sent me a table of AP exam results from 1992 to 2008. Here is part of that table:

Summary of AP Exam Results

1992 2000 2008
Number of students 193 368 1093
Number of exams 271 636 2028
Number of course areas 13 15 27
Number of exams passed 198 515 1099
Percent passing 73% 81% 54%
Average grade 3.18 3.45 2.72

Average Passing Grade

1992 2000 2008
Spokane 3.18 3.45 2.72
Washington 3.02 3.10 2.87
Western Region 3.08 3.03 2.86
Global 3.05 3.02 2.85

According to the full table, numbers of exam-takers steadily increased from 2000 to 2008, while the percent passing and the average grades steadily decreased. In 2000, 368 students took AP exams; 81% achieved a score of 3 or greater ("3" has traditionally been considered a passing grade.) Their average grade was 3.45. In 2008, however, 1,093 students took exams; 54.2% achieved a 3 or greater. Their average grade was 2.72. This decline occurred despite the near doubling of course areas in which students took their exams – from 15 course areas in 2000 to 27 course areas in 2008. Meanwhile, since 2001, the full-time enrollment in District 81 dropped by about 2,000 students. Therefore, AP enrollment and AP exam-taking increased despite a decrease in overall student population.

In 2000, Spokane students scored better on their AP exams than students in certain other areas. In 2008, however, Spokane students did less well than students in those other areas.

Technically, Spokane administrators can say that the number of students passing AP exams has increased. In 2000, 81% of 636 student exams were passed, for a total of 515 exams passed. In 2008, 54.2% of 2,028 student exams were passed, for a total of 1,099 exams passed. In effect, 584 more exams were passed in 2008 than in 2000.

Technically, however, it can also be said that the number of students failing AP exams has increased. In 2000, 19% of student exams (121 total) were not passed, while in 2008, 45.8% of student exams (929 total) were not passed. In effect, 808 more exams were failed in 2008 than in 2000.

In 2008 in AP mathematics, 66% of the students achieved a 3 or better on their exams. At Lewis & Clark High School, just 24% achieved a 3 or better on the Calculus AB exam; in Calculus BC, 59% did. In 2007, just 36% of the Lewis & Clark students achieved a 3 or better on the Calculus AB exam; in Calculus BC, 53% did.

Do these numbers indicate district improvement in mathematics? Much depends on how important you think it is to achieve a score of at least 3. Last year, a school board member commented that students who failed to achieve a 3 or better on their AP exams "must have learned something while they were there.” A district administrator told me today the College Board (which runs the AP program) says schools shouldn’t “talk about pass rates” because colleges vary in what they’ll accept. I asked her if schools should at least have a target in mind, and she said, “Not necessarily.” AP courses are rigorous and accredited, she said, so “it’s hard” to make pass rates “a concern.”

Folks, if we aren’t concerned with pass rates, if we don’t even have a target, how do parents and students know when they’ve achieved what they want to achieve? How do the universities know? How do employers know? How does the district know when it’s failed to do its job?

It turns out the universities do know. Whitworth University, Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, Washington State University and the University of Washington (Seattle) all indicate that - depending on the subject - they give credit for passing scores of 3, 4 or 5. For example, Gonzaga gives credit for AP calculus scores of 4 or 5. Spokane's community colleges also give credit for scores of 3, 4 or 5. The College Board probably knows, too. It says the 5-point scale represents the following:

5 – extremely well qualified
4 – well qualified
3 – qualified
2 – possibly qualified
1 – no recommendation

School administrators know, too. Students in Washington must obtain at least a "3" on AP math exams in order to use the classes as alternatives to the 10th-grade math WASL.

So I worry about those 929 failed AP exams in 2008 and the drop in the average grade. I worry about students who are ushered into AP classes, who fail to achieve at least a 3 on the exams, and about whom we’re supposed to say, “Well, they must have learned something while they were there.” Sadly for them, some will have learned that achievement doesn’t matter. It does, though. It always will. They’ll find that out on their own – the hard way.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December, 2008). "District view of AP at odds with universities." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was also published December 18, 2008, in at

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Board meeting yields few answers

[Edited Oct. 11, 2011, to correct spelling of a name.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

On Nov. 5, 2008, I went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting and asked for five things – three having to do with accountability and communication, and two having to do with mathematics.

I left written copies of my requests with board members and the secretary who keeps the minutes. Knowing that board meetings are considered to be “business meetings,” I suspected that board members wouldn’t discuss my requests with me that night. I was right. Board President Rocco Treppiedi told me the board would respond to my requests in writing.

Later, Treppiedi asked an area principal for his reaction to my comments about reform mathematics curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The principal said he was confident that things would improve once teachers had a chance to delve more deeply into the curriculum.

When the minutes from that Nov. 5 meeting were approved and posted on the school board Web site at, my entire presentation was winnowed down to exactly this:

“Ms. Laurie Rogers commented on her research of public education over the past two years and distributed a list of items she would like to see changed in Spokane Public Schools. She noted that the list is given in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration. President Treppiedi noted that the staff can get back to Ms. Rogers with a response in writing” (“Regular,” 2008). There is nothing in the minutes to tell the public what I requested or why. (Treppiedi’s aforementioned exchange with the principal isn’t in the minutes either.) It’s ironic, considering that the first item on my list had to do with providing opportunities for the community to have regular two-way public dialogue with the school board. In brief, here’s what I requested:

1. Dialogue.Currently, parents can’t initiate open, two-way public dialogue on topics of our choosing with the entire District 81 school board. I asked the board to offer regular opportunities to do that. 2. Inclusion.A District 81 curriculum coordinator told me that parents are not invited into curriculum discussions or decisions because we don’t have the background to offer informed feedback. Recognizing that many parents have a stronger background in math than that curriculum coordinator – and that parents who have no background in math still have valuable things to say – I asked the board to include parents in curriculum discussions and decisions. 3. Details.According to former board President Christine Querna, the board debates the issues in “work sessions.” Regular board meetings are where members vote on items they’ve already discussed. Currently, notice of the work sessions is briefly given at the very bottom of board meeting agendas, but no details are provided of planned topics or guests. I asked the board to post details of the work sessions in a prominent, easy-to-find place on the district and school board Web sites so that parents can determine if they wish to attend. 4. Choice of a traditional track in mathematics.The National Mathematics Advisory Panel has recommended more traditional mathematics in K-12 schools. Washington State’s revised mathematics standards include more traditional mathematics. Recent curriculum reviews have indicated that Spokane’s mathematics curricula – all reform – are inadequate. (Neither Connected Mathematics nor Investigations in Number, Data, and Space are recommended by the review panel; neither are on the final list of recommendations from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.) I asked the board to immediately offer parents the choice of a more traditional track in mathematics. 5. Tutoring.Test results, dropout rates, and tutoring and remediation rates all indicate serious problems relative to math in Spokane. Clearly, many students don’t have the skills they need to begin a more rigorous curriculum, much less graduate or go to college. I asked the board to offer tutoring and remedial help in traditional mathematics for all students so they can catch up to where they should have been.Two weeks after I made this presentation, I received the board members’ written response. Following are brief summaries of their comments:

1. Dialogue.Board members said they “have considered” reinstating the bi-monthly Coffee and Conversation public meetings the board used to host. (No decision or timeline is given, however.) 2. Inclusion.Board members said: “The district curriculum is developed by staff and administrators…Final adoption of any curricular materials is our responsibility as School Board Directors, serving as elected representatives of the community.” (No acknowledgement is made of the value or appropriateness of including parents in curriculum decisions.) 3. Details.Board members said there are plans in place to revise the Web site, including making the work sessions “more visible.” 4. Choice of a traditional track in mathematics.It’s a “lengthy process,” the board members wrote, to align curricula with state standards. Recently, the state math standards changed. The State Board of Education is finding out if financial incentives can be offered to publishers to align their texts “more closely with the revised state standards.” Therefore, the board members concluded, “It will be prudent for us to wait and see what new materials might be available for our use.” (In other words, don’t hold your breath waiting for traditional math curricula. No acknowledgement is made of the district’s problems in mathematics, the weakness of reform curricula, or the desperate need for a more traditional approach.) 5. Tutoring.Board members said: “Tutoring help for students who fall behind in any subject is one effective intervention strategy, and we are able to do that on a limited basis…Improved state funding for basic education is essential for districts to use local levy funds to provide extracurricular supports, like tutoring.” (No acknowledgement is made of the need across the entire district for immediate tutoring in basic math skills.)Perhaps behind the board’s carefully crafted response, there is much going on. Perhaps board members agree with me and just won’t say it in public or on paper. Perhaps I’m to assume I was taken seriously, that my concerns are being discussed at length, and that now, I just need to be patient. Perhaps if we all sat down together at a friendly barbecue, board members would confide their intent to immediately implement all five requests. They might even indicate their support of a sixth request - to replace our two lame-duck math tests (the WASL and SASL) with a single test that will tell us just how wide the gap is between what students know and what they need to know for college (or even just to meet the newly revised math standards).

But why would I assume any of that? At the board meeting, no board member or administrator offered me any vocal understanding, encouragement or support, and no one asked to see my research. In the meeting minutes, my presentation was edited down until it meant nothing and said nothing. The board’s written response to my presentation is careful and oblique. It acknowledges little and commits to just one small item. Most of it can be interpreted to mean anything at all. It’s the kind of response I expect from politicians and lawyers.

I plan to go to another meeting and ask that my specific requests be put in the public record. I’ll add the sixth request to the list since it makes sense. I’ll let you know what happens. No doubt you’ll be able to read in the minutes that I was there, but I can’t guarantee that the minutes will tell you what I said or what the board members said in reply.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December, 2008). "Board meeting yields few answers." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Social-Promotion Policy Fails Students

In a school system with inadequate curricula, a dependence on constructivist teaching and insufficient focus on academics – some children won’t pick up the concepts before the end of the year. They’ll flunk the tests, they won’t complete their schoolwork, maybe they won’t learn how to multiply or divide – whatever it is – they won’t be ready for the next grade.

They’re probably going there anyway.

Many school districts have policies that students can’t be held back. In Spokane Public Schools, Procedure 4425, written in 1988, says, “No student shall be retained more than once during K-8 grades except in special cases” (“Policies,” 1988). The Procedure says it’s because “research demonstrates that retention does not help students who do not succeed because they have low potential; have social, emotional, or behavioral problems; or lack motivation.” The actual research is not cited.

I’ll cite a research report, then. A 2006 study (Greene & Winter, 2006) assessed the effects of a “test-based promotion policy.” The study found that two years after Florida students had been retained, they had “made significant reading gains relative to the control group of socially promoted students.” The socially promoted students, meanwhile, continued to fall farther behind.

In a January 2007 meeting, I asked (then Spokane Superintendent) Brian Benzel about the district’s policy. He said, “The research around retention shows a very negative correlation between retention and subsequent difficulties.” I asked him in what way, and he said: “It usually makes the learning problems worse rather than better. And so our practice is to differentiate instruction and to be, and to work with, we know that students come in all different sizes, shapes, and degrees of readiness to learn. The old system, if you will, kind of said, ‘We’re going to give you 6 hours a day for 180 days, for 12 ½ years, and we’re going to let the outcome vary. We’ll hold all the time constant, we’ll have managed inputs, and whatever happens, happens.’ In a world where we had Kaiser and farms and mining and timber, that worked fine. But now, as we move to more technology and knowledge, and information management, that isn’t working so well, so we’re in the midst of a big shift from holding our inputs constant to looking at the results being what we want to be constant, or, and we know that a student who starts out here compared to one who starts out here are going to need different things.”

It went on like that. He didn’t cite the actual research.

Being held back probably isn’t good for a child’s self-esteem at that moment, but that doesn’t mean the better thing to do is socially promote the child. Failing at something is a normal, natural part of life. It doesn’t feel good at the time, but it can be instructive – to the student, the family and the school’s accountability system.

I’m not advocating that schools hold back every child who doesn’t meet a standard. I’m pointing out a truth: If students don’t have the skills for the next grade, then some sort of intervention must take place. Procedure 4425 only makes sense if struggling students have a tutor and/or mandatory remedial work so they can get caught up before the next grade. (And this work should probably come with a different approach than it did the first time.)

For most students, there are no tutors. No spring or summer remedial work. Unless parents or teachers make a special effort to find out what’s missing and to get that information into the child’s head, the child is passed to the next grade without the skills needed to be successful there.

Robert Archer, a high-school teacher, said he’s frustrated that students are coming to his class unprepared:

“… many of my ninth-grade students … are thoroughly unprepared for high school in terms of both skills proficiency and work ethic. … What exactly is going on in grades 1-8 in the Spokane Public Schools? If the students are so lacking in basic academic and work skills, how are they even making it to ninth grade?” (2008).

Those students make it to ninth grade in that condition because they weren’t failed and they weren’t sufficiently helped.

I don’t want students to feel badly or stand out because they’re taller and older than everyone else. But things are what they are. How good can it be for their self-esteem to struggle all year and then be promoted to the next grade where they’ll continue to struggle and where the gap in skills is even wider? Do you suppose they’ll eventually get the idea that no one’s ever going to fail them, that maybe they don’t ever have to learn, that maybe there aren’t any real consequences for not trying?

“What are they going to do about it? Fail me? They can’t fail me,” one 4th-grader said to me. What that 4th grader doesn’t realize is that the district is failing him – not in the legitimate, honest way he’s imagining, but in a dishonest, illegitimate way, by passing him through and then blaming him for failing to learn, which it will continue to do until he either graduates or drops out, in either case totally unprepared for the workforce. Meanwhile, teachers wind up with evermore challenging classrooms that are stuffed with 28-30 students of widely varying degrees of ability. As everyone laments the situation, many of the students sadly (and falsely) come to believe they’re incapable of learning. How can such a policy possibly be about self-esteem?

(Pass them through, mind you, and the district doesn’t have to pay to educate them twice.)

Don’t you feel angry when you think about how the children are passed through, like so many defective toys, while the plant managers stand around, nodding their heads, saying how wonderful the production lines are, refusing to pluck any toys off, passing out plaques, winning awards and congratulating each other? The toys get to the end of the line, and there they are – not ready for the marketplace. Doesn’t it make you angry?

If I were a teacher, I’d be angry as I surveyed my students, knowing that half of them don’t have the skills to do the work I’m about to assign. I’d be angry knowing I might get into trouble for telling parents how it is. I’d be angry knowing administrators called it a sign of progress that last year’s WASL pass rate stood at 60% or less and that many of them say nothing at all is wrong. I’m not a teacher, but I’m angry. Doing my research, I spent more than a year angry. Then, I turned that anger into resolve.

I resolve to no longer accept the things that don’t make sense. I resolve to speak up, to advocate for change, to vote with my feet. I resolve to either make the public-school system work for my child – or find a different program that will. I resolve that – regardless of what happens in public school – my child will always be ready for the next grade. She will also become ready for postsecondary life, whatever she wants that to look like.

I’m asking parents to join me. Turn your anger into resolve. Attend board meetings. Contact the district. Ask questions. Find out where your children are in skill. Make sure your children have the skills they need to move forward. If you can, work for systemic change. Together, perhaps we can turn this thing around.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Social-promotion policy fails students." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published Dec. 2, 2008 at at

Friday, November 21, 2008

Opt Out of Math, Science WASLs

Over 23 months of research, I’ve spoken with administrators, board members, parents, teachers, principals, math professors, math advocates, businesspeople and a few students. I don’t consider myself to be an expert, but I’m knowledgeable enough now to converse somewhat intelligently about the problems and our options.

I’m asking Washington parents to opt out of the math and science WASLs.
  1. Administrators acknowledge that the WASL is the “floor” of expectations. Why waste time, money and resources testing for the floor?
  2. The math WASL is based on standards that are no longer in force. The science standards are being revised right now. Just 40-60% of students typically pass the math WASL. Few students pass the science WASL. Students don't have to pass the math or science WASLs in order to graduate.
  3. The 10th-grade math WASL is being eliminated and replaced by end-of-course tests. The new superintendent has said his goal is to "replace the WASL with a simpler, fairer test."
  4. The math and science WASLs are inadequate indicators of what students have learned. They also don’t show us what isn't being taught (such as algebra, for just one glaring example). No specific feedback about those tests goes back to students or parents.

I ask you: What is the point? Students are spending days, hours and months practicing for tests that aren’t based on the standards, that aren’t accurate measures of what they need to know, and that are likely on their way out.

Just say no. If you’re in Spokane, you can also say no to the SASL (Spokane’s WASLette). Say no to this lame-duck testing process. Say no, say no. Keep your children home those days and teach them there. Or, send them to school with some work you’ve given them. You have the right to say no.

When you opt out, you might be advised that your child’s WASLs will be counted as zeros for the school. You might be told that not taking the WASLs can affect scores and funding for the school, district or state. You might be told that the teacher or principal will be affected by your decision. I say, “Express your sympathy and continue to say no.” The system is broken. What opting out does is acknowledge the elephant in the room.

Right now, you can test your children with something that will give you an idea of the skills they’re missing. If you do this, I suspect you will be shocked. For mathematics, Singapore Math (my personal preference) and Saxon Math are free assessments. Of the assessments listed below, I have personal experience with Singapore Math, Saxon Math and Sylvan Learning.

Saying no to the WASL won’t fix the problems, but it will send a message to the education establishment. Parents in Washington have already tried to send messages – by phone, by letter, by email, and by voting with their feet. Much of the establishment seems to think parents don’t know what they’re talking about. See "Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns" for more on that.

The Nov. 4 election was just another example of voter preferences being ignored. Before the election, Washington State Superintendent Terry Bergeson was aware that the WASL is a contentious issue. She knew Randy Dorn was campaigning on a platform of WASL opposition. On Nov. 4, voters selected Randy Dorn as the next superintendent of public instruction. On Nov. 5, I received an email from the Public Records Office at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) that answered questions I’d been asking since September. The Nov. 5 email confirmed that new contracts had been signed for several more years of the WASL and alternate tests. What will Randy Dorn be able to do about these contracts?

It must be said that I haven’t seen the contracts. They run thousands of pages, and it would cost me hundreds of dollars to have them copied. A Public Records person has agreed to send copies to me on a CD at a cost of $20.

It must also be said that I’m not a lawyer. In thousands of pages of legalese, what can I say about how binding they’ll be? According to the Nov. 5 email, however, the contracts are done and they total $164.5 million. Here’s the breakdown:

$ 374,861 to Assessment and Evaluation Services for the period 8/1/2008 to 12/31/2010. The scope of work includes coordination of quality control work efforts.
$131,193,205 to Data Recognition Corporation for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes testing operations, scoring and reporting, translations, teacher development.
$ 8,388,699 to Educational Service District 113 for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Collection of Evidence (alternative to the WASL).
$ 18,275,563 to Educational Testing Service for the period 7/21/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes assisting with work efforts associated with item and test development, and coordination of professional development.
$ 6,592,350 to Measured Progress for the period 10/20/2008 – 12/31/2012. The scope of work includes the Washington Alternate Assessment System Portfolio.

I’ve looked for this information on the OSPI Web site. I’ve waited for it to be disseminated in the Washington media. It wasn't in Terry Bergeson's Nov. 21 State of Education address. I found out about the contracts because I gave OSPI a formal request for public information.

Essentially, OSPI signed away $164.5 million in taxpayer money on contracts the public has repeatedly said it doesn’t want. This might have been hubris. They might have felt locked into doing it. Or, it might have been a final, poisonous pill. Regardless, the contracts are signed. The money is committed. Unless the contracts can be broken, say goodbye to that money, folks.

I’m asking you to say no to the madness. When it comes time for your child to take these lame-duck tests, refuse to participate. You are allowed to say no. Your vote at the ballot might not be respected and your money might be spent on tests that no one has to pass, but you can still vote with your feet. We get to do that in America, and by golly, we should.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Opt out of the WASL." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Links to sample opt-out letters:

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns

    A November 2008 headline caught my eye: “Media bias a form of arrogance.” In this article, columnist Cal Thomas criticizes the media: “Journalism is the only profession I know that ignores the wishes of its consumers. If a department store found that most of its customers preferred over-the-calf socks to ankle-length socks, would that store ignore customer preferences for the longer socks because the president of the company preferred the ankle-length style? … Yet journalists have this attitude: ‘we know what’s good for you, so shut up and take it’ … In only the rarest of cases are they confronted with their biases and held accountable” (Thomas, 2008).

    Thomas must not have any school-age children. Members of the public-school establishment tend to ignore the wishes of their consumers, too.

    • For decades, mathematicians, math professors and advocates have complained about “discovery” teaching styles – yet here we are, awash in discovery teaching styles.
    • For decades, they’ve refuted the effectiveness of reform mathematics – yet here we are, awash in reform curricula.
    • For decades, parents have tried to address their concerns with administrators and board members – yet they’ve been repeatedly and consistently rejected as being uninformed, uneducated, unknowledgeable and alone in their complaints.

    On Nov. 5, I went to a Spokane school-board meeting and I asked for five things, including a more traditional track in mathematics. I noted that Spokane’s curricula – all reform – have been heavily criticized by mathematicians, parents, math professors and math advocates; that the state and state’s advisory panel are unlikely to recommend these curricula; that it’s unlikely the curricula are aligned with the revised state math standards; and that clearly, Spokane’s students are having serious problems with basic math skills.

    The board president asked a Spokane principal for his reaction to my comments about reform curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The principal replied that as soon as the state stopped revising its math standards, teachers would be able to get more deeply into Investigations and then everything would be fine.

    Parents … Please don’t wait for the district to get it together. Find out what your children should know in mathematics, and then either teach it to them or find someone who will. Rise up, speak your mind, demand accountability, insist on respect for your viewpoints, and – failing all else – vote with your feet. Don’t be dissuaded by the false reassurances, non-answers and argument fallacies you’re likely to receive.

    Nationwide, parents have said:Nationwide, the establishment has replied:
    This approach to mathematics is illogical and counterproductive. Research shows this approach is best. Math might not be your child’s (or your) best subject.
    No one seems able to pass the science tests. We were successful in raising reading scores. We’re working on math. Soon, we’ll get to science.
    A lot of parents are frustrated.You’re the only one who’s ever complained.
    My children need a more direct teaching style.The district is committed to a student-centered approach. Research shows that it builds enthusiasm, cooperation and deeper understanding.
    We want more traditional math. That’s only because it’s what you had as a child. Today’s children need 21st-century math. Research shows they get more from “discovery” approaches.
    We want more phonics. The students who need phonics are able to get that.
    The math curricula aren’t teaching algebra. Students aren’t learning what they need for college. Research says the curricula are fine. Not everyone needs algebra. Not everyone will go to college. The problem is the (money, standards, teachers, students).
    We don’t want our young children using calculators or computers in the classroom. They seem to interfere with learning basic skills. Research shows that technology is helpful and exciting to the students. We’re bringing the latest technological advances into our classrooms to prepare our students for jobs in the 21st century.
    Teachers are reluctant to speak frankly with me about the curricula. They might have issues or be adverse to change. They might not be successful teachers. They might be insubordinate.
    My children need a textbook so they have continuity. We chose programs that align with the standards. The students have the materials they need.
    I want my children to have a textbook so I can help them. Today’s curricula use a hands-on, exploratory approach. Textbooks are boring and expensive, and they’re no longer necessary.
    The teacher seems to be away a lot. Teachers need professional training in order to be truly excellent.
    The constant rotation of substitutes and student teachers confuses the students.
    We work hard to choose the best teaching personnel. They do a fine job, and we’re proud of them.
    The classroom is constantly being distracted by non-academic events. We want to enrich the environment and teach the whole child. We work hard to choose activities that add to the learning experience.
    My child can’t concentrate in these big, noisy classrooms. Has your child ever been tested for ADHD?
    My child knows this material because we taught him at home. He’s bored and beginning to resist coming here. Your child’s teacher works hard to find ways to challenge your child in the classroom. We love our teachers, and we appreciate them.
    My children are frustrated. They’re beginning to act out a bit. Have you spoken with their teachers? Perhaps they need an IEP (Individualized Education Program).
    Fewer than half of the students pass math tests and almost no one passes science.
    Those scores might actually be good, depending on where those groups began.
    Since 1999, the number of students in Advanced Placement classes has tripled, but only half of them pass the exams. We continue to increase AP enrollment and statistically perform well on the AP exam. Students must have learned something while they were there.
    The SAT scores dropped. They didn’t drop here as much as they dropped elsewhere. Overall trends show we’re doing well.
    But the SAT is also taken by private-school students, homeschooled students and students in alternative programs. Yes, but studies show that our students are heading into college well prepared for success.
    Large numbers of students are dropping out or requiring remedial help before beginning their postsecondary life. It’s a national problem, but students who need remedial help can get it. Our teachers are very good, and we appreciate the hard work they do.
    My neighbors have all left the district. They’re suggesting we leave, too.
    We haven’t heard that. People who leave us tend to leave because of jobs, lower-cost housing or a normal demographic ebb and flow.
    We want regular public conversations with policy-makers.You can send us a letter, call us on the phone or set up a private meeting.
    I’m worried about my children’s future in (middle school, high school, college). Your children will be fine because they have you for a parent.

    Parents, you see how it is. The best way to know how your children are doing is to look at what they know versus what they could and should know at their age. Have them tested by outside sources that emphasize more traditional approaches. Find out what the gaps are (I believe you will be shocked).

    All students need phonics. All students need to know long division, multiplication in a vertical format, exponents, fractions, decimals and algebra. They need to know how to show their thinking – not in writing but in mathematical processes. They need to practice basic skills. They need to be able to do arithmetic without a calculator.

    Please don’t wait for the establishment to get it right. Who knows when that will be? As education policy continues to shift under our feet, we must demand the education that our children require and deserve. I’m afraid we’re going to have to fight for it.

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Education establishment rebuffs concerns." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    This article has also been posted at at this address:

    Monday, November 10, 2008

    So Many Distractions; So Little Time

    “… those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    -- C.S. Lewis

    Several motivational posters are affixed to the wall of the women’s bathroom at an elementary school in Spokane, WA. One of them says: “The aim of education is the knowledge not of facts but of values.”

    That’s an idiotic statement – one that I doubt many teachers actually believe. The first time I noticed the poster, in the spring of 2007, I was running the school’s chess club with my husband, grading much of the math homework for our daughter’s 4th-grade class, and volunteering to tutor 4th graders in math. In math facts.

    In my view, the people who are supposed to teach values are the parents, along with any other support systems the parents feel are helpful. Values should be taught in the schools only insofar as they’re an intrinsic part of the academic environment. As in: Don’t cheat. Do your best work every day. Speak up when you have a problem. Treat your classmates, teacher, desk, school, and textbook with respect. Don’t talk back.

    This is a small, perhaps insignificant poster, yet the concept behind it is real and endemic to the nation’s approach to education. It appears that, rather than turning out competitors, the education establishment wants to turn out its particular vision of moral people. This talk about values is ironic because the values that could be emphasized in public school include building a work ethic and learning to be patient, honest, polite and respectful, learning to work together, to have integrity and to show self-restraint. Other than as it relates to academics, the “values” movement is a complete distraction from the job at hand. It helped create schools in which the focus is not on learning.

    Many perfectly capable 4th, 5th and 6th graders can’t do basic arithmetic or work with fractions. They turn in schoolwork every week that’s a small, silent tragedy. With all of this talk about values and self-esteem, no one seems to question the devastation wreaked on the self-esteem of students who aren’t being taught basic skills.

    In 2006/2007, that devastation appeared to have little effect on how this elementary school organized its schedule. Despite low pass rates on the state tests:

    • At the end of the college basketball season, students were allowed to watch basketball on television in the classroom.
    • The students attended an assembly in which a tape of American Idol contestants exhorted them to sell a product to raise money for the school.
    • Students celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday by spending an entire morning listening to a local author talk about his new book.

    I went in the week of Dr. Seuss’s birthday to tutor 4th graders in math, and the teacher told me there was no time for math tutoring. She had to take her class to two huge assemblies that week, and she couldn’t fit the tutoring in. I stood there, staring dismally at the piles of math homework I’d graded the previous weekend. What could I do? I went home. Another day, the children were having a birthday party for the student teacher. I went home. Another day, they were having a party for the teacher of the class they partnered with. I went home. Another day, they were having a party for their own teacher. I went home.

    • In 2006/2007, there were computer classes, character classes, assemblies, class parties, fun events, a field trip, days off and late starts.
    • Children got to play games on the computer during “free time.” As I collected them to help them with their math homework, I had to peel them away from the computer, and some of them Did Not Want to Come.
    • At a PTA meeting, the principal rejected a parent’s request for a school spelling bee, saying that teachers had time for just 15 minutes of spelling per day.
    • There was also little time for science, geography, civics, interpersonal communication or math basics. There was barely enough time for lunch.

    I’m not a Scrooge. I like fun. I want students to be happy. But in the quest for fun and happiness, the time left for actual learning is relatively tiny. And yet every day (except for late starts, holidays, long weekends and teacher training days), students spend approximately six hours a day at school. What are they doing?

    In April 2008, Washington legislators decided they should be talking about people with disabilities. Legislators passed a bill called “Disability History Month” which requires schools to spend October recognizing the disabled. The signed bill says in part:

    “Annually, during the month of October, each public school shall conduct or promote educational activities that provide instruction, awareness, and understanding of disability history and people with disabilities. The activities may include, but not be limited to, school assemblies or guest speaker presentations” (“Certification,” 2008).

    Robert Crabb, a retired assistant principal, wrote a column about Disability History Month, saying:

    “It’s very simple math. Start with six hours of instruction. Subtract however much time you want schools to spend on Disability History. Subtract the time you want them to spend indoctrinating students on moral issues or values. Take away the time needed for any other special agenda that sounds good. What’s left over is the time the school has to teach reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, health and all the rest. It’s a finite number of minutes” (2008).

    Those few precious minutes are slipping away, leaving our children unaware of how uneducated they are. As legislators force schoolchildren to spend time acknowledging various groups of people, they’re interfering with the very process that would allow those groups to succeed in life.

    This week, I wandered over to the elementary school to take a photograph of the poster in the bathroom. As I turned around, I noticed a poster on the opposite wall. This poster purports to quote Mark Twain, and it says, “Knowledge without experience is just information.”

    I agree in principle with that statement, but I would add this as a corollary: “Experience without knowledge can be dangerous.”

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "So many distractions; so little time." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    Tuesday, November 4, 2008

    Constructivism and lack of practice

    Here are two of the clues to America’s current mathematics problem:

    1. “Student-centered” learning (or “constructivism”)
    2. Insufficient practice of basic skills
    “Student-centered” Learning (or “Constructivism”)

    In an October email, Spokane’s secondary mathematics coordinator reaffirmed this district’s commitment to a “student-centered” approach to teaching (also sometimes called “discovery learning” or “constructivism”). In this approach, students often work as partners or in groups, and teachers act as “facilitators” rather than as “instructors.” Students are encouraged to come up with their own multiple solutions to problems and to ask fellow students for help before asking the teacher.

    This is how Spokane Public Schools defines constructivism (“Parent’s,” n.d.):

    “This is an historically used method where skillful teachers personalize teaching to support learning for all students. A productive classroom is learner-centered and includes active instruction. Teachers provide students with experiences that allow them to hypothesize, predict, manipulate objects, pose questions, research, investigate, imagine, and invent. The teacher's role is to structure and lead this process with questions, ongoing assessment and attention to students’ progress toward defined learning objectives.”

    Reform math curricula are typically built around a constructivist approach, probably because the 1989 Standards document from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics calls for it (Stiff, 2001c; “Curriculum,” 2004). Proponents say the approach leads to “deeper understanding,” helpful collaboration and better student enjoyment of the process. Others say a dependence on it can hinder the learning process and frustrate students.

    A local parent told me this story about when his daughter took a math class that used reform math curriculum Connected Mathematics:

    Students were told that “Juan” was mowing a lawn in a right-angle triangle. He wanted to figure out the length of the diagonal. The term “Pythagorean Theorem” (a2 + b2 = c2) wasn’t presented. The students were to work in groups and figure out a way to get the answer. Finally, one student who knew the theorem provided it to her group. (Her group was the only one to get the right answer.) Incredibly, the teacher “chastised” the student for using the formula.

    “A lot of parents don’t believe it at first,” the parent said to me. “Like, their kids are younger, they don’t know, and they feel that parents are exaggerating, but it is the honest-to-God truth, and these stories get worse.”

    In small doses, constructivism can provide flavor to classrooms, but some math professors have told me the approach seems to work better in subjects other than math. That sounds reasonable. The learning of mathematics depends on a logical progression of basic skills. Sixth-graders are not Pythagorus, nor are they math teachers.

    Meanwhile, anti-reform advocacy group Mathematically Correct provides an amusing take on constructivism (“What Is,” 1996):

    “This notion holds that students will learn math better if they are left to discover the rules and methods of mathematics for themselves, rather than being taught by teachers or textbooks. This is not unlike the Socratic method, minus Socrates.”

    Insufficient Practice of Basic Skills

    Another problem in math classrooms is the lack of practice. Instead of insisting that students practice math skills until they’re second nature, educators have labeled this practice “drill and kill” and thrown it under a bus.

    I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that phrase. It’s a strange, flippant way to dismiss a logical process for learning. Drilling is how anyone learns a skill. Removing drilling from the learning process is like saying, “We’ll just remove this gravity. Now stay put.” Everyone drills – athletes, pianists, soldiers, plumbers and doctors. Drilling is necessary. It isn’t good or bad – it’s simply what must be done.

    Imagine if I told chess players they had to figure out the rules of chess on their own, in fits and starts, by trial and error and by asking their fellow players. Imagine if I expected them to win games when they hadn’t had a chance to practice.

    In American education, the “worm” is not yet turning, but it might be looking over its shoulder. In its March 2008 report, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel reintroduced the notion of practicing the basics:

    “Practice allows students to achieve automaticity of basic skills – the fast, accurate, and effortless processing of content information – which frees up working memory for more complex aspects of problem solving” (“Foundations,” 2008, p. 30).

    But children in the system now are stuck with a process that asks them to work in diverse groups to reinvent thousands of years of math procedures which they then don't get to practice.

    Some people enjoy puzzles on logic and process, where things might not be what they seem and where they've got to figure out subtle differences and new ways of thinking. But this esoteric, conceptual approach to math, with a constant struggle to understand the process, doesn't seem like a logical approach for children. Children are concrete thinkers who tend to appreciate concrete ideas. Children want instructions, direction and things that make sense. Many don’t appreciate the daily grind of writing about math, of having to figure out what they're doing, of having to count on classmates for guidance, of trying to remember things they’ve done just once or twice and several weeks ago.

    It’s ironic that proponents of reform math criticize traditionalists for supposedly not knowing “how to teach math to children.” The reform method seems completely oppositional to how children learn best.

    I asked a Spokane student if she prefers the Connected Mathematics she gets in school over the Singapore Math she gets at home. She said, “In a way, Connected Mathematics is easier because you don’t have to know as much math, but in a way, it’s harder because you have to know more. You have to know exactly what they want.”

    She gave me an example of the classroom approach: Students are to gather in groups to discuss a problem. The problem might be a complicated twist on simplistic math, or it might be a concept they’ve never seen before. As the groups muddle around, they don’t always agree on what’s required. Sometimes, they don’t have the necessary underlying skills. Some students become frustrated or bored. Trying to help each other, some confuse the others. They might come up with the right answer, or they might not, but – without practicing the new concepts – the class moves on to something new.

    Singapore Math, on the other hand, “might be harder as far as the math goes," she said, "but at least you know what they want."

    I told her I thought her answer was articulate and enlightening. “I’ve spoken to a lot of people now,” I said, “and you explained things very well.”

    “That’s because they teach it,” she replied, “but I’m the one who has to learn it.”

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
    Rogers, L. (November, 2008). "Constructivism and lack of practice." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    This article was also posted Nov. 9 on at

    Thursday, October 30, 2008

    Teachers Are Afraid To Speak Out

    When I began researching education, the first people I went to for information were the teachers. They’re on the “front lines” of education; who better to enlighten me than the people working in the classrooms?

    I discovered that many teachers are afraid to speak frankly to parents. They’re afraid of being disciplined, or even fired for “insubordination.” The ones who spoke with me tended to speak carefully, watching their words – almost as if the walls had ears or as if people were lurking around the corner.

    Some teachers agreed to talk with me if we met outside of the classroom. Several told me they’d already been disciplined for talking with parents. One teacher talked with his lawyer before he talked with me. Almost all of them spoke on the condition of absolute anonymity. Three teachers began to talk with me, then decided the risks were too great to continue. Some agreed to give me the gist of their concerns, but they wouldn’t let me take notes or tape the conversation. Some teachers expressed sympathy for my project yet refused to talk about their experiences. A frequent explanation: “I just have a few more years to go to retirement. I can’t afford to get into trouble.”

    This is a common theme elsewhere in the state and the country. Bob Dean, chair of the math department for Evergreen High School in Vancouver, WA, told me he’s familiar with the fears.

    “When I discovered how reform mathematics was cheating our kids out of a proper education, I instantly became involved in trying to change that fact. I know that many teachers are afraid to speak out. …. I have seen gag orders put on teachers and intimidation used to silence them. Anyone who dares to challenge the latest educational fad is labeled reluctant, out of touch, and a non-team player.”

    A Spokane high-school teacher told me he’d been disciplined – including verbal reprimands and a letter in his file – for telling parents he thought the district’s reform mathematics curricula wouldn’t adequately prepare students for college-level mathematics. He said he doesn’t believe administrators want his professional assessment of the system:

    “Perhaps the most discouraging observation of the past eight years is that there is no longer a professional discussion of these and other problems regarding high stakes testing and related curriculum issues. Teachers of an ‘old school’ philosophy who are critical of the so called ‘fuzzy math’ and discovery based learning – both of which are used in support of the WASL – are vilified, ostracized and sometimes subject to disciplinary action. Techniques that work, like direct instruction and drill and practice of basic skills, are ridiculed and those that use them are seen as incompetent and ineffective teachers. … Collaboration has become coercion.”

    But talking with parents about their child’s academic situation is part of a teacher’s job. When teachers don’t do it freely and forthrightly, children have lost an important ally, and parents have lost an essential element of public Accountability.

    In February 2008, I interviewed Spokane Superintendent Nancy Stowell. I told her some teachers are worried they’ll receive bad evaluations or be fired for speaking frankly with parents. I added that some teachers believe they’ve been “disciplined” for activity they thought was warranted but that administrators saw as oppositional. This was her response:

    “Well, no, it doesn’t surprise me that there are some people who would say that. Certainly, you know, (there is) a wide variety of teachers out there. Some of them very, very successful, and some less successful. And so, you know, people have issues along that continuum. And it’s really the responsibility of principals to work with staff that do have issues along that continuum.

    “So if a teacher had an issue about either the math curriculum, or what he or she was teaching, or grade level, or any of that, I can understand that a principal would expect that it would be something the teacher and the principal would talk about rather than the teacher kind of going out there. Because it’s the principal who really knows the teacher, and how good the teacher is, and we all want, you know, excellent teachers.”

    Dr. Stowell went on to say that “change is difficult,” and some teachers will embrace new ideas while others will be “more resistant.” Sometimes, she said, the problem can be that teachers “are just not wanting to change.” She said if they have good ideas, however, those ideas should be “shared.” She acknowledged that the district could “do a better job” of developing “feedback loops” as a way for teachers to communicate with coordinators.

    To me, it sounds as though Dr. Stowell might be saying that teachers who intend to give parents their honest professional assessment of their child’s academic situation – including comments that could indicate weaknesses in the curricula, school policy or administration – might actually:
    • have other issues,
    • not be "successful" teachers anyway, or
    • just be resistant to change.

    Parents, please be aware that – although teachers generally do their best every day in the classroom – many have concerns about being absolutely frank with parents.

    Caveat emptor.

    The best way to know how things are is to look at what your children know versus what they should know at their age. Have them professionally tested and assessed by people outside of the district. Speak with people who know which skills are required for the future your children envision for themselves. Take steps to fill in the gaps.

    Don’t wait until your children are in Grade 12 or applying for college. The longer you wait, the harder it will be. At some point - sooner than you think - it will be too late.

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Teachers are afraid to speak out." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    This article was also posted November 5, 2008, on at

    Wednesday, October 22, 2008

    Public Accountability Missing in Education

    “We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.”
    -- John F. Kennedy

    My philosophy toward authority generally centers around one word: Accountability. In my view, there are two main kinds of accountability: small “a” accountability and capital “A” accountability. In public education, there is a great deal of one and almost none of the other.

    Small “a” accountability is accountability to the system. There are statistics, reports, numbers, factoids and figures. These numbers bounce around the organization, heading farther up the chain and occasionally shooting out to the public in the form of headlines. It’s possible that change takes place because of these numbers, but the public usually isn’t involved. The numbers are often supportive and positive about the overall effectiveness of the system.

    Capital “A” Accountability is accountability to the public. Administrators speak the truth, even if it feels nasty to hear it or to say it. If things aren’t working, they say so. Employees are encouraged to speak freely and aren’t forced into silence nor bullied into compliance. People are held responsible for their actions and their performance. Records are made public. Pertinent information is welcomed. Administrators acknowledge their mistakes and learn from others. As long as the public remains engaged in capital “A” Accountability, then small “a” accountability is likely to follow.

    Public education is a bureaucracy, however, and on the whole, bureaucracies tend to be impermeable and self-serving. In public education, the “public” has been purposefully blocked from the process. The establishment spends billions of dollars each year studying students, teachers, schools and families – dutifully reporting its picked-over version of reality and probably cutting down an entire rain forest of trees to publish the results. All the while, it fails to tell the public it’s in a dark place where high-school students drop out or require extensive remedial help before moving forward with their lives.

    Capital “A” Accountability helps maintain corruption-free environments. Articulate, well-reasoned debate keeps the nation strong. I’m willing to fight for that.

    In January 2007, I went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting to ask about test scores. I was told politely that board meetings are business meetings and no discussion would take place. My name was passed to the superintendent, and the meeting went on without me. Later that month, I was invited to meet privately with the superintendent and curriculum director. There, I was told that everything was great – going so well that other states look to Washington for guidance.

    In an October 2007 PTA meeting, I asked a Spokane school board member and the acting superintendent (Dr. Nancy Stowell) how parents have two-way conversations with the entire school board in a public forum. It can’t be done, PTA members were told, but we were invited to attend board meetings or to call board members at home. (But there is usually no discussion at Spokane school board meetings, and calling board members at home isn’t in public nor is it the entire board.)

    I’ve asked several people if the public can ever have two-way conversations with the entire school board in a public setting, and the consistent answer is, “No.” Consider that the school board manages the budget, approves school policy and procedure, and engages in “community relations” (“Policies,” 1983). If “community relations” doesn’t mean “relating with the community,” then what does it mean?

    In a February 2008 interview, Dr. Stowell acknowledged that students and parents don’t have many ways to be “engaged’ in the process.

    In March 2008, in a rare display of “glasnost,” the school board invited the public to two forums regarding finalists for the position of district superintendent. One candidate was Dr. Stowell. The candidates had to answer questions publicly (although no follow-up questions were allowed). My question was: How do we get more public forums?

    Dr. Stowell laughed a bit when she said, “Well, we aren’t doing this again!” Then she said she supported the concept of better communication between the district and the parents. She asked the group for ideas.

    Here’s my idea (which I’ve technically passed on to her three times – four if she reads this blog). Have more forums. Listen to questions, answer the questions, listen to follow-up questions and answer those. Administrators should do it because it’s respectful. Mostly, they should do it because it’s their role in providing capital “A” Accountability.

    I wish I could tell you how board members answered public questions at those two forums, but none did. They milled around the edges of the group, talking privately with individuals.

    In a September 2008 “online chat,” I asked Dr. Stowell again about “creating opportunities” for the public to communicate with administrators and the school board. Board meetings are insufficient, I said, since discussions usually don’t take place, and private meetings are insufficient since they aren’t in public.

    Dr. Stowell repeated that I could attend school board meetings. She added that board members sometimes go into the public “to solicit input” on topics such as bond projects and the budget.

    In October, public meetings were held to discuss bond issues. The format was a presentation followed by small-group discussions. I asked the district’s director of communications and community relations if I could go to the forums and ask questions that are unrelated to bond issues. She said the forums were just for bond issues, but that I could take my questions to a school board meeting or I could make an appointment with an administrator.

    And there you have it. Over 22 months, I have come full circle, and I have gotten nowhere at all.

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Public accountability missing in education." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

    This article has also been posted on at

    Tuesday, October 21, 2008

    Parents Can't Get Answers to Questions

    Every few months, Spokane Public Schools hosts an online “chat” where parents can “Ask the Superintendent” some questions. The questions and replies are posted on the district’s Web site. In October, a parent sent me his question and the district’s response (which actually came from the district’s secondary mathematics coordinator). His question and the emailed reply were not posted on the district’s Web site.

    The parent wrote that his son was getting As in math “without even trying.” He was worried that the program wouldn’t get his son to college. He had spoken with math professors and other concerned parents, he said, and he asked the district to survey parents.

    The mathematics coordinator, Rick Biggerstaff, didn’t address the request for a survey. The bolded comments below are drawn from his response; the comments in parentheses are mine:

    Enrollment in Advanced Placement classes is increasing, and Spokane “statistically performs very well on the AP exam.”
    (AP enrollment statewide is increasing, but lower percentages of students pass AP exams.)

    “We do not see our high-achieving students leaving with ‘less’ math than before.”
    (What does “before” mean? The current incarnation of reform mathematics was spawned in the 1980s.)

    The math standards have “changed 3 times in 5 years.” Spokane’s current math curricula are still aligned with old state learning standards.
    (Trying to align reform curricula with constantly changing reform-based standards is like pinning an expensive inadequate tail on a moving inadequate donkey. Who cares if they’re aligned?)

    A review of whether current curricula align with the new math standards must wait until January.
    (Translation: Don’t hold your breath waiting for better curricula.)

    The “level of cognitive engagement in our classrooms” is more important than whether mathematics is presented with a traditional or reform method.
    (How math is presented is critically important. Forcing children to reinvent math – as opposed to just teaching it to them – is illogical, time-consuming and ineffective. The children end up “cognitively engaging” about incorrect ideas.)

    The district doesn’t plan to change its policy of “student-centered” classrooms, “regardless of content strands set in place by the state.”
    (Regardless of what anyone says or does, the district will support constructivist “teaching” methods, where students work in groups to teach math to themselves. Apparently, it does matter which teaching method is used.)

    Meanwhile, the parent’s concerns were not addressed.

    The entire education establishment is adept at dismissing parent and teacher concerns. (in Maryland) posted an article called “Tactics Used to Maintain the Status Quo.” They generously allowed me to excerpt:

    Tactic #1: Tell parents that “You are the only one who complained.”
    Tactic #2: Claim that “The research shows that what we are doing is best.”
    Tactic #3: “We are the experts. You should trust us to know better than you.”
    Tactic #4: Claim that children will suffer if the budget is not significantly increased.
    Tactic #5: Accuse critics and parents who ask too many questions of being “against public education.”
    Tactic #6: Claim that (the district) is prevented from making changes by the No Child Left Behind Act.
    Tactic #7: Avoid taking actions to change the system by ignoring good ideas.
    (You can read the entire FrederickEducationReform article on their Web site. The link is noted at the bottom of this article.)

    Here Are Other Things I’ve Actually Heard
    From the Education Establishment in Spokane and Washington State

    • It’s “elitist” to say that children achieve at different levels, to have programs for the highly capable, or to form classes for similar types of learners.
    • Parents only want a traditional approach because it’s what they had as children. Students find it boring and would rather “discover” thousands of years of math in groups and by inventing their own concepts and methods.
    • Not all children can learn traditional math. Having everyone learn “alternative” methods first gives them “something to fall back on.”
    • People who complain about reform math just “don’t get it.” For example:
      • Parents aren't math smart. They’re obstructionist and stuck in the past.
      • Teachers have their own “issues.” They might not be all that talented.
      • Students have lousy upbringings, raging hormones, short attention spans and poor priorities. Math might not be their strongest subject.
      • Engineers don’t know how to communicate, and math professors don’t know how to teach to children.
      • Advocates are extremist and hypercritical. They have a “hidden” agenda.
    • Parents are not qualified to comment on curriculum choices, but curriculum coordinators who have an education degree and a minor in the specific subject are qualified.
    • Statistics show that things are getting better. We’re upping enrollment in “honors” classes, increasing the “rigor,” “raising the bar” and moving to “the next step.” We’re doing so well, other states look to us for guidance.
    • We don’t need to worry about the highly capable students because they’ll learn anyway. They can work in groups with the struggling students – not to “teach” them, but just to “show” them how to do things.
    • No one needs to learn algebra because not everyone will go to college.
    • Students can pick up any algebra they need in Grade 11 or 12.
    • 60% pass rates might be good depending on where the group began.
    • Children need “21st-century math.” Calculators and computers help them learn math and can even take the place of long division and other arithmetic.
    • We can fix everything with billions more dollars for incentives, technology, instructional coaches, teacher development and initiatives for the disadvantaged.
    • We listen to all feedback. Parents can:
      • present questions at board meetings. (The board doesn’t have to answer questions at board meetings.)
      • talk to administrators. (Administrators politely say everything is fine.)
      • talk with their child’s teacher. (Some teachers are afraid to be frank, or they’re politically careful, or they're too busy to see the whole picture.)
      • talk with principals. (Ditto.)

        I've been asking questions in this district for 22 months, and I have more questions now than when I began. I'd really like to start getting some answers.

        Please note: The information in this post (except for the FrederickEducationReform excerpt) is copyrighted to Laurie H. Rogers. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Parents can't get answers to questions." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

        A portion of this article has also been posted on at

        (You can enjoy the entire FrederickEducationReform article at: "Tactics Used To Maintain the Status Quo" If you wish to use the information in the excerpt or any other information from that Web site, please direct your permission request to the operators of that site.)

        Tuesday, October 14, 2008

        Education Flux is Barrier to Truth

        Across the country, education is in flux. Standards are being revised; curricula are being chosen, replaced, supplemented and developed; tests are being revised, delayed or kicked out completely; and teachers are being trained and retrained.

        The curriculum spaghetti being tossed against the wall in Spokane Public Schools, for example, is an ongoing stream of programs, supplementary materials and changes in procedure. Even as the state revised its math standards in 2007-2008 and reviewed several mathematics curricula in 2008, this district was changing its materials for the 2008-2009 school year and planning more changes for 2009-2010.

        Today, a district administrator told me that parents aren’t asked for input on district curricula because they don’t have the background required to offer informed input.

        (It’s too bad none of the parents in the district ever went to college; ran a business; tutored children; became engineers, mathematicians, writers, teachers, professors or tradespeople … Any of that would have been so helpful.)

        In January 2007, an administrator told me the math situation was poised to improve. She said there was a “transition period” from traditional curricula to reform curricula, and once the students had done the entire K-12 program in reform math, things would turn around. The implication? Parents should just accept that their younger children will be more successful than their older children.

        (Ironically, considering the inherently flawed nature of reform mathematics, the younger children might indeed be more "successful" -- with less knowledge.)

        Surely local administrators would agree that public education is broken. I’ve not heard any of them say it publicly, but you’d have to be clueless to not know it. Just look at the:

        • constant changes in standards, curricula and supplementary materials;
        • consistently poor test scores, high remediation rates, high dropout rates, and dropping enrollment over the last five years (other than in kindergarten);
        • truckloads of money spent annually on testing alternatives, teacher development and instructional coaches;
        • booming enrollment in private schools, alternative programs and homeschooling

        Hey, here’s a question. What happens to the students still in the public-education system? As administrators make changes and things fall in and out of alignment, the children continue to go through a system that isn’t providing them with the skills they need. Shouldn’t administrators tell somebody?

        Remember the classic episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy and Ethel were working in a chocolate factory? Their job was to wrap chocolates and put them back on the conveyor belt, which would then take the wrapped chocolates to the boxing area. Lucy and Ethel were warned that if even one chocolate went by unwrapped, they would be fired. Initially, everything went well, but before long, the belt was moving too fast, the chocolates were coming by too quickly, and they couldn’t keep up. In a panic, they began stuffing chocolates in their mouth. When they heard the supervisor coming, they got rid of the chocolates in whichever way they could – in their mouth, down their shirt and even in their hat. When she came in, the supervisor didn’t see what Ethel and Lucy had done. All she saw was that there weren’t any chocolates on the belt. She praised them for their good work and called out for the conveyor belt to go faster.

        Children in American public schools are like those chocolates. They’re being sent down the conveyor belt before they’ve been properly wrapped. Workers hide unwrapped chocolates in their hat as supervisors call out for the belt to go faster. As administrators analyze, review and make decisions, the unwrapped chocolates either fall on the floor or wend their way to their graduation boxes. Collectively, the establishment put children on this conveyor belt and appears to still reject warnings of problems.

        When 40-60% of consumers purchase a product that doesn’t do what manufacturers say it will, there are recalls, public notices, health alerts, class-action lawsuits and scandal. There might even be criminal charges. But with these unwrapped chocolates, there’s just: “Well, let’s wait and see.” Administrators should be issuing alerts and figuring out how they’ll fill in the gaps in knowledge before students try to graduate.

        When will administrators take responsibility for the unwrapped chocolates? Remedial programs aren't standard or “equal.” Gifted and alternative programs can take only so many students. Some classes will get funds for aides and assistants, and some won’t. Some principals will deal with student challenges, and some won’t. Some struggling students will be helped, and some won’t. Some children have parents who can help them, and many do not. So how do we go about fixing these inequalities?

        The administrators know the current math standards aren’t clear. They’ve said there needs to be more content. They’re making plans to change things. But for the children already in the system? Ah, well. Shhh.

        Who will tell parents the reality of it – out loud, in terms that everyone can understand? Advocates will tell you. Like this:

        Dear Parent:

        You have been sold a product that a large body of evidence indicates is defective. On its own, it’s unlikely to adequately prepare your children for post-secondary life. Administrators are busy making changes that they hope will fix everything. Every time they make system-wide changes, the long-term effect again becomes a complete mystery, thereby preventing you from assessing the changes or determining their efficacy.

        As a consequence, you might not know if your children require remedial classes until they test into them after high school or drop out in frustration. Therefore, your children might benefit now from supplementary work, remedial work and/or tutoring.

        You can find out from independent, knowledgeable sources what your children should be learning in math, science and English. Singapore Math and Saxon Math have free online assessments, for example, that your children can take so you can determine where they are in knowledge and skill. If you can afford it, you can have them professionally tested. You can talk to college professors and counselors, tradespeople, businesspeople and tutors about which skills are necessary for post-secondary life. You can find ways to help your children catch up.

        You also might want to look into supplemental programs and resources for subjects that aren’t covered well in the schools, such as civics, history, economics, forensics, second languages, social studies, art, music, gym, geography, ethics and communication.

        P.S. You might want to start the process before the rush begins.

        Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "Education flux is barrier to truth." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

        This article was also posted Oct. 15 on at

        Thursday, October 9, 2008

        Free Math Tutoring at Gonzaga

        I would like to tell parents about a Spokane mathematics tutoring program, currently held at Gonzaga University during both semesters of the school year. It’s held on Saturdays, about three times a month, from 10-11:30 a.m.

        The tutors are handpicked engineering and mathematics students from Gonzaga. The program is geared toward students in grades 3-12, and they will take anyone (from any school district) who can make it there.

        The tutoring is done individually or in groups of two or three. This is not a classroom format, so it’s tailored to meet individual students’ needs. The tutors will teach the students anything they need to learn, but the goal is to teach them the mathematics they’ll need for the future they envision for themselves.

        I would like to take a moment to mention again that the main math curricula in Spokane Public Schools are reform curricula: “Bridges,” “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space,” “Connected Mathematics” and “Core-Plus Mathematics.” Mathematicians and math advocates have criticized reform curricula, especially these ones, for their lack of rigor and clarity and their illogical approach to the subject. If your children take solely reform classes – and without some sort of intervention, remediation or tutoring – they are likely to require costly intervention before they begin college classes, a trade, or a job requiring any sort of arithmetic.

        I encourage you to speak with people who are well trained in actual mathematics. You also can look through this blog, specifically these articles:

        Birth of reform = Demise of Math Skills
        The "Laws" of Learning
        What's Wrong With Public Education?

        The Gonzaga tutoring program is run at no cost to parents. The organizers ask only that if you sign up, then you make sure your children are there. Space is limited, and the tutors are volunteering their time.

        If you’re interested in this program, please call Andrew Holguin at 998-7752.

        Wednesday, October 8, 2008

        The "Laws" of Learning

        A central tenet of reform mathematics and constructivist teaching is that children should work cooperatively in groups to “explore” and “discover” math and figure out concepts on their own. Reformers say this method makes math interesting and fun and leads to “deeper understanding.”

        Jayne Sherman, a teacher in Prince Williams County, Va., and parent of four children, said the reform program "Investigations in Number, Data, and Space" was getting her students to “think mathematically” (Sherman, 2008).

        “Using the inquiry method of learning, children explore, discover and articulate their thinking,” she said. Her students supposedly discover “many strategies to solve problems.” They communicate and collaborate with each other, sharing their thinking and becoming “math literate, all while having fun.” They “make their own representations to solve problems.”

        Sherman summed up her feelings by taking a poke at traditionalists: “The traditional approach to teaching no longer serves our students.”

        I’m not sure how much fun this process actually is for the students, who tend to be concrete thinkers and who generally appreciate straightforward, logical approaches to learning. Experimentation in groups can be fun for them, but I suspect they’d rather it come in small doses. Otherwise, they can become stressed out trying to teach themselves 5,000 years of math in the small snippets of time they have available to them.

        I was thinking about this while reading an Air Force training manual from 1974 called “Principles and Techniques of Instruction.” The manual is old, its cover is lost, and the pages are yellowed. It’s been around the block – well, around the world, actually. It contains much valuable information about teaching, learning, leadership, ethics, guidance, counseling and critiquing effectively – all presented in an incredibly concise, straightforward, readable and accessible format.

        As I read through this manual, I caught myself nodding my head in agreement, saying at one point to the cat, “Now, that’s what I’m talking about!” According to this manual, there are six basic "Laws" of Learning. If I were a proponent of reform mathematics, I could see myself using three of them to support my approach:

        The Law of Effect – “learning is strengthened when it is accompanied by a pleasant or satisfying feeling”
        The Law of Intensity – “a vivid, dramatic, or exciting learning experience teaches more (information) than a routine or boring experience (does)”
        The Law of Readiness – “a person learns best when he or she is ready to learn”

        Proponents of reform mathematics could argue that those three laws support their approach: Keep it pleasant, keep it exciting, and for heaven’s sake, keep it simple. But I think those three laws actually support the other three:

        The Law of Primacy - People tend to draw on the skills they learned first:

        “Primacy, the state of being first, often creates a strong, almost unshakeable, impression. For the instructor, this means that what he teaches must be correct the first time. For the student, it means that his learning must be correct. Unteaching is more difficult than teaching … The student’s first experience should be positive and functional in preparation for what follows” (“Principles,” 1974).

        Therefore, teachers of mathematics should want students to learn math processes properly the first time – in the most efficient, most effective and most precise way possible. Teaching them mathematics as reformers do – by asking them to muddle around in herds – is inefficient, ineffective, unpleasant and ultimately counterproductive.

        The Law of Exercise – Practicing a concept is critical to learning it.

        “Things most often repeated are best remembered. It is the basis of practice and drill… The mind can rarely retain, evaluate, and apply new concepts or practices after a single exposure. A student … learns by applying what he has been told, and, every time he practices, his learning continues … Repetition consists of many types of activities, including recall, review, restatement, manual drill, and physical application.”

        Proponents of reform, however, have called this practice “drill and kill” and tossed it under a bus. To reformers, practicing is “rote” and “boring.” It’s an odd attitude to have about something we all do when we want to learn anything of value.

        The Law of Recency – The longer we go without practicing a new concept, the easier it is for us to forget it.

        “Other things being equal, the things most recently learned are best remembered, while the things learned some time ago are remembered with more difficulty.”

        This law conflicts entirely with the “spiral” technique – so common in reform mathematics – where teachers briefly touch on a new concept, don't give their students the opportunity to practice it, and then present the concept again some time later (often with a new twist).

        The Air Force training manual is old, and it’s probably been revised since 1974, but I like it. As a tutor, this is what I take away from these six "Laws" of Learning:

        1. Make sure students are ready for the lesson.
        2. Prepare an experience that they’ll enjoy.
        3. Teach students the most efficient, most effective methods first.
        4. Make the lesson exciting.
        5. Have students practice the lesson.
        6. Build on recently learned concepts.

        This approach makes sense to me. Apparently, there is much to be learned from the things we used to know.

        Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October, 2008). "The "Laws" of Learning." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

        This article was also published October 9, 2008, in at