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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Washington's Math Standards Failing the Students

Educators talk constantly about the “standards.” You can barely toss an adjective in a school hallway without hearing about them. Learning standards are supposed to drive the curricula and the tests. If the standards aren’t effective or don’t make sense, nothing else will be effective or make sense.

(So it’s best to get them right the first time.)

Logically, K-12 learning standards should be structured so that by graduation, college is a conceivable option for all capable students. Standards should be clear, concrete, reasonable, rigorous, achievable and measurable.

But Washington’s math standards were based on reform philosophy. For years, students have labored ineffectively under reform curricula. Despite heavy long-term criticism of reform curricula and the recent standards revision, reform hasn’t gone away. I can tell you why.

The development of Washington’s first math standards was guided by several publications, including three from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. When you know that “reform” curricula typically cite the NCTM Standards as their inspiration, you understand why Washington’s standards and curricula tended to be “reform” in nature.

In 2007, legislators questioned the effectiveness of the standards and ordered an outside review. Strategic Teaching’s subsequent assessment was painfully frank:

“There is insufficient emphasis on core mathematical content. Some math should be taught earlier … and some crucial math is missing completely. … Washington standards do not ensure that students learn the critical algorithms of arithmetic … it ends in secondary school with minimal expectations that are missing most of the algebra, geometry, and trigonometry found in other places.”

Forced into it, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) solicited bids to coordinate a math standards rewrite, ultimately contracting with The Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas.

The Dana Center’s Executive Director Dr. Uri Treisman wouldn’t tell me the value of the contract, but seven weeks after requesting a release of public records from OSPI, I was told the Dana Center bid was $769,943. Another $110,000 extended the contract through March 15, 2009. OSPI also contracted with Education Service District (ESD) 113 to handle logistics. The combined funding was “approximately $1,279,943.”

(StandardsWork’s unsuccessful bid was $129,403 plus expenses. StandardsWork previously assisted Indiana and California with aspects of their learning standards.)

I asked Treisman about reports that he and fellow Dana Center employee Susan Hudson Hull were on the advisory board of reform math curriculum “Connected Mathematics.” Treisman said he’s never served on an advisory board for any textbook company, that he’d been asked to serve and had declined.

However, Treisman didn’t answer my question about Susan Hudson Hull. “Connected Mathematics” lists her as a member of its advisory board. Additionally, Dana Center senior fellow Cathy Seeley is a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. She helped write the 1989 NCTM Standards that many cite as the basis for reform math curricula.

Treisman, Seeley and Hull were the Dana Center “facilitators” of Washington’s “Standards Revision Team.”

Of the 16 other “national” members, five had connections or former connections to The Dana Center, 10 had ties or past ties to the NCTM. One was on the 1989 NCTM Standards writing team and also on the advisory board for reform math curriculum “Core-Plus Mathematics.” Two were on the writing team for the NCTM’s 2000 publication “Principles and Standards for School Mathematics.” Another indicated that “short division” and calculators could replace long division in Washington’s standards.

In December 2007, Seeley reportedly said “the problem with the old standards was not so much the content, but how difficult they were to use by parents and teachers…The old standards left everyone in the dark about the learning priorities for each year, so teachers had to do some guessing about what to emphasize and most parents didn’t have a clue.”

(Strategic Teaching’s report indicated that Washington’s math problems were very much about content.)

The Dana Center team’s first draft, released in December 2007, came under heavy attack from math advocates, who said it was still unclear and lacking in core content. According to Bob Dean, chair of Evergreen High School’s math department and member of the revision team, subsequent failed Dana Center/OSPI drafts resulted in the State Board of Education rehiring Strategic Teaching to oversee the work. It wasn’t until July that the board finally approved the high-school portion.

Strategic Teaching’s original contract was for $194,400, plus $180,600 to monitor the rewrite. Total costs to assess and rewrite the K-12 math standards were “approximately” $1,654,943.
(An additional $108,000 was recently approved for Strategic Teaching to handle issues relative to math curricula.)

After OSPI’s August 15 “Preliminary Curricula Review” placed reform curricula fairly high on the list of curricula meeting the revised standards, I asked Dean how that could be. “The standards revision team was selected by (Superintendent) Terry Bergeson,” he replied, “and out of the roughly 30 people involved, only about three of us were not pro-reformers.”

Although Dean feels there were “small victories,” he says the revised standards are inadequate. The standards were “basically designed by reformers,” he said, “and favor reform curricula over more traditional curricula.”


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (September, 2008). "Washington's math standards failing the students." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

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