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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Students Need Parents & Teachers To Speak Up

On Feb. 25, 2009, Spokane’s school board hosted a “Coffee and Conversation” before its regular school board meeting. The public was invited to offer comment on topics of its choosing. A few dozen people attended; they offered comment on math, the bond and levy, and various district policies. It was a great start, but we need more from parents and teachers. Many of them know things are wrong; they've got to stand up and say so.

I asked for six things, including these:

  1. Traditional mathematics curricula.
    Spokane’s K-12 math curricula must be replaced with more traditional curricula. This should happen now, not in 18 years when the next wad of taxpayer money floats by. There is money to do this now; it’s just being spent on other things. The district could lay off a couple of $100,000 administrators and use their salary to buy traditional curricula.
  2. Math tutoring.
    Our students desperately require tutoring that’s based on a traditional approach (direct teaching, traditional algorithms, no calculators, little or no group work, a logical progression of concepts, and regular practicing of skills) so they can catch up to where they should have been. There are many ways to access this tutoring. Some of it might even be free.
  3. Proper assessments.
    An assessment is required to determine which math skills are missing. This assessment can’t be the WASL or SASL because neither is based on the new standards.
    It won’t be pleasant to see the results of proper assessments, but the results will be truthful and accurate. With truth and accuracy, we’ll have some hope of filling in the gaps before the students try to graduate.

After the “Coffee and Conversation,” a cameraman asked me if I thought the district had been listening to its constituents. This is a tricky question. I’ve been researching public education since January 2007. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, including two school superintendents, a former curriculum director, a former board president and three curriculum coordinators. Despite the flood of evidence that ALL of our math curricula are seriously deficient, no central office employee has ever acknowledged it to me.

On the other hand, were administrators polite to me? Always. Did they accommodate requests for information and private meetings? Almost always. I presume they listened, but I think they didn’t agree with me, they wouldn’t say they agree with me, or they didn’t give a flip about what I said. I told the cameraman that administrators have always been polite and accommodating but didn’t appear to agree with me.

Spokane’s newest board member is Dr. Jeff Bierman, a physics professor at Gonzaga University. On Feb. 25, Dr. Bierman supported my comments, agreeing that the math curricula are weak and that changes need to be made. He said he chooses to supplement the instruction for his own children. That was the first time I heard anyone associated with the administration publicly acknowledge the curriculum problem.

The mistake would be to think this welcome support will change the math curricula. In January 2009, curriculum coordinators said they planned to recommend retaining two of our disastrous (reform) curricula for Grades 5 and 6. Although Dr. Bierman’s Feb. 25 comments were soon echoed by a parent, a high school math teacher and a college mathematician, he was the only board member or district employee at the meeting who spoke publicly in support of traditional mathematics.

What’s desperately needed is a firm push from parents and teachers. Supporters of reform math occupy the seats of power. Parents, students, teachers, college professors, tradespeople and businesspeople – we all have a vested interest in how well math is taught. This district has serious problems in mathematics that directly affect our families. It isn’t an exaggeration to call it a crisis.

Students are not learning the math they need to even begin college. They don’t have the math they need to get jobs that require arithmetic (much less algebra, geometry, trigonometry or calculus). Our high-school graduates will be competing against private-school students, homeschooled students, and students from places like Finland, Singapore, California and Massachusetts – most of whom will have enough mathematics for college. (More and more of those graduates are being accepted on Washington campuses, and there are only so many seats.) A solid math education will help students secure a future. This isn’t being extremist – this is being a realist. But it’s hard to get this message across.

I hear: “Well, I have to trust them.” (But trusting them put us here. Now, it’s time for scrutiny.)
I hear: “Life is short. There’s more to life than academics.” (True. But school isn’t “life.” School is supposed to be about academics.)
I hear: “The district is doing the best it can.” (If it were doing the best it could, things would be better than they are.)
I hear: “I don’t know anything about math, so I can’t comment.” (Most parents and teachers know when the children can’t multiply or divide. They can comment about that.)
I hear: “It will work itself out.” (It hasn’t “worked itself out” in 20 years. But if we participate, it might work itself out in time to benefit our children.)
I hear: “Not everyone will go to college. There are plenty of good jobs you can get without a college degree.” (True. Many of those jobs require math, however.)
Observing my efforts to improve mathematics instruction in Spokane, my daughter called me Horton, as in “Horton Hears a Who.” “No one else seems to hear what you hear,” she said. “Whoville is floating away, and the children are stuck on it. No one can hear them except you.” What we need, she said, is a YOPP – a Dr. Seuss sound that makes people stand up and take notice. If we have a huge, loud and fabulous YOPP, she said, everyone would hear it.

I told my daughter about the mathematicians and advocates who are YOPPING, who have worked hard for decades to try and rid the country of the scourge of reform math. I told her how they’ve done research, presented evidence, gone to meetings, testified in legislatures, built Web sites and blogs, and written Letters to the Editor. “I’m not alone,” I said. “Across this entire country, many Hortons have been fighting for Whoville.”

“Then why haven’t things changed?” she wondered.

Why indeed. What do I tell her? That it’s easier and more convenient to turn our backs while the monkeys toss Whoville around? That many teachers won’t speak up for Whoville because they’re afraid they’ll get into trouble? That many parents won’t speak up because they’re too busy and distracted to hear or believe the message? That many school administrators will believe in reform math – despite all contrary evidence – until they die? That lots of them would rather not hear from us at all?

Parents and teachers: The time is now. This is the children’s future we’re talking about. They live in Whoville, and they’re being miseducated – betrayed – by math curricula that fail them – from kindergarten all the way through Grade 12. Please call the school board. Write letters. Talk to the principal. Attend school board meetings. Tell the board what you see in the classroom. Talk to the PTA or PTG. Say no to counterproductive math curricula. Opt out of the math WASL. Demand better materials. Supplement at home and in the classroom with traditional curricula. Get this critical issue out in the open.

I don’t know if it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it’s going to take a village to push reform math curricula out of our schools. Give a great and mighty YOPP. Make them hear you. Help open career doors for the students. Help save Spokane's Whoville.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (February, 2009). "Students need parents and teachers to speak up." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was modified slightly and reprinted March 3, 2009, on, at


RMD said...

I admire your continuing efforts.

Keep up the good fight!

Richard Reuther said...

In any job, if you disagree with the boss you have to decide whether to say something, keep your mouth shut, or leave. As a teacher who tried to expose the bullying behaviors of a principal and was repeatedly ignored and told to go away, I can truthfully say that you have hit it on the head with respect to you comments about why teachers don't speak up. We are told that it is "unprofessional" to object to the higher-ups. I was told many times that "if you don't like it here, go someplace else" followed by "everybody else is doing it this way, so there's no place else to go."

We act on our needs first; if we need the job and the income for whatever reason, we will swallow our better judgment, shut up and do our best. Many teacher "know better" whether it's math or science or English, but there is a "better get along" attitude in education that squenchs "different" ideas, opinions, and approaches.

There are many talented teachers in the system who are frustrated both by the system and the inability to change it.

concerned said...

Hang in there Laurie!!

Keep Fighting the Good Fight!!

Teachers, Parents AND STUDENTS can ALL SPEAK UP!!


Burma Williams said...

My main ideas were two-fold:

First, public education and journalism cannot be compared, nor should they be. The journalist is charged with providing the truth whether it is something we readers want to hear or not. Our democracy depends on journalists in order for information to reach us citizens. Laurie Rogers is an excellent example of a journalist who is seeking the truth and making her information available to the public in the hope that we
will insist on better school curricula. Hers is a much needed, but seldom appreciated task.

Our educational system will not change for the better until we eliminate the departments or colleges of education in our universities. I have had many friends who planned to be teachers but who changed their plans when they encountered their first education class.

Public school administrators, professors of education, and teachers who are hoping to move up the ladder to principal or professor all need a "new" idea in order to reach their goal. It doesn't matter if the idea is nonsense, all that counts is convincing a school board or a person higher on the ladder that their idea should be used. It also doesn't matter if the idea is totally unworkable or idiotic. Anyone who had any part in implementing the "new" idea will strenuously defend the idea as
long as they can or until they can come up with another idea to replace the current one.

This is one of the greatest reasons, I think, that our public schools are in such a sorry state. More money won't stop this and "new" programs won't help. We need to rebuild our educational infrastructure from the bottom up. I doubt that this will happen in the near future. We do have capable teachers and administrators, but they are definitely in the minority and cannot accomplish any true and beneficial reform without public support.

So we need to keep ourselves informed and speak up for the adoption of good proposals and speak up for the elimination of the poor ones. This is not easy. But it is vital for our nation.

Burma Williams

Richard Reuther said...

Good points. However, please ask yourself: why is it that we have to resort to "underground" news sources for this kind of examination and discussion?

We tried to get our local newpaper interested in the serial bullying that was occurring in our school. At first the reporter seemed interested, however after a few days she returned our materials (or more correctly, she told us the materials were waiting for us at the reception desk-she didn't have the decency to come face-to-face with us)saying that the paper was not interested in a "he said-she said" story. Upon further investigation, we discovered a connection between the editor and the district administration via the local Rotary Club.

Good ol' boys. It seemed that it was not politically possible for the paper to pursue our allegations (backed up by nearly 300 documents). Or perhaps the paper was counselled by its lawyers to not follow-up? When is discussing documented acts of bullying slander? What is being published in the Spokesman Review papers about weak math curriculum? My guess is nothing. Unless and until the media start doing a better job, there will be little change in the amount of information available to the public. And remember, newspapers are in grave trouble financially; they are cutting staff and will be even more averse to printing controversial topics for fear of loosing more subscribers.

It is too easy for those in power to dismiss forums such as this as "sour grapes" or something similar.

Anonymous said...

All your readers make good points.

The primary reason teachers in Washington are prevented from speaking out is because Washington does not protect public employees who turn in supervisors for abusing their power.

Secondly, I feel they are like humans and somewhat complicit because its easier to fail kids they don't understand and then close their doors on the world that surrounds them every day. Some teachers at my former school, didn't even know there were 'other' schools on the same campus.

Repeal the law so teachers can report abuse without reprisals or being intimidated.

I wrote about a situation like this for a year and during that time I was intimidated every other day by administrators. This is a district by the way that is known for controversy.

Counselors refused to get some of my students tested. At my first meeting with a counselor over a student - he referred to the student as a GDF who didn't deserve any special education services.

This is a group of contemptible a..holes who felt the need to use police dogs on some kids that had 'taken control of an alternative school'. This happenned by the way a year before I arrived. These kids don't go away and they exist in your communities. How can you not teach them?

This particular school had never had a math or science teacher. The students didn't have textbooks. The graduation rate was less than 10%. This school wouldn't even have been allowed in California with or without NCLB.

If you wonder where teenage 'random' violence stems from, then look at the environment we create for students. I have been in some potentially violent places in my life - Pakistan, Philippines, Korea, Aden...

School is certainly one of them. I've supervised children for 15 years and I've seen plenty of violence. That is why you need good teachers and administrators.

If I had a choice between academics and public safety, I would choose health and safety first. Wouldn't you?

There was a WASC accreditation visit the year I was there and they 'saw' nothing out of the ordinary.

The DOE said it would not investigate any of the abuses I reported because most had occurred over 180 days and I was an observer, not a student. I was simply doing what the ACLU and the WEA told me to do!

Eventually, a student whose mother was a real estate agent and a friend of the principal paid a group of students to 'harrass' me and then 'reported' on me with some vague accusations - I wouldn't let a student out of class?

(This was told to me by another student).

I wrote to numerous elected representatives - a few I knew to be complicit. Later, I worked to throw one of them out of office.

I was told by some attorneys that investigations in Washington can take up to six years and I would not be able to work - I chose leaving Washington because I could not tolerate what I knew to be a gross social injustice and I couln't afford not to work.

When Washington cleans up its act and starts educating all their children - only then will I ever consider setting foot in your state.

Your state has the lowest college completion rate in the US. It also has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates.

What about teenage violence. In Seattle Public Schools, its in the tens of thousands of incidents that get reported, but sometimes not documented, every year.

Its your public school system that's at fault.

In California I'm a union rep and this year I will be making some changes where I live. The WEA leadership sucks. My advice: If you teach in Washington and you see something wrong, move on, and teach elsewhere, preferably another state.

California is more progressive (at least they care about their students) and higher paying, but avoid LAUSD - they beat to a different drummer.

Anonymous said...

RR - When you wrote about serial bullying at your school it helps to put it in a historical context as opposed to two boys settling differences. There's a difference between ritual violence and random violence.

One example of modern ritual violence dates back to the Lost Boys Movement about 200 years ago and its growth parallels the growth of social reform movements in America before and then after the Civil War (Prohibition and Women Suffrage).

Grand Rapids, MI and Portland, OR you find early examples of these groups of young adults using random acts of violence to spread fear in their communities.

Satanists and Reformed Orthodox Christians have two common characteristics - belief in superhumans and an anti-deity.

I think in this age, we have to be more discerning whenever we are describing the belief systems Christians, Catholics, or Jews. My first question is always which Christians are we talking about?

Its difficult finding patterns when you're looking for something that doesn't want to be found. Yet if you went into a school you will usually find some characters that fit these profiles.

ICP (Insane Clown Posse) is a common identifier. It is a music group that advocates violence toward minorities. Malls enforce dress rules against ICP, yet public schools don't?

Where are these social reform movements located - primarily the Midwest: Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago. Where do we get research that supports reform math? What a surprise?

Communities with TULIP Protestants have young adults affiliated with these gangs.

Tacoma has some great examples - from poor, rural, white working class families. This type of violence, so long as it is not public, is to a degree condoned by some adults in order to keep schools white (and conforming) by terrorizing minorities.

At a former school, white students were dropped off at the front of school and Hispanic parents dropped their kids off at another entrance to avoid confrontations.

If you want to know about these things - the kids know more than the adults do.

Anonymous said...

Reform math was created because there was a need to improve math education. Traditional math is as much a part of the problem as Reform math. Learning is an evolution and curriculum should unfold. People have forgotten what the overarching goals of traditional curriculum are, other than prepare students for college. For instance, there are at least ten different standard methods for solving a system of equations by the time a student leaves Intermediate Algebra in the 10th or 11th grade.

The change agents for math reform were two things - calculators and analytical geometry. My tenth grade geometry class taught Euclidean geometry with a straight edge and a compass. In 1979 the first calculators were making there way into science classrooms. My sister, three younger, had an analytical geometry textbook in 10th grade (1980). In 1985, David Webster was starting to publish his research on inquiry learning in Austin (Treisman, Isaacs, ...) Between 1993 and 1997 the NCTM leadership with their publishers were initially laying down the foundation for the reform textbooks through the Urban Initiatives - e.g. Briars and Merlino in Philadelphia. Math Renaissance in Greater Los Angeles.

I think the question is can a paternalistic government-sponsored think tank impose an unpopular change on society?

concerned said...

Interesting question:

"...can a paternalistic government-sponsored think tank impose an unpopular change on society?"

I believe that the answer is "yes" it can and it has!

How was it able to do this?
Systemic Initiatives

(See David Klein's website - Chp 13 - How a small amount of federal money promotes ill-designed programs and undermines local control of education.)

In Missouri, it isn't just federal money that's used in this way. Our state has made the use of mediocre math programs a "requirement for eligibility" of their grants too!

How does this imposition happen?

It happens right under our noses and is funded by our tax dollars!

It's time to "just say NO" more!
United We Stand!!

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