Before I quote from the Feb. 11, 2009, meeting minutes of the board of Spokane Public Schools, I’ll review some events of the last two years:
- The National Mathematics Advisory Panel issued recommendations that called for more traditional approaches to math instruction (i.e. traditional algorithms, caution with calculator use, more practicing of skills, and increased rigor).
- Washington’s K-12 math standards were completely revamped, calling for more traditional content.
- For 20 years, mathematicians have criticized the reform math curricula widely used across Washington (and throughout Spokane Public Schools). These curricula also were hammered in Washington’s recent curricula assessments.
- Washington State’s Department of Education (OSPI) issued recommendations for K-8 math curricula that are based on the new standards. The curricula used in Spokane are not on the list. Expectations are that Spokane’s high school curriculum also will be rejected.
- Advocates have repeatedly asked school boards across the nation to replace reform math curricula with more traditional curricula.
Now I can quote from the Feb. 11 meeting minutes.
"President Treppiedi asked the staff to help the board understand why middle school math scores are as low as they have been. It was his opinion that there is a lack of rigor in the elementary schools. Ms. Lewis responded that the data across the state and nation is not unique to Spokane. She said no one has the answer; however, the staff does know that they have to pay close attention to what is happening in the classroom. She pointed out that the data shows that Spokane has more students taking advanced placement math and all students are taking more mathematics. …
"Dr. Stowell noted that grades 3 through 7 math scores are higher than the state average. In spite of not having all of the answers, the scores are moving in the right direction. She stated that math and science summer camps and math coaches would help, but it is difficult to fill the open teaching spots. Ms. Lewis added that it is going to take multiple strategies such as standards-based grading, math labs, and professional learning in order to improve mathematics instruction.
"Director Douthitt indicated that the board would like to hear more ideas about adaptive changes. Director Bierman agreed that change takes time; he felt, however, that the math program is on the wrong track and needs to be distinctly different from what it is today, in both the language and the model that is used. Director Douthitt expressed appreciation for the way this presentation was constructed. He conceded that the frustration is that no one has figured out how to solve the problem. Because the district will still face the dilemma in 2014, he didn’t want the team to be constrained by saying 'we can’t do this.'
"Ms. Lewis said the team wants to look at this very straight forward and determine how to get at the hard questions.”
“…the staff needs to dig deeper in terms of the grade 6 to 7 transition.” What does this mean? Does it mean to replace the math curriculum? If not, they can “dig” as deeply as they want; they’ll never reach the solution.
“Ms. Lewis responded that the data … is not unique to Spokane.” This statement is true, but it doesn’t mean an answer isn’t available. Indeed, it points to a national failure with reform math curricula.
"(Ms. Lewis) said no one has the answer; however, the staff does know that they have to pay close attention to what is happening in the classroom.” Actually, we have the answer, and it’s clear: Replace the curricula with more traditional approaches. For some inexplicable reason, district employees obstinately refuse to say so. It’s true that staff members should “pay close attention to what is happening in the classroom.” If they were, they would notice that students aren’t learning sufficient mathematics.
“(Ms. Lewis) pointed out that the data shows that Spokane has more students taking advanced placement math and all students are taking more mathematics.” More students are indeed taking AP classes – but substantially more students also are failing to pass the AP exams. I reject the statement that “all students are taking more mathematics.” Some might be taking more math classes, but if the classes were effective, students would know more math than they do.
“Dr. Stowell noted that grades 3 through 7 math scores are higher than the state average.” So what? Spokane’s 2008 math WASL scores look like this:Grade Level Math 3rd Grade - 75.2% 4th Grade - 60.7% 5th Grade - 69.2% 6th Grade - 55.9% 7th Grade - 52.4% 8th Grade - 49.5% 10th Grade - 45.9%
“(Dr. Stowell said) in spite of not having all of the answers, the scores are moving in the right direction.” District staff members do have the answers; they just refuse to acknowledge them. You tell me – do the 2008 math WASL scores look like they’re “moving in the right direction”?
A few of the statements can be dealt with together:
"(Dr. Stowell) stated that math and science summer camps and math coaches would help, but it is difficult to fill the open teaching spots.”
“Ms. Lewis added that it is going to take multiple strategies such as standards-based grading, math labs, and professional learning in order to improve mathematics instruction.”
“(Director Douthitt) conceded that the frustration is that no one has figured out how to solve the problem."
“Ms. Lewis said the team wants to look at this very straight forward and determine how to get at the hard questions.”Shall we laugh or cry? It’s the curriculum, the curriculum, the curriculum! Replacing the reform curricula with more traditional approaches is what will improve mathematics instruction. Why won’t they say it?
One begins to wonder if some of these people own stock in companies that publish reform curricula.
Folks, this is what is being done on your behalf. Please speak up and/or vote with your feet. Quite literally, the children’s futures are at stake.
Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (March, 2009). "District says no one knows how to fix math problem." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/