What's in Those Public Records Anyway?


Some of the records the PDC cited in its Report of Investigation
regarding Spokane Public Schools and bond/levy and other elective campaigns

Some of the other records sent to the PDC regarding
Spokane Public Schools and bond and levy campaigns.

PDF of March 1, 2014, article:
Legislature should look into PDC's investigation of Spokane Public Schools


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

District says no one knows how to fix math problem

By Laurie H. Rogers

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.
You get the gist. Spokane needs to adopt more traditional math curricula. Waiting only prolongs the students’ agony. The district already has recommendations for K-8 math curricula that were vetted by people who support a traditional track. All the board has to do is adopt some of them.

Now I can quote from the Feb. 11 meeting minutes.
“NEW BUSINESS Teaching and Learning Services Middle School Math Update Ms. Bridget Lewis, executive director for Teaching and Learning Services, introduced Ms. Gina Rye, middle school math coordinator, and Mr. Rick Biggerstaff, secondary math coordinator. … Ms. Lewis commented that the staff needs to dig deeper in terms of the grade 6 to 7 transition.

"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.”
I’ll offer some thoughts on certain portions of these meeting minutes.

“…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/

7 comments:

RMD said...

I love your posts!

I don't live in Washington, so I can only observe from elsewhere.

But I can say that I admire your efforts to cause change.

Anonymous said...

Yes the curriculum is a major problem.... but even if the right curriculum is being used it will do no good if students are continually passed on to the next grade whether they learn the curriculum or not.

First, we don't test to see if students have met the standards....but if they don't what do we do?....Nothing! So they go on to the next grade where they don't meet standards again...what do we do?...Nothing!....Finally, after failing to meet any standards for years we tell students that they have to pass this test or they won't graduate.... What chance do these students who have been passed on over and over again despite not knowing any basic math at all?....None! This is not education....it's child abuse.

Mike Miller, Issaquah parent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mike Miller, Issaquah parent said...

Excellent article! You’ve presented a 2” x 4” squarely between the eyes of the district. Now get ready for renewed efforts to marginalize your voice. …

You state repeatedly that the problem with the math ed issue is the curriculum. Of course, I agree with your assessment… to a degree. Constructivism (reform pedagogy) can be a very effective didactic technique, with certain qualifications. The problem is that none of these qualifications exist to any real degree.

Perhaps the most important qualification is that for a teacher to have consistent success with a constructivist curricula, he/she must be even more fluent with the subject matter than that same teacher would have to be with a more traditional curricula. With reform curricula, the teacher must be able to continually anticipate and subjectively assess where each student is along a continuum of understanding, and differentiate instruction for each student to guide (facilitate) their individual discovery process in the right direction. To be successful at this, a teacher must be an expert in subjective assessment, mathematics, and remediation. This required mathematical fluency does not exist in our present teacher corps, most particularly at the elementary level. There has been a continual de-emphasis of content in their training (schools of ed, and professional development), to the point that content knowledge has actually been officially redefined to include pedagogical techniques. Additionally, reform curricula cannot provide adequate guidance to the teacher on effective remediation. The reason for this is that by definition, in a “discovery” or “constructivist” curricula, students are not kept along a linear continuum of instruction or understanding, but are encouraged to explore their own interpretations. As a result, students can be all over the map, many of them pursuing “dead-end” avenues.
In contrast, a direct instruction model (traditional curricula) provides linear comprehensive instruction that can be objectively assessed. Students who fall short (based on objective testing) can be singled out for specific remediation as indicated by the testing and the linear nature of the curriculum. …

OK, let me switch gears now to argue that the curricula are no longer our primary problem. The primary problem with the math issue (all education really) is that our education establishment has become so ideologically entrenched and defensive, that they have also become systemically incapable of recognizing objective evidence or acknowledging truth. Think about the ramifications of that for a minute. How can you expect them to be truthful with you, when they are incapable of recognizing or acknowledging truth? The inescapable answer is that you can’t. This is so offensive and painful to contemplate, that many good people, inside and outside the establishment, are in perpetual denial of this reality.

Burma Williams said...

Wow! Laurie just hit another one over the fence! Way to go!

The problem in the current Spokane District math curriculum, as in others like it, is two-fold.

First, the curriculum is garbage. People who little know to nothing about mathematics write stuff and then think up ways to justify what they have written. Don't you all know that the only way to "get ahead" in public schools is to be innovative? Doesn't matter if what you have is garbage or doesn't work. Just come up with something "new."

Second, for a teacher to be able to "facilitate" a lesson, monitor each student's individual response to the instruction, and do remediation all at once is totally impossible! Even if the class consisted of only 20 students, one teacher can't do this. When class size is less that 12 students, there is a chance that the teacher, if he or she is well versed in math and instant assessment practices, might be able to catch a few of the students who may have not caught onto the lesson. But when is there time for remediation? This system lacks a viable way to implement it.

And why do the Spokane school board members, the superintendent, and assorted administrators not believe there is any solution? Because they think that their admittance of such would show what a bunch of idiots they are. Guess what--they are right!

Years ago when I taught in a public school district in Michigan, one could count on "new" stuff--from open classrooms with no walls, to mini-courses which taught little of value--to fade or be "reformed" in 5 to 7 years. Guess this current crop of "professional educators" have learned some new ways to keep their junk from being replaced by curricula and methods which really work because we have been stuck with the WASL's and the current math junk for many, many years. This is definitely not progress.


Burma Williams,
retired math and physics teacher and private math tutor

Anonymous said...

Social promotion persists because students are in two tracks - failures and successes. You can only stop social promotion (tracking) by first adopting a curriculum like Singapore which has several advantages over US curriculum. It was written by their Ministry of Education who saw the necessity of educating ALL children, even those who's first language was not English (unlike the US).

I use Singapore as the best example. But trust me, Canada is decades ahead of the US - they had the wisdom to not listen to their US counterparts. First, Singapore is a complete k-12 curriculum meaning that students also have to matriculate (pass an end of course exam) before they are promoted. Also, the standards come with the textbook. Finally, each problem you find in the text has to conform to certain guidelines which include a review by a problem committee made up of teachers and professors.

The DOE is only adding stress to an already stretched and broken system when they provide seed money to fund activities that subvert teacher unions, like merit pay systems which have historically been failures. Only in the US will you ever find anything so convulated and inbred as the education sector.

The NSF, MAA, and NCTM are private organizations - they have always been failures and will continue to promote agendas that are controversial and self-serving. They do not represent the educational institutions of this country.

dan dempsey said...

The solution is easy ...
Adopt the WA state math standards as the curriculum ..

Then require instructional materials to support that curriculum.

The WA state math standards are much better than before.

Clearly the suggestion to use Singapore Math would more than satisfy the WA math standards curriculum.

What will be apparent are the tremendous holes in the Spokane k-12 math program's instructional materials when compared with the WA math standards.

Dan