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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Board vote good for future business

Some things are so outrageously ridiculous, the only way to handle them is through satire.

Like, for example, at a May 27 board meeting for Spokane Public Schools, board members voted to spend another $90,000 of taxpayer money on materials from the same failed reform curricula we have now. For a few tense moments, I was worried they wouldn’t, but at 11 p.m., they came through for me.

To quote a 5th-grade teacher who spoke on behalf of the proposed supplements: “Yay!”

Some people see reform math as a problem, but for me, it’s the solution. For one thing, it gives me something to do. I now spend 4-11 hours a day on math: Tutoring my daughter in actual math; taking college math classes so I can tutor her through high school; keeping up with developments at the state and national levels; and communicating every day with dozens of concerned parents and advocates. It’s a lot to do, which is good because otherwise, I would just sit around like the illiterate slob I am, eating Twinkies and playing video games.

But mostly, when I finish my math classes, I’ll have a HUGE pool of clients for my future tutoring business. The May 27 vote was VERY good for me personally.

I have to say it was touch and go that night. I thought when a cardiologist and a retired mathematician spoke eloquently for better math instruction, it might have swayed the vote. Luckily, most of the BM weren’t listening.

(BM is short for “board members.” What did you think it meant?)

When a local parent spoke about her daughters' struggles with basic math skills – like measurements – I worried again. Not because of the parent’s well-articulated concerns, but because Spokane’s elementary curriculum coordinator, Debbie Oakley, bobbled it and blamed the girls’ struggles on traditional math. How stupid was that? I doubt Spokane's current students have gotten more than a whiff of traditional math in the last 8 years.

Thankfully, the BM just let it go.

I spoke at the meeting, too, pretending I wanted better curricula and offering the board information from state and federal levels. It was all a ruse, part of my master plan. I knew the BM wouldn’t look at the information before the vote, wouldn’t ask me questions about it, wouldn’t even wonder out loud what was in the package. And they didn’t. President Rocco Treppiedi waved the information away to a side table where it sat like the lump of dog doo it was. (Some of the BM might even have held their noses.)

Ms. Oakley almost wrecked it again when she said, “There’s just nothing out there that aligns better to the new math standards.” How stupid was that? Not one of Spokane’s main curricula is ON the final lists of recommended curricula. Everything aligns better than they do. Two weren’t even on the preliminary lists – and those were lists drawn up by people who support reform. How bad must reform curricula be when supporters of reform don’t support them?

But the BM just let it go.

Oh yeah, and then one intelligent board member challenged Ms. Oakley on one of the proposed materials, saying it doesn’t do much of what she said it does and doesn’t seem to be necessary. Ms. Oakley had no defense for that, no support, no explanation, no clarification. I might have heard her mutter, “The dog ate my homework,” but that might have been the 5th-grade teacher behind me, who left her seat beside the curriculum coordinators to advocate for the proposed materials. The teacher's entire argument consisted of, “Come to my house and I’ll give you Brownies.” No, I think she said, “Come to my classroom and see what we’re doing.” And she took a swipe at me, which I did not appreciate. I thought, “Hey, don’t swipe at me! We’re allies! On the same side! We’re both doing this for the kids! You have them muddle in herds to teach themselves box and whisker plots, and then I’ll charge their families a lot of money to tutor them in arithmetic and algebra. We could be a great team!”


Come to think of it, the person talking about dogs and homework might have been Rick Biggerstaff, Spokane’s secondary curriculum coordinator. He couldn’t remember who wrote the national standards on which he claimed Washington’s new standards are based. I offered him a suggestion, and – without looking at me – he muttered something that sounded like, "That could be it." Or, he might have said, “Shut up, you inconsequential idiot parent person, you dog-face daughter of a wallaby.”

If he'd said that, I would have said, “Look, don’t call me that. We’re allies. You LOVE Core-Plus Mathematics. 'LOVE it!' you said. And I’m going to LOVE the money I’m going to make in my future tutoring business. We’ll go great together, like peanut butter and food allergies.”

Mr. Biggerstaff nearly gave away the farm when he said other countries (almost all of which do better in math than America does) are perplexed at our "math wars," and they say, “What is America doing?” I was afraid the BM would laugh out loud at the unintended irony. Other countries do look at America, at how we teach mathematics, and they do say, “Woo-hoo! More jobs for us!”

But the BM didn’t note the irony, and my future tutoring business was saved again.

(I didn't even mind it when Mr. Biggerstaff was rude to me. When I left to thank the mathematician for coming, he rushed out behind us and interrupted me so he could shake the man’s hand. He never once looked in my direction or apologized for interrupting. My grandma always said, “You can tell a lot about folks by their manners,” but I know Mr. Biggerstaff is much more important than I am.)

I was glad I could crawl my way home at 11:30 p.m. and tell my husband the evening wasn’t a complete waste, as he had predicted.

For one thing, I met the cardiologist and the mathematician. I also got to see Ms. Oakley and Mr. Biggerstaff in action – an invaluable experience. And I totally figured out how to game the system. These people now think I’m opposed to Spokane’s ridiculously flawed reform math curricula. They see it as their turf, not mine. The harder I rally people to fight against it, the harder they’ll fight to defend it. It’s just human nature for bureaucrats and other uncivilized groups. This can only help me.

I’ll say: Please reject these failed curricula. And they’ll continue to say, “No."
I’ll say: Please just look at this material. They’ll say, “No.”
I’ll say: Please learn something about mathematics. “No.”
Please help me figure out a way to tutor these children in arithmetic. “No.”
I’ll do it for FREE. “No.”
Please wait on voting until you read this. “No, no, no.”
Please show me some infinitesimal sign of respect. “Well, sure, whatever-your-name is. Come back anytime.”

To the parents, I apologize. I’m sorry you’ll have to pay huge bucks to re-educate your children. I’m sorry that (unless they’re in the one-third of students who will drop out of high school before they graduate) they’ll have to spend several semesters in remedial math classes in college (which many will fail). I’m sorry that most of them will hate math for the rest of their lives and run as far away from it as they can. But that’s the way the box-and-whisker plot bounces. I have to eat, too. If you’re so mad, start your own tutoring business. It’s not like there won’t be enough work to go around. It would also give you a good reason to stay in your school district, unlike the 2,000+ quitters who bailed out of Spokane Public Schools over the last few years.

I have big dreams that require ill-educated students. Together, we can turn this very real and very serious math problem into a real business opportunity. With reform curricula in our corner, we’re totally in the catbird seat.

My new motto is: “Too bad for the little birdies, but darn good for the cats.”


Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (May, 2009). "Board vote good for future business." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was published May 31, 2009, on at

Friday, May 22, 2009

FACT: Spokane refuses to replace reform curricula

On Wed., May 27, Spokane Public Schools employees are slated to address the school board about proposed teaching materials for mathematics. The materials reportedly are a continuation of one of the three main math curricula already in place. The three main curricula are:
  • Investigations in Number, Data, and Space
  • Connected Mathematics Project (CMP)
  • Core-Plus Mathematics

These three curricula are “reform,” which means they focus on estimation, group discussions, lots of writing, frequent use of calculators, and multiple ways of solving problems. They downplay the need for practicing skills and also the use of “traditional” procedures and equations. They emphasize constructivist approaches (“discovery”) where students work in groups and on their own to try to teach math to themselves.

They do not focus on practicing the most efficient, most effective algorithms (which are necessary for advancing in math, and needed in college, business and the trades).

Reform curricula have been criticized in the mathematics community for the last 20 years. Two decades ago, people with products to sell ushered in the philosophy behind these curricula, and money continues to drive K-12 math instruction. Texas Instruments, various software developers, textbook publishers and other stakeholders have worked intensively and cooperatively to push reform curricula and attendant supplementary materials and “helpful” tools on an unsuspecting public. The reform approach to math plays a huge role in why America’s math skills have fallen so far behind the rest of the world. America’s businesses, universities and government agencies are forced to draw heavily from other countries for their talent pools.

But many people were not fooled.

  • FACT: For years, parents, math teachers, professors, business owners, STEM professionals (science, technology, engineering and math), and math advocates have fought for a more traditional approach to teaching mathematics.
  • FACT: In 2008, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel called for more traditional content and increased rigor across the nation.
  • FACT: In 2007, a consultant hired by the Washington State Board of Education (at the behest of the state legislature) assessed Washington’s math standards. The consultant called for major revisions, including a great deal more traditional content, increased rigor, and caution on the use of calculators in the classroom.
  • FACT: New, more rigorous math standards were developed in Washington State. The state department of education (OSPI), board of education (SBE) and advisory panels used the new standards to compile a list of recommended K-8 math curricula. These curricula use a more traditional approach. Spokane's main math curricula are not on the list.

Meanwhile, Spokane Public Schools has continued to replace one reform curriculum with another. This approach has been an expensive failure.

  • FACT: Spokane’s current reform math curricula are heavily supplemented by a long list of expensive materials and by ongoing “professional development” for teachers, “instructional coaches” for teachers, substitute teachers and remedial programs.
  • FACT: Spokane’s full-time enrollment has dropped by about 2,000 students since 2001 (mostly from the high schools). Administrators predict another drop of 350 this year.
  • FACT: A 2008 survey of parents who left for a different public school indicated that at least 33% left in whole or in part over the curricula. (The survey didn’t include families who chose a private school.) Spokane’s superintendent said this survey doesn’t tell her anything that “informs” her “decision-making.”
  • FACT: In 2008, the number of Spokane students passing the 2008 math WASL dropped grade by grade until just 45.9% of 10th graders passed.
  • FACT: Achieve, Inc. says Washington’s 10th-grade math WASL is based on content that is taught internationally in 6th or 7th grade.
  • FACT: Washington State has a reported 50% + math remediation rate in college. According to the dean of the math department at Spokane Falls Community College, new students have about an 80% remediation rate for math.
  • FACT: I've spoken with recent Spokane high school graduates who struggle with basic math skills. They tend to feel dependent on their calculators, to lack number sense, to think they’re bad at math, and to avoid career choices that involve math. Some must take remedial classes in arithmetic. Many must take remedial classes more than once in order to pass.
  • FACT: In February, Superintendent Nancy Stowell and Bridget Lewis, executive director of Instructional Programs, indicated to the Spokane school board that they don’t know how to fix the math problem.
  • FACT: In mid-April, I wrote to Ms. Lewis and two of Spokane’s curriculum coordinators. I noted that Spokane’s main math curricula don’t align with the new state math standards and aren’t recommended by the state or by the math advisory panels. I asked why this district is not replacing its inadequate curricula with curricula that better align to the state’s math standards. After my four polite emails and my polite phone call, I haven’t received an answer to this reasonable and not-too-difficult question.

What the students need is the proper tool for the job - better curricula from kindergarten to Grade 12. They need to be taught, rather than being forced to muddle around in groups, trying to teach math to themselves. They need to learn the most efficient method first, rather than being forced to learn several inefficient ways first. They need to be able to practice their math skills so that these skills go into long-term memory and can be easily recalled.

Spokane will not be replacing its inadequate curricula this year. There are plans to shuffle these failed curricula around a bit … like moving a dirty mop around the floor, hoping it will clean better over there. Now, there reportedly are plans to add more materials from two of the failed programs!

  • FACT: Better curricula are available. They include proven methods for teaching mathematics to children that have stood the test of time. They align better with the new math standards. They’ve been vetted by OSPI, the SBE and various professionals with strong backgrounds in mathematics.
  • FACT: Spokane Public Schools is refusing to adopt any of them.

(It's somewhat like watching people willfully cause a traffic accident.)

I'm asking you to attend the May 27 board meeting and ask for the adoption of better math curricula. By law, the board’s meeting time, place and agenda is to be listed here at least 24 hours before the meeting:

This isn’t a game we're playing. The children's futures are at stake. Parents should not have to supplement the regular program, pay for private school, or teach their children a separate math curriculum at home. They should not have to pay for several remedial college classes. High school graduates should not have to spend several semesters desperately trying to pick up the math they should have learned in K-12. We should expect district employees to do “due diligence” and pay attention to what's being said at the state and federal level relative to mathematics instruction. We should expect the curriculum coordinators to listen when parents ask for something better for their children. Parents should expect to be included in discussions about curricula choices. But in Spokane – despite all contrary evidence – curriculum coordinators persist in supporting and buying teaching materials based on inadequate programs.

If you can't attend the May 27 board meeting, please write to the board and express your views. Ask them to ensure that the district immediately implements curricula that are aligned with the new math standards, to reject the failed reform curricula we have now, and to offer all students the tutoring they need to bring them up in skill to where they should and could have been.

Thank you for standing up to be counted. Please pass on this message to others. Together, we can turn this thing around.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (May, 2009). "FACT: Spokane refuses to replace reform curricula." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

A version of this article was posted May 23 at at