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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


Anonymous said...

I'm a retired high school mathematics teacher. The private math tutoring I do at the local library down the road is pretty good even though the local school district here doesn't use Everyday Math. Too bad! Imagine how much better business could be otherwise!

Hey, wait a minute, you're article just gave me an idea. I'll approach the school board and start promoting Everyday Math. Should be good for future business!

On second thought, I better not. If business gets too good I won't have time to be retired!

(Wink! Wink!)

Anonymous said...

The exact same scenario is playing out in Hudson, Ohio. Curriculum administrators swear Constructivist (reform) math is the best thing since sliced bread. When parents who have taken STEM Math in college say that Investigations and CMP TOTALLY ill-prepare students for real college math, the parents are dismissed.

I've heard it several times from math education majors that they started out in engineering and couldn't handle the work. So why do why want to push that on innocent students? so these students can follow them into math education? The field is already too crowded. Not enough work to go around, so math educators just keep on churning.

The secret is that the engineers and scientists are at home teaching their children real math or pulling them out of public school for private school. The public school systems really do not think that they are serving the families of the district. When you can make $104,000 as a curriculum director with no experience, you don't want anyone looking too closely.