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Sunday, December 13, 2009

School district excludes feedback from committee, students

Statement from Laurie Rogers on the Feedback (Part 1):
Spokane Public Schools is in the midst of replacing "Core-Plus Mathematics," its current high school mathematics curriculum. The adoption committee’s pre-screen criteria for a new curriculum are purportedly based on summaries of feedback from parents, students and teachers.
(Or so we were told by SPS administrators and two “facilitators” hired from Educational Service District 101).
Careful diligence was required, therefore, in the collection and summarizing of this feedback. Unfortunately, the processes were so poorly conducted as to render the District’s summaries of the feedback virtually worthless.
It’s too bad. Parents, students and teachers who offered their thoughts appear to care deeply about the issue. That their desires are so misrepresented by the District and ESD101 facilitators indicates an unprofessionalism and a lack of respect that I find appalling. But not surprising. Feedback from the adoption committee was misrepresented, too. Then it was tossed out.

District Throws Out Committee Feedback:
The curriculum adoption committee met five times from Sept. 29 to Dec. 3. Each time, we were to share ideas, preferences and concerns and then record summaries of our discussions on sticky notes and poster paper. We disagreed on various issues, so the poster papers reflected oppositional viewpoints.

In our Nov. 9 meeting, committee members were given a typed “perspective” of all of our written feedback to that date. That “perspective,” particularly a section called “Desired Outcome,” seems different from what I remember of the conversations. (Another committee member echoed this thought.)
Returning home on Nov. 9, I emailed Bridget Lewis, executive director of instructional programs, asking her to keep original artifacts handy. I received no reply.
On Nov. 12, I went to the District office and asked to see the artifacts. I was given Nov. 9 poster papers only. When asked for the others, Bridget Lewis and another staff member said they didn’t know where the other artifacts were. On Nov. 13, the staff member confirmed that committee feedback from September and October was “typed up and then tossed.” No apology or explanation was given.

Today, the District’s “perspective” on committee feedback doesn’t mention certain comments, words or phrases from some of the committee members. “Traditional math,” “direct instruction” and “standard algorithm,” for example, aren’t there.
One oppositional viewpoint was pretty much eliminated.

Student Feedback Is Ignored, Excluded:
This fall, SPS asked middle and high school students to share their desires for a high school math curriculum. More than 400 feedback cards were collected.

At the Nov. 9 adoption committee meeting, the ESD101 “facilitators” told members to write down categories for what we thought the students would want. Then the students’ feedback cards were spread out over three desks. We were divided into three groups and told to “silently” assign each card to one heading.
(Most of us didn’t have a chance to see more than our third of the cards. The headings were ours, chosen before we ever saw the cards. The cards contained multiple requests, yet each card was placed under a single heading. From the start, therefore, much of the student feedback was destined to be excluded.) The facilitators then asked for initial committee impressions of the student desires, and the resulting list said: “Good examples; Resources for help: glossary, Website, answers, toolkit; Easy to read and understand; Real-life content (how will I use?); Lots of practice; Technology.”
Committee members didn’t have another chance to look at the student cards, so this initial impression stood, as if it were some kind of proper analysis.

But I had promised my daughter that the student voice would be heard. On Nov. 12, I went to the District office and photocopied the student cards, took the copies home, and over a few days, categorized each student comment according to similar language.
My analysis isn’t an exact science, and it can be argued that, because the method of collecting data was unscientific, any tabulated results are bogus. The question asked of the students was not standard. The students were not given a survey with standard choices, explanations or definitions. I did not speak to the students nor have a chance to clarify their exact intent. Their comments came from their own lexicon and could have meant anything. It’s why I left the results in their own words.
Still, the student comments are consistent. The two most commonly requested items by far are “more examples” and variations of “I need explanations of how to do it.”

On Dec. 3, I gave my results to each member of the committee. When I asked for “explanations” to be added to the District’s “summary,” an ESD101 facilitator said it’s the same thing as “examples” and that I was “splitting hairs.” She didn’t add the word. I asked for “technology” to be removed, since very few students asked for that (29 did say they like their calculators). She refused to remove the word.
Later, I persisted with the two facilitators: “What’s the point of asking the students their views if you aren't going to write down what they said?” Finally, one of them agreed to add the word “explanations,” and she placed a tiny question mark next to “technology.”
The next morning, on Dec. 4, I received an email from Bridget Lewis, telling committee members how happy she was with our effort ... and by the way,

“One caution...when we requested this feedback from these three groups, we did not indicate to them that these comments would be public. This is the reason for only posting our summary of the perspective. Displaying individual card statements publicly would not be appropriate since we did not make that known at the time of the request for input.”

I pondered this email. In my table and summary on student feedback, I don’t have names, grades, classes, schools or programs. There is no identifying information. The table simply collects “like” comments and counts them. The original cards had been spread out on tables in a curriculum adoption meeting that was open to the public. Committee members had viewed the cards and/or openly discussed them in two public meetings. The cards had been taken to the District’s central office where they were viewed by more than one person and kept openly on at least one administrative desk. I was allowed to photocopy the student and parent feedback cards and also to take those photocopies home. Now, suddenly, this information is no longer public? Meanwhile, the District has published some of the students’ exact language.

Well, I am a rule follower, even if I think the rules were put in place solely to squelch debate, foster a predetermined viewpoint, or keep pertinent, critical information from seeing the light of day.
Following is my summary of the top student requests, in order, from most commonly cited to least. I presume that, where the District published exact student language, they did it “appropriately,” and so I used the same student language, placed in “quotes.” I paraphrased the rest.

Laurie Rogers’ Summary of the Top Student Requests

Students said they want:

  • More “examples”
  • “Explanations,” line by line, of how to do each skill
  • Helpful “resources” within the textbook structure, such as the meanings of words, “answers,” “glossary,” directory, lists of mathematical procedures, explanations of mathematical symbols
  • Clearer and simpler language, “easier to read and understand”
  • Classical math – the math schools used to teach, the math that will get them to college without remediation – with “equations, algorithms, formulas, theorems”
  • Useful “visuals”
  • Uncomplicated word problems; (or) No more word problems
  • Content that’s germane to them, to their life, to college and to their future
  • More time and opportunity to “practice” skills
  • Small, portable machines that will calculate for them
  • The paid adult in the classroom to actually show them how to do things
  • To be allowed to progress when they understand something
  • Help from a “Website”
  • To learn a skill before they’re told to use it
  • A textbook that isn’t so big and heavy
  • A book they can work in at home

In the next article, I’ll tell you what parents and teachers asked for, and what the District says they asked for. The parent and teacher requests, and the District’s summaries of their requests, are not the same.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December, 2009). "School district excludes feedback from committee, students." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Anonymous said...

Makes me wonder... What are they hiding? Have they already made a decision and are doing what they can to steer others to concur with a predetermined outcome? Has money changed hands? Have non-monetary incentives been provided to steer this in a predetermined direction? Is grant money available if the decision goes in a certain direction? Could that be driving the effort?

Richard Reuther said...

Again, this behavior is not new. In reviewing a "climate survey" of staff, one principal pulled negative comments about her leadership from the survey, divided the staff up into three groups with her allies packed evenly among them, and gave them 15 minutes to respond to the "complainers." Imagine what those people who were told that their comments were "confidential" felt about being singled out for shaming. Also minutes from faculty meetings rarely noted descenting viewpoints; only the principal's "pets" were recognized in the minutes.

People in power don't want to give it up. Their way is "better" no matter what anyone else thinks. When a principal was voted down on a particular issue, he was overheard to say "I'll get what I want one way or another." He then devised a new way to count the votes, isolate the opposition, and marginalize its political effectiveness. Where the general vote was against him, the departmental vote was 3-2 in his favor since the opposition was concentrated in two departments-Language Arts and Social Studies. Voting by DEPARTMENT gave him his way. Foreign governments could learn a lot from voting fraud committed in the US.

It is not surprising that a system would be manipulated to create the desired outcome. It is heartbreaking that the general public ASSUMES that those in a position of power will act in the best interest of their students, when it will only act in its own best interest first.

din819go said...

This should never come as a surprise -- districts do this all the time -- they can say they had parental, community or whatever involvement and just continue with their original plan...

Fred Strine said...

concerned parents, teachers, and students,

When the only game in town has an agenda-driven dealer who names the game, changes the rules, and stacks the deck; it's time to blow the whistle and see if anybody cares. If nobody's outraged, find a new game. Better yet, stop gambling and just take care of your own.

Fred Strine

kprugman said...

Reuther's chilling comments parallel every committee meeting I've attended since NCLB. The standardized and math reform movements have been most effective at shutting up their critics, both publicly and privately. These are not liberals by any sense of the word...there is a purpose behind their fanaticism and someday its going to turn around and bite them.

Anonymous said...

Well Mr. Strine, we've been blowing the whistle for a long time now and nobody seems to care. We've managed to silence a few of them, but more than likely, they will carpet bag to some other state. By my reckoning, the states where reform is strongest are Washington, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Kentucky, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. Standards and math reform are one and the same. Data driven decision making does not make sense when experts can't even agree on how to collect the data.

For one, we don't even track individual students. Second, schools place students into classes where they cannot achieve. Algebra is the lowest placement for math in a high school. When schools finally admit that they have failed as institutions to adequately serve their communities then maybe then we can get back to the task of educating our children. Start by adopting a k-12 curriculum. Why not Singapore? You start at grade 1 and adopt the program for each year going forward. That's the only way to do it rationally and successfully.

kprugman said...

Race to the top should be called Race to stop the bleeding. Reform is a pathos. Teachers would do better resorting again to drawing sticks and dirt floors.

What will happen that will stop our current mangling of social policy dead in its tracks is district insolvency. Reform is a pyramid.

Real consequences would be followed by district consolidation. I believe in letting nature run its course. Your state has yet to learn their lesson.

Educator's real wages are about to take a plunge. Serial job loss will be the only alternative.

Most people don't remember a depression like the 30's. Up until now it hasn't mattered whether economic policies were liberal or conservative they all benefited one sector - finance. The lack of regulations, expansion of credit, and implicit backing by government has yet to spawn the real crisis.

In parallel, there is one sector that has benefited from parents' excessive indulgence in education and that is the textbook industry which has ever since reform, with the help of government, expanded its marketing into testing, tutoring, and technology (the 3 T's).

Home schooling, vouchers, and tutoring have all benefited the private education sector and was implicitly backed by the Department of education. A policy that certainly led to all forms of financial abuses. This is the worst abuse of a government. Elitists spending their way to the top and they have debillitated public education.