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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Replace math curricula? Administrators won't answer in writing

By Laurie H. Rogers

[Updated March 14, 2011, to include their answer, finally given on the record.]

I've been trying since Nov. 8, 2010, to get a clear answer from Spokane administrators on whether they will replace the district's K-8 reform math materials. For four months, $544,000 worth of administration refused to answer this question definitively or on the record. Far from having my back on this, the board president appeared to blame me.

For a decade or so, Spokane Public Schools (SPS) has forced reform math curricula and excessive “discovery” learning down the throats of teachers and students. In 2010, we have abysmal pass rates on state standardized math tests. The longer students are in this district, the worse they do. In spring 2010, just 48.5% passed the 8th grade math test; they needed just 55% to pass. Just 38.9% passed the 10th grade state math test; they needed just 56.9% to pass. If the data were cleansed of students who are tutored outside the district, homeschooled in math, or who came to the district from other programs, the district’s pass rates would almost certainly drop farther.

For nearly four years, I’ve been trying to persuade SPS to replace the execrable and widely panned reform math materials “Investigations in Number, Data, and Space” and “Connected Mathematics Project” (CMP). Research and student data do not support continued use of these materials – not nationally, not in other districts, not at the state level, and not in Spokane. These reform math materials and other programs like them have devastated the math abilities of an entire generation of students.

Despite miserable outcomes; despite the research I’ve given administrators; despite the parents, teachers and students who have pleaded for a more traditional approach to teaching mathematics and grammar; and despite the 2008 district survey in which a third of parents who left this district said they left because of the curriculum – administrators have refused to replace "Investigations" and CMP.

In a Nov. 8 school district Citizens Advisory Council meeting, I asked administrator Tammy Campbell if the district planned to replace the K-8 math materials. She said if the data supported it, they would look at it. (That was a diversion, not an answer.)

The district’s student data actually support driving a stake through the heart of these materials, burning them into small ashes, and burying them under 12 feet of dirt. I followed up with the school board on Nov. 17, where board President Sue Chapin suggested I ask my questions of administrators Karin Short or Rick Biggerstaff.

On Nov. 19, I emailed Short, Superintendent Nancy Stowell, Campbell, and Biggerstaff to ask if the district planned to replace “Investigations” and CMP. If so, with what? If not, why not? Short was the only one to reply. She emailed to invite me downtown to meet with her and Campbell sometime in December.

I politely declined, saying a meeting wouldn’t be necessary; I just wanted the answers. Short emailed a two-paragraph reply of which the following sentence was the only part pertinent to my questions: “We are monitoring the progress of our middle level students...and will make curricular and materials revisions as necessary and as funding is available.” (This was another diversion, not an answer.)

Short also mentioned how well Spokane students did on the 2010 state tests, compared to the state averages. But if you look at Spokane’s achievement data on the 2010 state math tests, you will see dropping pass rates, from Grade 3 to Grade 10, culminating in a 38.9% pass rate in Grade 10. For most of these state tests, the score required to pass was less than 60%.

I emailed Short, Stowell, Biggerstaff and Campbell to ask my questions again. There was no reply.

On Dec. 1, I headed back to the school board to ask for help and answers. President Chapin said I’d been offered an opportunity to meet with administrators and had declined it. She suggested going back to Karin Short. Ever the accommodating taxpayer, I did.

On Dec. 2, I emailed Short, Stowell, Biggerstaff and Campbell, thanking them for the offer to meet, adding that I didn’t have time for it. I again asked my questions, noting that the questions were simple to answer and did not require a meeting. Short called my house while I was out to suggest we talk by phone.

I emailed them to politely decline the offer. I said that, in the interest of accuracy, avoiding accidents in the new-fallen snow, and avoiding wasting time and resources, I preferred to have the answers by email. I said I was perplexed at why I could not get these questions answered, that whether I would meet with them or talk with them by phone was immaterial to the math problem in Spokane. I said I preferred the answers by email and thanked Short for her time.

Short emailed to say they wanted to talk me with directly so they could be sure they answered all of my concerns. She repeated her invitation to talk by phone.

The next day, I emailed Short, Stowell, Biggerstaff and Campbell to say that the best way to answer my concerns was to answer them. I said Short appeared to be refusing to do so under the guise of being helpful and thorough. I said I couldn’t imagine that all taxpayers could meet with her in that way. I asked my questions again and said I would be fine with telling the public of Short’s refusal to answer my questions.

On Dec. 7, Short replied with this: “Good Morning Laurie, No one is refusing to provide information; we are offering to talk with you. Since you found the previous e-mail response to your questions unsatisfactory, we want to make sure we have the opportunity to answer your questions directly. Talking directly with you seems like the best way for you to get the answers you desire and to reduce frustration.”

That last sentence made me laugh out loud.

I emailed them to say I was glad they weren’t refusing to answer my questions, while noting that they had not yet answered them. “I understand and appreciate your willingness to meet with me or to speak with me directly by telephone,” I wrote. “I desire to have these answers in writing. Email is the simplest, most effective, and most expeditious method. Having the answers in writing assures a permanent record that is not open to interpretation.” I asked my questions again and thanked them.

This email remains unanswered.

On Dec. 15, for the third time since the Nov. 8 CAC meeting, I went to a school board meeting to ask for help and answers. I asked Superintendent Stowell to answer my questions, but she did not speak. Instead, President Chapin again said I had been invited to meet with administration or talk with them on the phone and had declined. I explained that I want the answers in writing. President Chapin continued to say I had my chance to get my answers and had refused to meet. (What is it about “I want this answer in writing” that is so difficult for President Chapin to grasp?)

Director Bob Douthitt pointed to a planned curriculum “review,” mentioned in the superintendent’s work plan. I asked when and how this review would take place. No one would say when or how this would ever happen. I said that, considering Spokane’s poor (and sinking) outcomes, it’s odd that administrators wouldn’t have a ready answer to these critical questions.

My five-minute allowance to speak to the board ran out. Karin Short said nothing to me. Nancy Stowell said nothing to me. My questions remain unanswered.

Karin Short makes $129,299 in base salary – a boost this year of 5.15%.
Tammy Campbell makes $114,849 in base salary – a boost this year of 4.1%.
Rick Biggerstaff makes $77,377 in base salary – a boost this year of 7.12%.
Nancy Stowell makes a total of $222,576 – a boost this year of 1.74%.

This year, taxpayers will pay at least $544,000 to four administrators who won’t answer simple questions on the record about the K-8 math materials. I have received other district answers by email or by letter; why not these? And – instead of insisting that these taxpayer-funded government employees answer simple questions from a taxpayer – the board president appears to blame the taxpayer.

It’s difficult to exaggerate the problems in Spokane. Teachers are hounded and harassed to use poor math and language arts materials and inefficient teaching methodologies. Brave teachers say they have been challenged or threatened when they tried to teach arithmetic or grammar to their students. How crazy is that? Soon, no doubt, administrators or board directors will again be blaming weak outcomes on “uninvolved” parents, “ineffective” teachers, or “unmotivated” students. But if we removed from this district all of the uninvolved parents, ineffective teachers and unmotivated students, Spokane would still have problems with math and grammar. That’s because administrators refuse to allow teachers to teach sufficient math or grammar. It’s that plain and that simple.

(Update March 14, 2011: I finally got an answer on the record, given in answer to my questions in the March 14 Citizens Advisory Committee meeting. The answer is "No." Not until they have curriculum that aligns with the not-quite-adopted Common Core State Standards. Oh, joy.)

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December 2010). "Replace math curricula? Administrators won't answer in writing." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was posted Dec. 20, 2010, on at:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Missouri parent tells of "insanity" in reform classroom

Note from Laurie Rogers: Reform math, excessive constructivism, and persistent administrative arrogance and interference are not exclusive to Washington State. Together, they have sunk this great country into a mathematical Dark Ages, severely limiting the futures of millions of children and devastating our supply of STEM professionals.

Every week, I receive emails from perplexed, frustrated and angry parents, teachers and community advocates in states across America. Here is one sample, provided by a Missouri parent Dec. 8, 2010, and republished here with her permission:

[From personal email, Dec. 8, 2010]:


"I think you will find it interesting that in my son's elementary school, the teachers are only allowed to teach reform curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space....without any supplementation.

"When I found out that my son was sitting for 50 minutes per day during intervention time, allowed to draw, read any outside reading book, play games, or play on the computer -- I called the teacher and asked if I could send his math workbook from home that he worked in every night at home. I explained that it would be a much better use of his time during the day. I was told that I could.

"I sent the book, and quickly other parents were sending their children with the same books that were simply standard math practice with traditional algorithms. I was called to the principal's office. I was told that the book was not allowed. I was dumbfounded. My daughter, who was in that building the year before, had practiced in the same book the 2 years prior. She had the second highest score out of 400 of her peers on the math portion of the state standardized test.

"So, I clarified: 'You mean to tell me that my son can bring in a Stephen King novel, draw pictures, or play games, but you will not allow for him to better himself with math practice during math intervention?' I was told, 'That is true.' My husband and I walked out the door, and we decided to pull him out of that building that day.

"The crazy thing is that the 'games' were questions for no grade like, 'Write a chant or a song about a division problem.' Another was, 'If you met an alien who could not speak your language, draw portraits of what a multiplication problem will look like to them without using words.'

"INSANITY. Keep up the good work."

Stacy Shore, Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

[Later, Stacy Shore added a side note.]

"The other very alarming element of what we have been through here as of late is what happened when one mom went in to ask for copies of the 'extension activities' (that involve the writing chants, and drawing portraits for aliens, to name just a few of the ridiculous 'activities' our kids are being forced to do). When asked if we can have copies of all activities being offered to our children, we were told that we can come in and look at them, but we cannot have copies to take outside of the school. Our kids do not bring home copies of this homework, and without a couple of us parents going in and reviewing the 'activity box,' no one would realize what our kids are being forced to do.

"Insanity. And, our children are absolutely NOT allowed to practice standard algorithms in their free time. When we realized what was going on in 'secret,' if you will, we pulled our kids and ran."

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.


Saturday, December 4, 2010

Strengthen math program with "instructional" curriculum -- and with music

By John Barber, retired mechanical engineer and 1960 graduate of Shadle Park High School

(Article originally published December 4, 2010, in The Spokesman-Review. Republished on the Betrayed blog with permission from author John Barber.)

Are we wasting money teaching math to our students? Not as in: we shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Rather, as in: we are spending the money but not teaching them anything.

For Spokane Public Schools, at least, the answer is yes. The proof is in the test scores. In the 2010 state-wide proficiency test given to 10th graders, less than 40% of Spokane Public Schools’ students passed. The State apparently didn’t expect much of them; they put the passing grade at only about 57% - itself a level generally considered failing on most tests. So, over 60% of Spokane’s 10th graders failed to even get a failing grade.

As Spokane’s students leave high school, this deficiency in mathematics hampers their college careers. Nearly all of Spokane’s students enrolling at our two local community colleges must take remedial math there, math they should have mastered in high school.

I find these numbers, quite simply, appalling.

I am surprised there isn’t a massive hue and cry being raised over this. If I were a parent, I would be outraged at how our school system was failing my children. I speak simply as a resident of the community who is concerned about how we are educating our young people. And I am irritated at how poorly our tax money is being used in this regard.

So, what’s the cause? One sometimes hears complaints about the teachers themselves; but while there indeed may well be occasional teachers weak in the subject, placing blame on the teaching staff overall implies that across all of the district’s schools, throughout all of the grade range, there is hardly a decent one out there. This is patently ridiculous. Rather, the most likely cause, in the eyes of those observing it most closely, is the curriculum the District has chosen for teaching math.

The style of curriculum adopted by the district is of the type often described as “reform” or “discovery.” The philosophy underlying this style is that students will discover much of what they need to know themselves, without the need for actually learning anything about handling numbers (i.e., like long division). It is big on students working nicely together in groups, and big on the use of calculators (since they can’t handle numbers in the first place). This style of curriculum has been roundly criticized by mathematicians and university math educators alike as ineffective and even harmful to students’ ability to master math. But it has been the darling of the primary/secondary education establishment, and our local education administration seems enamored with it.

This problem is recognized by some in our community, who are calling attention to it loudly and clearly. They are, however, a smallish number, small enough that they seem to be easily ignored by the local education establishment.

So, what to do? Two things, for starters.

One is to change the curriculum, to the type sometimes referred to as “instructional.” As in, the teacher actually teaches (instructs), and the students learn. They learn the principles and the skills. There are a number of such curricula, with the Saxon and Singapore systems being representative. The principle feature that distinguishes this type of curriculum from the discovery variety is that with it, students actually learn their math. And test scores show it. Around the country, students in districts that use instructional curricula typically score much higher than those suffering under the discovery variety.

Number two might be a little surprising: music. While it has long been felt that active involvement in music helps students achieve academically, recent large scale studies have been showing just that, with actual test grades. Music seems to help train the mind and thinking processes to facilitate better performance in mathematics. The longer students stay involved in music, the more pronounced the effect. And it appears highly effective not only for the stronger students, but even more so for the weaker ones as well.

Music may help to compensate for an otherwise poor curriculum, such as that used in the Spokane schools. Think of it as something like a booster for a radio receiver, to enable it to better receive a weak signal.

However, that signal shouldn’t be allowed to remain weak; it should be strengthened, with a decent curriculum. And it should be bolstered with a strong music involvement (for those so inclined), either in school or privately, to further support the mathematics proficiency of our students.

Then perhaps we won’t be wasting our money teaching our kids math.

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

An Interview With Laurie H. Rogers, author of "Betrayed"

by Michael F. Shaughnessy, Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico

(Note: This interview was originally published Nov. 18, 2010 on, at
In this interview, Laurie H. Rogers, author of the "Betrayed" blog, discusses her book. Betrayed: How the Education Establishment Has Betrayed America and What You Can Do About It (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2011). The book is now available on

Michael Shaughnessy: Who is being “Betrayed” by the public school system in America?
Laurie Rogers: The education establishment is betraying the following groups:
  • The children, who aren’t getting the education they need;
  • Parents, who struggle to manage bored and frustrated children, who must pay for several college remedial classes, and who sometimes wind up with students who have given up and dropped out;
  • Teachers, who are micromanaged and disrespected in myriad ways by the bureaucracy and then blamed for the results;
  • Taxpayers, who pay hundreds of billions of dollars each year for a largely failing K-12 education system;
  • Businesses, which must recruit from other countries;
  • Government agencies and military organizations that struggle to fill critical jobs with qualified Americans;
  • The country, which teeters on the brink of economic and social disaster, crippled by a populace that is not acquiring sufficient skills or knowledge to properly run it or even to fully understand the challenges that face it.
The only people not being betrayed are those who feed off of our failing education system. Unfortunately, that group gets larger every year.

Michael Shaughnessy: Why did you write this book?

Laurie Rogers: I wrote this book so I could be heard over the clamor of the well-heeled, self-interested groups that currently run public education. My goal is to give parents, teachers and policy makers a clear view of why the American public education system is failing the children. Tons of education data, statistics and reports float around every year, and yet, in all of that, the children’s reality is hard to find. This book faces down that information and shows the children’s stark reality and the bleak future they face.

But there is hope. Schools can be fixed. Alternatives are out there. The children can be saved. I wrote this book to give people a template for how to force the public accountability and transparency that is critical to a strong and healthy system, and to give them the knowledge they need to make informed choices on the students’ behalf. If the people are engaged and work together, they can save the students. It can be done.

Michael Shaughnessy: Are the schools simply being asked to do too much, with too few resources, and with too little training?

Laurie Rogers: In my view, no, to all of the above. Administrators say they’re being asked to do too much, that they don’t have enough money, that teachers need more training, and that parents are uninvolved. But the real mission of public school – academics – is not too much to do. Parents and community members want schools to prepare our students academically for postsecondary life. This mission is neither difficult nor expensive. Unfortunately, what we ask for isn’t being done.

Instead of paying for student academic learning, taxpayer money pays for social issues, office buildings, travel, luxurious administrator salaries, layers of assistants, conferences, studies, and cool technology. Instead of focusing on academics, administrators distract students for assemblies, parties, days off, excessive testing, and other nonacademic events. Instead of allowing teachers to teach, administrators constantly pull them out of class for “professional development” in failed teaching methodology, coaching, collaboration, conferences and committees. Administrators refuse to get out of the way, then wring their hands, say it isn’t their fault, and claim to need more money.

Administrators have built a system that serves the administrators. If everything is someone else’s fault, they don’t have to take responsibility for it. But even with K-12 expenditures in 2009 of $658 billion, administrators say there isn’t enough money to do the job. If schools focused on their mission – academics – much in public education would improve. If schools are in a box, it’s a box they built.

Michael Shaughnessy: Children with special needs. Are they being ignored, betrayed, minimally serviced and assisted, or all of the above?

Laurie Rogers: All of the above. Comparatively little money in this nation goes to support gifted education, which is a special need. However, despite the biblical flood of money that goes to various disadvantaged groups and to special-education groups, the system fails them, too. Look at the gaps in achievement between white and Asian groups and all other groups. Many of these children get one shot at a good education. If they aren’t being taught what they need to know, then all of the money in the world won’t help. We’re nearly three-quarters of the way toward spending a trillion dollars each year on K-12 education, and it mostly fails. A focus away from rigorous academics helps no one. A failing system fails everyone.

Michael Shaughnessy: How can a regular teacher, even well trained in differentiation, hope to comprehensively teach a class of 30 or 40 students?
Laurie Rogers: A teacher can teach 30 to 40 students if they begin at about the same place. It happens every day around the world. Every teacher “differentiates” to some degree every day. But “differentiated instruction,” as a school policy and as a way of dealing with 30 to 40 wildly diverse learners, is just jargon. It captures the rose-colored imagination of those who sit comfortably in an office, but it isn’t workable. Can teachers get through the day trying to manage 30 to 40 diverse learners? Sure. Will students learn something? Sure. Will they learn what they need to learn so they can pass standardized tests, meet the standards, be well prepared for the next level, and eventually graduate with the skills they need for postsecondary life? It’s doubtful. Look around, at any real measure of student achievement. It doesn’t work.

Given “inclusion,” large classes, “social promotion,” weak curricular materials, constant distraction from academics, a teacher who is constantly pulled away from class, and an obsession with time-consuming group work and “discovery” – you can see that teachers face an impossible job. And yet, the national trend is toward blaming teachers. It’s ridiculous, but here we are. This is what teachers face.

Michael Shaughnessy: What’s going on in Spokane, WA, and are you going to write another book?
Laurie Rogers: Spokane Public Schools is a poster child for everything that’s wrong in public education. Here, it’s devastating for children and teachers.

After four years of education advocacy, I perceive that the problem is central-office decision-makers, who appear to be married to failing curricular materials, to failing teaching methodology, and to their constant parade of professional development programs. Some have stated publicly to the school board that they don’t know how to fix the math problem and don’t know which of their “intervention” programs are working. They don’t always follow the will or the intent of the school board, there are few opportunities to publicly ask questions of them, and they constantly blame teachers, parents and students. Far from being fired, this last summer, most of them got an increase in pay.

Will I write another book? Let’s see how the first one does. I’m presenting the people with an uncomfortable message. Placing our trust in administrators [and board directors] has given us this incompetent system that fails our children every day, and that delivers our high-school graduates (and high-school dropouts) into a life for which most of them are unprepared. I know there will be huge resistance to my message from those who feed happily off of this system. But I also know the situation can’t continue indefinitely. When students can’t follow their dreams, can’t get into college, aren’t prepared for any future they envisioned, where will they go? How will the system continue to absorb them? Who will run this country a generation from now? The people must decide what sort of public-education system they want, and the education system will determine what kind of country we have.

Michael Shaughnessy: Did Washington get the message?
Laurie Rogers: It depends on who you are and what sort of message you wanted them to get. I’m frustrated with the country’s overall leadership – at local, state and federal levels. There isn’t much respect for the people, and I see a lot of arrogance and self-serving behavior. But who is to blame for this? Some taxpayers inexplicably voted for candidates who made egregious errors in judgment and behavior. The American people must continue to engage in all decision-making, but in particular to retain an ethical and honorable voting system. It’s our last resort, and once that’s gone, it’s gone forever.

I do hope the people will rise up to resist the federalization of public education. I’ve seen nothing at local, state or federal levels that leads me to believe the federal plan will be focused on the needs of the children instead of on the wants of the well-heeled so-called “stakeholders” who stand to gain from “transforming” the system. Additionally, for all intents and purposes, this federalization will remove local voices from the process.

Michael Shaughnessy: Tell us about your Web site. What would one find there?

Laurie Rogers: I hope people find truth on that blog – passion, dedication to the children, fairness, and a questioning, journalistic mind. I’ve written all of my life, but the children motivate me. I’ve seen them cry over their schoolwork, and I’ve seen them standing in the school hallway, perplexed at why things aren’t working for them. It hurts my heart. As a child advocate, I can’t help but reach out.

My website focuses on mathematics because math is a gatekeeper. Students need it for college or the trades, for entry into the workforce, the military, or business ownership. People who don’t have basic math skills are limited in so many ways. Math also is the “canary in the coal mine.” It sings loudly about what’s gone awry in public education.

Math is simple to teach to children, and they like math, right up until their enjoyment is beaten right out of them by the idiot way so many public schools deliver it. Many school districts depend on “reform” math curricula, which de-emphasize (or remove) standard algorithms, practice, memorization, and procedural skill. Additionally, children are supposed to “construct” their own meaning and work in groups to teach each other. These curricula and methods appeal to people who are blind to the students’ daily reality.

Michael Shaughnessy: What have I neglected to ask?
Laurie Rogers: Here's a question: What does a good education system require?

My book discusses the Square of Effective Learning – a square of four factors that bear directly on learning. The Square includes effective teachers, rigorous and efficient curriculum, focused learning environment, and prepared student. With a dedicated and deliberate focus on just those four critical “needs,” and a step away from the adult “wants” that cost taxpayers so much money, we could turn things around within a year.

A second question is: What does the future hold for public education?
That depends on the people. If parents and teachers can resist the negative messages that divide them, and instead work together to take back the classroom, many good things can happen. The country is desperate, the children are desperate, the taxpayer is desperate, and businesses are desperate. People must rise up and insist on the education system they want. It’s a pretty good thing to do for the children and the country.

A third question is: Which book should someone write?
I would like to see a book that accounts for the $658 billion spent from all sources on K-12 education last year, and for the $664 billion projected for this year. Does someone have it in a sock drawer? Did it fall out of the truck? Where did it go?

I also would like to see an investigative report on the funding, organization and creation of the Race to the Top grant initiative, the Common Core State Standards, and the consortiums that are building tests for the CCSS. That would be a very interesting book. Maybe I’ll write it.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. For proper attribution, please contact Laurie H. Rogers, author of "Betrayed."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

SPS brushes off math concerns in meeting devoted to math concerns

By Laurie H. Rogers

In October, Spokane Superintendent Nancy Stowell asked parents in the Citizens Advisory Council what we want to discuss in future meetings. Resoundingly, we said: mathematics. Thus, the agenda of the Nov. 8 CAC meeting was to discuss mathematics. But the Nov. 8 meeting was tightly controlled. There was little opportunity for parent discussion of mathematics.

Citizens Advisory Council Meeting, Nov. 8, 2010, 6:45 p.m.
District administrators devoted the first part of the Nov. 8 meeting to issues other than mathematics.
  • Board member Dr. Jeff Bierman discussed the district’s bond sale and the district's wonderful bond rating. (It’s lovely how wonderful the district’s bond rating is, even when the district’s academic programs are so poor.)
  • Tim Henkel, of the United Way, asked parents to partner with the United Way. He handed out a sign-up sheet. (I signed his sheet. Why not? Perhaps he can get the district to change the K-8 math materials.)
  • Dr. Stowell discussed a “longitudinal study” the district will conduct to determine specific characteristics and “markers” of children who “get off track” in school.
Perhaps the student "characteristics" and "markers" include having to suffer with constant group work, discovery and a bass-ackward way of learning math and grammar. Perhaps they include difficulty with terrible math programs and weak state math tests. A 2006 study from Johns Hopkins researchers Robert Balfanz and Ruth Curran Neild found an increasing likelihood of students to drop out when they begin failing math and English classes. (Hmm. Perhaps it is Spokane administrators who are “off track.”)
At about 20 minutes in, the district finally began talking about mathematics. Presenting were Tammy Campbell, Rick Biggerstaff, Kim Dennis, Laura Ketcham-Duchow, and Michelle McKenzie. Dr. Campbell said a few times that the district would “continue to raise achievement in mathematics.”
(Uh… “Continue to raise achievement”?? What fuzzy math is this? On which planet is she living? Spokane has steadily sinking pass rates on math tests and extremely high remedial rates in math at area community colleges.)

The district presentation included these topics: Collaboration in Buildings, Principals’ Conferences; Walk-Throughs; Data-Driven Dialogue; Standards-Based Grading and Reporting; Professional Development; Coaching; and Curriculum.

According to Dr. Campbell, Biggerstaff, Dennis, Ketcham-Duchow and McKenzie all “work with teachers to build their capacity.” They are “professional development leaders,” as well as writers of curriculum.
Oh, yeah. I’m sure this is how teachers see the administrators exactly. The Nov. 8 presentation did nothing to alleviate my perception that administrators think the math problem is the fault of teachers, parents and students. Indeed, based on this district presentation, it seems likely that teachers will continue to be obstructed, disrupted, and pulled out of class to be professionally developed, coached, monitored, and stuck in “lab classrooms” where they will waste valuable class time watching other teachers. It seems administrators will continue to “collaborate” about them, monitor them, “walk-through” their classrooms to “brief” them and “debrief” them, and then continue to pound them to death with “professional development” in failed instructional dogma.
My perception is that, when all of this disruption and obstruction continues to NOT work for the students, teachers will continue to be criticized, patronized, and disciplined. (Later, administrators can tell teachers that parents are the problem. At no time will anyone hear that administrators continue to be the problem.)
I raised my hand to ask if there is a limit on how many hours Spokane teachers can be absent from the classroom for district-initiated reasons, but administrators moved on without calling on me.

An administrator discussed the new emphasis on data-driven dialogue (which is where, mind you, the emphasis should always have been).
OMG. If you thought the WASL wasted too much class time on data that went nowhere and accomplished nothing, just wait until you see what students face now: End-of-unit assessments, the MSP, the HSPE, and the MAP in fall, winter, and spring. Not only will teachers be continually pulled out of class, students also will be “missing in action” each time the district wants more fake data.
Of course, recent student data already tell administrators a devastating story of failed reform curricula, and of confusing and counterproductive methodology forced daily on the teachers. But listening to administrators talk Nov. 8, it seems these data tell them students are doing well. Better than students across the state (which appears to be all they care about). And everyone loves the administrators. And they love themselves. And they dress well, too, because $100,000/year can buy some really nice shoes.
I raised my hand to offer current student data and to ask what it shows them, but administrators moved on without calling on me. I did manage to ask how all of their data will translate into change for the students. Dr. Campbell mentioned “grouping” and “interventions.”
Hmm. What I’ve been hearing from parents is that students are being “grouped” into “high” and “low” math classes, which does not seem helpful to students' self-esteem. I wonder how many students would be in a “low” class if all of their teachers had been allowed to teach them basic arithmetic skills. What kind of intervention can it be when administrators don’t appear to value basic arithmetic skills, and they actively interfere with teachers who want to teach them?
Over the years, I’ve asked various administrators, principals and board directors to help me – or at least allow me – or at least allow someone – to start a free district tutoring program in arithmetic. To no avail.

An administrator presented graphs showing how Spokane students achieve more than students across the state. Also discussed were “strand data,” and the SAT, NAEP, and TIMSS, all of which supposedly point to student success in Spokane.
In my opinion, this piece of the presentation was so selective, manipulative, deceptive and shameless, it’s hard to believe the administrator didn’t just melt into a pool of muck on the floor.

When you look at actual pass rates on the WASL, MSP, and HSPE, you can’t help but weep for the children. Look at the pass rates for 2010: (“Pass rates on 2010 math tests shocking”).
The presentation handout doesn’t cite sources for this “strand data.” It just lists outlandish claims of student performance on unnamed "strands." As for the SAT, NAEP, and TIMSS – what do they say about Spokane? Where is specific data on our students? Were the tested students homeschooled? Were they tutored? Did any actually attend Spokane schools?
I raised my hand to ask about specific data on Spokane’s 10th-graders and middle-schoolers, but administrators moved on without calling on me.

During the standards-based grading piece of the presentation, district administrators discussed the new “standards-based grading,” which has caused smart, capable students in Spokane to burst into tears.
Repeat after me: Grading does not improve math achievement. Done well, grading can tell us how the district is performing. But in Spokane, grading is done with standards-based grading, and this kind of grading is particularly good at hiding a weak math program. In Spokane, nearly everyone gets an A or a B. Few excel. Few fall behind. Everyone is pretty much the same, regardless of what they know. Rest assured that all college admissions people in Washington know this.
During the “curriculum” piece of the district presentation, Rick Biggerstaff did not talk about curricular materials. Instead, he talked about how the district planned to build a standards document to hand out to parents.

In Spokane Public Schools, “curriculum” has come to mean “standards.” (I think “standards” has come to mean “cow patty,” and “cow patty” now means “all parent and teacher input,” especially the input they find disagreeable.)
At the state level in 2008, incredibly well-qualified people collectively spent $1.6 million of taxpayer money to build Grade A math standards for Washington State. (Of course, those state standards include algorithms and arithmetic, which in Spokane Public Schools are a definite no-no.)
Regardless of what you think of when you think of “curriculum” – textbooks, standards, or criterion objectives – just know that at no time on Nov. 8 did administrators talk about Spokane’s execrable K-8 curricular materials. Not until I asked, that is.
I raised my hand to mention that their discussion of “curriculum” had become a discussion of standards, that good state math standards were already built, and why would the district waste taxpayer money writing standards for parents (which – pardon me for being a cynic – will almost certainly include heavy elements of reform dogma)? Administrators moved on without calling on me. This snubbing was so obvious, other parents began to laugh.
After our “small group discussion,” which arrived at the hour mark and lasted just a few minutes, I was allowed to ask if Spokane’s K-8 curricular materials would be replaced. Dr. Campbell said if the data warranted looking at the materials, they would.
If? IF?? Spokane has a 38.9% pass rate on the 10th grade math tests, pass rates in some middle schools that hover around 30-40%, and high remedial rates in math in college. The student data warrants lighting a match, setting our reform math curricula on fire, and then, when they are nothing but ash and dirt, locking them in a box and throwing them into the deepest, darkest part of the ocean, tied down with a large rock so they can never, ever resurface.
But administrators have beat Spokane teachers half to death with discovery and reform, and it seems they are not about to change now.
The Biggerstaff/Dennis/Ketcham-Duchow/McKenzie/Campbell/Stowell team talked confidently about what they’re doing to continue to improve math education in Spokane.

It was shocking. Shameless. It warrants firing. But who will fire them? The superintendent listened without comment. The school board directors voted this summer for administrator raises. Clearly, it’s up to you and me.
  • Teacher unions and staff unions can vote no-confidence in the superintendent, the school board, and the district. They can threaten to give up. When that doesn't have an effect, they can walk out.
  • Taxpayers can say no to levies and bonds.
  • Parents can continue to pull their children out of math classes, out of schools, and out of the district altogether.
I believe Spokane's current district decision-makers will never listen to teachers, parents or students. Yet, district residents must keep giving them our tax dollars, whether we like it or not. This sorry situation warrants legislative changes.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (November 2010). "SPS brushes off math concerns in meeting devoted to math concerns." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:  

Friday, November 12, 2010

Common Sense Reform, Evidence, and Faith Based Education

By J.R. Wilson

(Originally published October 19, 2010, on
Republished on the Betrayed blog with permission from author J.R. Wilson.)

The reform agenda promoted and supported by President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan includes STEM schools, longer school days, longer school years, national standards, national assessments, charter schools, merit pay and evaluation of teachers based on student test scores, and school restructuring. What evidence supporting these measures have they provided? What are they basing their decisions on? A search did not uncover any evidence or reference to empirical research findings but found some interesting statements supporting their reform measures.

The commitment the President made to “restoring integrity to science policy, and making decisions on the basis of evidence, rather than ideology” could and should be extended to education since part of his science policy includes improving achievement in math and science. Ever wonder what evidence the President and his Secretary of Education provide for decisions made regarding major reform measures?

Research has been conducted on some of the reform measures. If one really scrutinizes the findings, the evidence does not always support the reform practice. Often, anecdotal evidence and ideological reports are accepted in lieu of empirical evidence. Let’s see what kind of supporting evidence and rationale are being used to promote the slate of currently vogue reform measures.

The President has indicated the Race to the Top requirements are “based on the very best evidence about what works”. The evidence seems to lie in the consensus Arne Duncan and educational experts arrived at about what will produce results. Consensus apparently is now a form of evidence-based policymaking where evidence is optional. Sounds great, doesn’t it? It’s of no consequence whether or not empirical evidence supports a reform as long as we all agree that it ought to work. That’s a good enough reason to subject students across the country to the reform impact. States are being told, asked, bribed, and possibly coerced with NCLB, RTTT, and A Blueprint for Reform to adopt many of the Administration’s reform measures, “few of which are truly ‘evidence-based’.”

When Arne Duncan was asked what evidence supports the common sense reforms, as he refers to them, he answered, "I think there’s a lot of scientific evidence that the status quo doesn’t work." This unspecified scientific evidence is justification for drastic unproven reform measures. Basically, we know what is happening now isn’t working so let’s institute this or that reform, never mind that no evidence supports the reform and in some cases evidence shows the promoted reform is not effective. The current Administration has become the status quo.

Certainly, we can easily reach consensus that the status quo doesn’t work, therefore, common sense justifies the use of any reform measure we believe will improve schools. Are our nation’s leaders setting a decision making example for educational leaders and administrators at the local and state level with their decision strategies or are they mirroring strategies already in use across the country? Have our leaders lost their way? Have we been led astray? Are our decision makers exercising the highly coveted critical thinking and deep understanding we so want to develop in our students? Is the education problem in this country really more of a political problem?

Consider the examples of a few reform measures. A failing school will certainly fail no more if it is closed as one of the restructuring options. What about the students? Does losing their community neighborhood school ensure success in a new setting? Where is the empirical research showing students from a closed failed school make greater academic gains than students from a failed school with similar demographics that remains open? While common sense may say it is reasonable to use student test scores to determine teacher effectiveness, research findings indicate this practice is unstable and unreliable. Where’s the research that shows using merit pay as an incentive results in improved student achievement scores?

Current political practices are such that available evidence is often ignored, misused, misinterpreted, or skewed to favor the prevailing favored faith based (and often vendor-based) common sense reform measures. Before buying into the boilerplate blather about a reform’s expected efficacy, you are encouraged to do your own review of the research. Dig deeper for evidence to see if more than common sense and scientific evidence about the status quo supports the latest reform fads.

Where will the implementation of the reform measures supported by common sense, consensus, and faith-based education lead us? Robert Pondiscio says it well in Nineteen Points and One Very Bad Idea: “Fast-forward. It is 2016. After a years of holding teachers accountable for short-term gains, and creating incentives that actively work against the buildup of knowledge, with disappointing results, we wake up and realize we are going about this the wrong way. A few look back and say we should have listened to our Cassandras. But other energetic, well-meaning reformers see it another way. Instead of realizing we have fatally neglected a robust curriculum, that we are reaping what we have sown, they will conclude that as a nation we simply have no good 8th grade reading teachers. Aggressive, immediate action is needed.”

No doubt, we will once again have the opportunity to ignore and/or misinterpret the evidence, identify new reform measures to inflict on the education system, and start a new cycle once teachers have been blamed and thoroughly punished.

(J.R. Wilson is a parent and an education advocate with 25+ years experience in public education as an elementary teacher, curriculum consultant, staff development coordinator, and principal.)

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union

By Laurie H. Rogers


You think you’ve heard everything. You think public education is as weak as it can be. Then, you go to another school board meeting, and it goes wrong in an entirely new way.

On Oct. 13, the teachers union and a few hundred teachers and staff members went to a Spokane Public Schools board meeting to protest administrative salary increases. I wasn’t there; I was at home, teaching math to my daughter. I’m homeschooling her in math this year, as I did two years ago, because central-office administrators keep interfering with, micromanaging, and basically destroying Spokane’s K-12 math instruction.

On Oct. 13, the teachers and staff filled up the central-office boardroom and spilled out into the hall. Accounts of their protest of the salary increases indicated that – despite the large crowd – they remained respectful and polite. After they finished speaking, they left. An SEA representative stayed behind.

At the Oct. 27 board meeting, that SEA representative recounted to the board some of the things she had heard on the evening of Oct. 13, after the teachers, staff and media had left. According to the representative, three board directors and the superintendent had a lot to say about the teachers and the union leadership. As I listened to the representative tell her story, my mouth dropped open. If the comments she cited had been said about me, I would classify them as untrue, unkind, inappropriate, unprofessional, and even childish.

After the SEA representative chastised the superintendent and three board directors for these comments, no one from the board or district issued any sort of explanation, contradiction or apology; they just moved on.

Having been an education advocate for four years, I feel her pain. From district emails I’ve gotten through FOIA requests, and also based on comments from people who work for the district, I know I’ve been criticized, mocked and undermined – not to my face, where I could challenge the statements and answer the charges – but behind my back. This type of behavior is unprofessional and cowardly. It speaks volumes about how much administrators value and respect the teachers and staff who care about the children, parents who try to be involved, and taxpayers who foot the bill.

Speaking of taxpayers, let’s discuss those administrative raises.

I wasn’t expecting administrators to get a raise this year. The salaries of most administrators are either more than $100,000 or hover in the near vicinity. One hundred and forty-six administrators (not including the superintendent) will make a combined total this year of $13,875,860 in base pay – an average of $95,040 each. More to the point, a number of them should be fired, especially in the execrable Department of Teaching & Learning.

Spokane has a 28.7% cohort dropout rate, a dropout problem in middle school, a drop of about 2,500 full-time equivalent students over the last eight years, and a 38.9% pass rate on the 10th grade math test (a test that required just 56.9% to pass). Four high schools have a 100% remediation rate in math at SCC. Most of the graduates who test into remedial math at SCC or SFCC test into elementary algebra or below – about half of those fail or withdraw early. Few students seem to know any grammar. In the 2008 district survey of families that left Spokane Public Schools, parents did NOT tend to complain about teachers; a full third said, however, that they left the school district because of the curriculum.

Teachers are not at fault, and they aren’t why I pulled my daughter out of two math classes. I pulled her out because of the weak curriculum and because of the refusal of central-office administrators to allow the teachers to teach. Administrators micromanage the teachers, call their professionalism and quality into question, undermine and discredit their concerns, set them up for failure, and then blame them. Caught in the middle are the students, most of whom will graduate (or drop out) without the skills they need for postsecondary life. There are excellent teachers in this district who want to teach my daughter math and grammar. But there is a barrier between us, and that barrier is the district administration.

Meanwhile, the constant administrator refrain is that we have a “problem in Spokane with quality teaching.” We also hear that there is no money for tutoring, no money for smaller classes, no money for libraries, Pratt Elementary School, office supplies, extracurricular activities, or custodial staff. No money, no money, no money. The superintendent said she supports the federal Race to the Top Initiative because she’s “desperate” for money. This district has cut teaching and staff positions to save on costs. And yet, there is this money for administrative raises.

I’ve heard the “reasons” for these raises:
  1. Administrators have to earn more than their principals.
    • Says who? (Oh, right. The administrators.)
    • District administrators are the ones who negotiate the principals’ salaries. And the principals’ raises led to administrator raises. Can you say “conflict of interest”?
  2. The central office supposedly does more with fewer people.
    • For the school year 2010-2011, the district has 3 more administrators and will spend nearly $700,000 more on administrator salaries than it did two years ago.
  3. This extra taxpayer money will encourage administrators to begin making data-driven decisions.
    • Making data-driven decisions is already their job, albeit one they refuse to do.
    • Why would anyone give rewards to people who refuse to do their job, in the hope that the reward will somehow convince them to start doing it?
    • Rather than trying to convince administrators to do their job, how about if we start firing them when they don’t?
I sat in the Oct. 27 school board “Community Outreach,” trying to convince a board director that Spokane’s K-8 math curricula – which have been criticized across the country since their development, which I have criticized for four years, which have no supporting data behind them, and which have produced an entire generation of students who lack arithmetic skills – are flawed. He’s been on the board since 1996. I don’t have the sense that he gets it.

Then, I sat in the Oct. 27 board meeting, listening to the head of the district’s Department of Teaching & Learning make little sense as she attempted to explain how the district “knows” when our students do have sufficient math skills. That administrator received a bump in pay this summer of $6,337, bringing her annual base pay to $129,299.

Absolutely Un...Be...Lievable.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Board directors, superintendent show disrespect to teachers, union." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

A version of this commentary was published in The Spokesman-Review on Nov. 6, 2010, under the heading "Schools' pay too high at the top." See this link:

This commentary also was published on on Oct. 31, 2010. See this link:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WTM: WA legislators should vote against CCSS adoption

(Note from Laurie Rogers: The following is a statement from Where's the Math? a mathematics advocacy group in Washington State. The complete statement has been reproduced here with permission from the WTM executive committee. For more -- including comparisons between the common core mathematics standards and Washington State's current mathematics standards -- see the WTM Web site at


Where’s the Math?
Washington State Legislature Should Vote Against Adoption
of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics
October 12, 2010

During the upcoming legislative session, Washington State must decide whether to replace our State’s recently improved math standards with a new and evolving set of national education guidelines, the Common Core State Standards. Over the past five years, Where’s The Math? (WTM) has advocated for rigorous, coherent, and internationally competitive mathematics education for all Washington students. WTM has carefully compared the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) against the mathematics standards Washington State adopted in 2008. The CCSS for mathematics possess significant weaknesses and are not ready for adoption in Washington State or nationwide.

Where’s the Math? urges the WA State Legislature to NOT ADOPT the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, based on a number of concerns:

  • The CCSS have major weaknesses compared to existing Washington State math standards. Reviews of both standards by the Fordham Foundation and WTM have noted the superior clarity and organization of the current Washington standards. The CCSS delays teaching important mathematics skills. Throwing out current state standards in favor of the CCSS would waste an investment of tens of millions of dollars in curricula, training, and assessment.
  • There is no funding for the adoption of the CCSS in Washington State. Washington is unlikely to receive any near-term funding through Race to the Top grants, and any awards received would only cover a small portion of adoption costs. The costly implementation of these standards must be absorbed by the state and cash-strapped districts.
  • Adopting the CCSS takes control of standards away from Washington State. The CCSS was produced by a closed group, and conditionally approved by many states without review. States have been pressured with financial incentives and no consideration for possible consequences of nationwide adoption prior to rigorous evaluation in actual classrooms. The limited local discretion permitted by the CCSS process (15%), and the necessity for states to pay for any additional assessments, make significant local enhancements to the CCSS impractical.
  • The CCSS represents an unevaluated work-in-process. The CCSS is untested and unevaluated in the classroom. A proposed national standard should undergo rigorous testing in a limited number of districts or states before it is adopted nationally. Furthermore, an associated assessment exam has not been created. Clearly, there should be no commitment to the CCSS until it is thoroughly reviewed and tested, and an assessment exam is completed and evaluated.

WTM recommends:

  • The WA Legislature should vote against adoption of the CCSS. The legislature should introduce and pass a bill during the 2010-11 session refusing the adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
  • Washington State should remain engaged in the CCSS process at the national level, including making recommendations for improvements in the standards and their assessment. This process should be modified to give states the latitude to use the CCSS to improve existing standards rather than requiring that the CCSS be adopted in their entirety.
  • The WA Legislature should encourage public input. Any future consideration of the CCSS should be open to public scrutiny and comment. The legislature should establish multiple opportunities for community members to interact with local and state officials in public forums where their questions and concerns can be aired and addressed.
There is little to gain from the adoption of untested national standards, and potentially much to lose.

Where’s The Math? (WTM) is a statewide math advocacy group comprised of concerned citizens seeking a balanced and rigorous mathematics education for Washington’s kids. Our mission is to ensure that all Washington State students have an equal opportunity to compete successfully in the international economy by aligning our state math standards, assessments and curricula to those of top performing nations in the world. WTM chapters are organized across the state, with members volunteering in schools, on local PTAs, as elected school board directors, and lobbying elected officials to make Washington State the mathematics role model for the country. Visit for more information.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Children's Investment Fund: Vote "No"

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated Oct. 9, 2010, with information about certain members of the Children's Investment Fund steering committee.)
A brochure and postcard came to my door last weekend, asking me to vote “yes” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund, a proposed property tax. The brochure acknowledges Spokane’s “persistently troubling dropout rate,” then states: “While our public school system is doing all that it can” to close achievement gaps, “it truly is a community-wide problem” that “demands” taxpayer “attention” and “resources.”
If the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is approved in November, taxpayers will pay $30 million over six years for programs to prevent child abuse, engage children after school, provide early-learning opportunities, and offer mentoring. These programs, the brochure assures us without any proof or data whatsoever, will reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
This $30 million levy would be in addition to the federal, state and local taxes you already pay for education and social services. Spokane Public Schools currently spends more than $10,000 per student per year. According to the state education agency, 68% of that expenditure goes toward “learning.” It’s actually worse than that. Money for “learning” is not the same thing as money for “the classroom.”
The brochure for the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund says, again without proof, that Seattle and Portland have had “remarkable” success with their versions of a voter-approved children’s levy. What does it mean to be “remarkable”? The brochure doesn’t say.
I already know that Seattle has issues with on-time graduation, so I looked into the data.
In 1990, Seattle voters approved a “children’s” levy, called the “Families & Education Levy.” At the time, according to Seattle Public Schools, Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 81%. In the 14 years between 1990 and 2004, Seattle taxpayers paid $138 million for the Families & Education Levy. In the seven years between 2004 and 2012 – you’ll love this – they’re slated to spend nearly $118.6 million on the levy. In 2008/2009, after 18 years of paying for the Families & Education Levy:
  • Seattle’s on-time graduation rate was 70.1% (a drop from 1990 of nearly 11%). For black students, the on-time graduation rate was 55.2%.
  • Just 75.3% of Seattle’s 2009 student cohort remained in school through Grade 12, giving Seattle a cohort dropout rate of 24.7%. (For black students, the cohort dropout rate was 38.1%).
    That is, indeed, remarkable.
In Portland, Ore., the annual $12.5 million “Children’s Levy” has been in place since 2002. According to an America’s Promise report called “Cities in Crisis 2009: Closing the Graduation Gap,” in 2005, Portland’s metropolitan graduation rate was 72.8%. In 2008/2009, the Oregon Department of Education reports, Portland’s graduation rate was 70.1%.
After eight years and $100 million for the Children’s Levy, Portland’s graduation rate failed to improve. Remarkable.
In 2002, Dade County voters approved “The Children’s Trust” levy. Six years later, voters approved the levy “in perpetuity.” It will be 2020 before they get another chance to say no to it. In 2008/2009, after hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on The Children’s Trust levy, Miami’s cohort graduation rate was 68.2%. Remarkable.
Here's something else you should know:
The Communities in Schools program (a national program located in several cities, including Spokane) is supposedly a leading dropout prevention program. The CIS program does not provide data or research supporting its program, although it claims to be "proven" to work. An organization called ICF International is conducting a study of community-in-schools programs. This study is incomplete.
  • Ben Stuckart is executive director of the Spokane chapter of CIS, and he also is on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Doug Durham is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Doug Durham on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
  • Lee Taylor is on the board of directors for Spokane's CIS, and there is a Lee Taylor on the Advisory Steering Committee for the Children's Investment Fund
On the Mike Fitzsimmons KXLY radio show Thursday, Oct. 8, Ben Stuckart did not mention his connection to CIS until he was asked what else he did for a living, a question which came well into the show. And when he was asked what he going to do after the vote on the Fund, he did not mention the CIS. The materials for the Fund do not mention the connection between CIS and the Fund. The public is not being properly informed about that connection.
Please vote “no” to the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund property tax initiative. Money isn’t going to fix Spokane’s dropout rate. Vote no, ask your family and friends to vote no, and ask the businesses and organizations that support this levy to withdraw their support.
You are being asked, during an economic downturn, to tax yourselves in support of a nebulous program, run by as-yet unknown mayoral appointees, who will give grants to as-yet unknown organizations, which supposedly will be able to (through as-yet undetermined extracurricular services), reduce Spokane’s dropout rate.
Spokane Public Schools has a dropout problem, no doubt about it. Its 2008/2009 on-time graduation rate was 62.1%. For black students, it was 54.6%. Just 71.3% of the 2009 cohort was still in school in Grade 12, giving Spokane a cohort dropout rate of 28.7%. (The black cohort dropout rate was 32.8%.)
Clearly, something needs to be done in Spokane, but the Spokane Children’s Investment Fund is the wrong tool for this job. According to the initiative's brochure, any grantees will have to show “proven effectiveness and successful track records in fighting the root causes of school dropouts.” But if their track records actually were proven, why is Spokane staring at a 28.7% cohort dropout rate? Why would the levy even be needed?
What exactly are those “root causes”? Could some of them have to do with Spokane Public Schools’ counterproductive academic policies?
  • Spokane Public Schools has a habit of cluttering the school day with nonacademic activities, events, parties, assemblies and “character classes.”
  • The school district’s absolute and unwavering commitment to constructivism (or “discovery learning”) prevents teachers from directly teaching the students critical subjects such as arithmetic and grammar. Every day, students are guided into muddling in herds, teaching themselves and each other, deferring to groupthink and attempting to reach “consensus” on things they don’t understand.
  • District policy is to socially promote students to the next grade regardless of what they know. Standard operating procedure is to plunk them into advanced classes for which they’re insufficiently prepared. In response to queries about these policies, administrators have said to me: “Even if they don’t pass, students must have learned something while they’re there.”
At some point, do you suppose students give up? I can’t imagine suffering with this terrible process for 30 hours out of every week. Can you? How will the Children’s Investment Fund have a positive impact on these disastrous policies? How will that additional $30 million translate into improved graduation rates? Where is the data to support this tax initiative?
Supporters of the initiative want you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “yes” to this tax initiative. I’m asking you to vote “yes” for the children by voting “no” to this initiative. I’m asking you to push Spokane Public Schools to give up on its failing policies, to fire its ineffective administrators, and to give its corps of teachers the freedom to teach their students a strong curriculum in a focused learning environment.

Most of what Spokane administrators need to do for our students is just get out of the way.
Let’s see where we are then with our dropout rates.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (October 2010). "Children's Investment Fund: Vote "no"." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ethnicity, Racism and Math…

by Nick Diaz

(Originally published August 31, 2010, on
Republished on the Betrayed blog with permission from author Nick Diaz,,
and from John Ashbury, editor and publisher of

In early 2009, I was coaching the MATHCOUNTS competition team at The Barnesville School, then my place of employment. MATHCOUNTS is a nationwide system of mathematics competitions, open to middle schools students in the USA.

Students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades, in public, private, and home schools are eligible to participate. From 1986 through 2009, I coached the math teams at Gov. Thomas Johnson Middle School in Frederick, Middletown Middle, and at Barnesville.

As the four Barnesville eighth graders were getting ready for the upcoming state competition, one of my “mathletes” mentioned that our team didn’t have much of a chance of placing high, because, after all, we didn’t have Asian students on our team. After all, Asian students from China, India, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan are inherently good at math, and better than anyone else.

The stereotyping of Asian students goes on, unabated, throughout our society. I consider this to be as racist an attitude as outright negative discrimination based on skin color and cultural differences.

The general attitude is that Asians are good at math because they’re smarter, can learn math much faster, know “stuff” more deeply, and are much quicker at arriving at answers. Finally, Asian students are good at math because, after all, they’re Asian.

Not only children, but also adults, share this bigoted view of the world; this is unfortunate, since two evils emanate from such attitude:

It allows people to believe that scholarly achievement, particularly in mathematics and science, is determined by genes and by ethnic extraction. This is not so; academic achievement is due to hard work and dedication, to focusing on the importance of learning for its own sake, and on being willing to practice, practice, practice…

It gives those of us who are not of Asian extraction the excuse not to perform at a high level in mathematics, science, engineering, or other similar pursuits. After all, Asians are automatically better, so why try?

It occurred to me then that my Barnesville team members deserved an explanation that was based on general mathematical principles. So, I get up on my high horse and began telling my young students to stop the racist talk and bigoted excuses.

If we would take a cross-section of the population of China, India, Korea, or Japan, I bet we could find dumb people, average people, and smart people, all in about the same ratio as ours in North America. Thinking that Chinese are better at math, and that Indians are better engineers – that smacks of racism, pure and simple, and denies a basic American conviction – that people are people, regardless of nationality or skin color.

So, why is it that so many Asians in North America do so well in math, science, and engineering?

Simple! Who comes here to live, either permanently or temporarily from China, Korea, India, etc? Mathematicians, engineers, scientists – at the graduate degree level or higher. These are the people who are even allowed to leave China and study and/or work in North America. The general population doesn't come here – they stay there. Those who arrive here are the physicians, the theoretical physicists, the mathematicians, the engineers, the chemists, the computer scientists, the microbiologists.

These people usually arrive in North America with families. Guess what their kids will be like! Highly intelligent, well-disciplined, focused on learning, from families where learning is considered a sacred duty, and where math and science achievement is considered to be due not to raw intelligence, but to hard work and dedication.

Where are these people concentrated? In Montgomery and Fairfax Counties, suburbs of DC, where many think tanks and research facilities abound. That explains why Takoma Park Middle School in Montgomery County has won the state MATHCOUNTS competition every year since 1986. TPMS is a math/science magnet school in a highly populated area; the staff at Takoma Park and Montgomery County schools can choose who's in and who's out. As one can expect, on any given year, their top team of four students will consist of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Japanese, or American Jewish extraction.

What that means is that we, in general, must get rid of the stereotypical thinking that allows us to justify our obvious inferiority in math and science achievement, and blow it off as "Americans are dumber than Asians because they just ARE!" It's particularly sad when adults, including parents, subscribe to the nonsense and keep spouting that racist line.

This year one of my eighth graders is a Korean exchange student, a very quiet, reserved girl. After one week of school, I can tell there’s something special about her. Despite the obvious language difficulty, she reads the questions carefully, engages her brain, and answers the questions. Reading and thinking properly, quickly, and accurately are the keys to success in mathematics, regardless of the student’s grade level. To be blunt, this Asian student runs circles around the rest of her classmates.

Why is that? Surely because she’s Asian – that’s what many people would say. Perhaps it could be also that she is more used to focusing, and therefore is able to recall the mathematical principles that all the 8th graders had learned in past years, (to be forgotten quickly and decisively), and put them all together and applied properly. Perhaps her parents insist that she do her best, rather than dismiss their children's poor achievement in math by saying silly things like, "Oh, I was never that good in math," or "My child just doesn't have a mind for math" or "Asians are better at math anyway..."

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pass rates on 2010 state math tests shocking

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated Nov. 14 to reflect adjusted scores, per the OSPI Report Card.)

Mathematics is a “gatekeeper” subject. Math guards the “gate” to college, the trades, the military, and entrepreneurship. If high school graduates don’t have sufficient math skills, they cannot pass through these gates.

Washington State’s pass rates for the spring 2010 standardized tests came out this week. I have a few of the math pass rates here, including some for Spokane Public Schools. I hope you’re sitting down.

Pass rates for Washington's 2010 math tests

Washington students: Spokane students:
4th grade 53.7% 59.1%
7th grade 55.3% 55.4%
10th grade 41.7% 38.9%

Spokane Public Schools middle school math pass rates

Chase Garry Glover Sacajawea Salk Shaw
7th: 61.0% 44.8% 44.2% 67.5% 59.2% 50.8%
8th: 49.1% 43.3% 30.6% 69.2% 61.4% 31.2%

Spokane Public Schools high school math pass rates
Ferris Lewis and Clark North Central Rogers Shadle
54.0% 54.2% 27.1% 21.1% 44.4%

Folks, it's bad. But don’t get up from your seat just yet. It's worse than you think. According to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), our students needed to earn slightly more than half of the possible points on these tests in order to pass them.

Grade Points needed to pass: Pct. needed to pass
3 21 out of 34 61.76%
4 20 out of 34 58.8%
5 20 out of 34 58.8%
6 23 out of 40 57.5%
7 22 out of 40 55%
8 22 out of 40 55%
10 unchanged from 2009 56.9%

Washington State’s 10th-grade students needed just 56.9% on their math tests in order to pass, and yet 61.3% of Spokane’s 10th graders couldn’t do it.
I’ll bet you also didn’t know:

  1. OSPI looks at the completed tests first, and THEN decides where to set the cut scores. The State Board of Education approved these cut scores in August 2010, several months AFTER the students took the tests in the spring of 2010. The cut scores moved to fit -- not math standards nor academic content -- but test outcomes.
  2. All of the cut scores dropped from 2009 (thereby making the tests easier to pass), with the exception of 7th grade, which rose 1 percentage point, and 10th grade, which was unchanged.
  3. OSPI considers the passing scores noted above to also mean that students are “proficient” in mathematics. Therefore, a 10th grader is supposedly “proficient” in mathematics if he or she earns just 37 points out of a possible 65.
The takeaway message from these numbers is that our students are completely unprepared in mathematics. Worse, our administrators perpetuate this failing system deliberately, purposefully, willfully, stubbornly. It obviously is NOT working for the students. Despite what administrators like to claim, the math problem is NOT because of poor parenting, unmotivated students, unhelpful legislators, insufficient money, ineffective teachers, difficult social issues, insufficient "professional development," changing standards, or raging hormones. The math problem is because students are not being given enough mathematics, and that is because school administrators stubbornly REFUSE to allow the teachers to teach enough mathematics. Instead, our students are fed a steady diet of pretend mathematics, designed to suck up learning days with busy work, group work, “student-centered” activities, and student-created processes and definitions. These programs do NOT provide students with sufficient usable skills in mathematics. You can see for yourself how well the current programs work.

Parents and teachers: You are being betrayed. The children are being purposefully and persistently miseducated. They are not being given the math skills they need for college, for a trade, for business ownership, or for any postsecondary life that depends on or even uses mathematics. Most are unlikely to ever become engineers, doctors, attorneys, pilots, air traffic controllers, architects, or dozens of other types of well-paid professionals. Recent high school graduates who have not had outside intervention are likely to need remedial math classes before beginning college – perhaps several remedial math classes.

And that brings me to one more piece of bad news. In Spokane, nearly half of all SPS-educated students who take remedial math classes at our area two-year colleges fail those remedial classes or withdraw early. And what are their career options then?

Parents and teachers: Rise up. Take back the classroom from those who have stolen it. Go to board meetings, write letters, call school board members. Hold state and district administrators accountable for this education horror. Make the superintendent and the curriculum department personnel answer to you – specifically, out loud, and in public. And if they can't, if they won't ... call for their resignation or firing.

Meanwhile, please take the necessary steps to save the children. Supplement the math program, homeschool in mathematics, provide the children with tutors, or pull them out of the school system entirely. Do not let public-education administrators squander their futures. To those in Spokane: Please let me know if you plan to speak to the school board. I will do my best to be there, to support you and to cheer you on.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (September 2010). "Pass rates on 2010 state math tests shocking." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Grammar problems caused by "hyper-constructivism"

Guest column by Robert Archer, teacher
Shadle Park High School, Spokane, WA

What is a dangling participle? How about a future perfect progressive verb? What’s the difference between intensive pronouns and reflexive pronouns? How do you parse a sentence?

OK. So maybe those were a little too complex for anyone other than English-major uber-nerds. I get that. In fact, anyone who can answer those previous questions simply wants to show off his/her outstanding grammatical knowledge for all the world to witness and, consequently, to have that world bask in his/her pedantic glory. Let’s go a little easier. How about these?

What’s a noun? How about a verb? Can you tell the difference between a complete sentence, a fragment, and a run-on? Can you make sure your subject and verb agree?

Were those better? Was the latter set of questions more apropos for anyone with a high-school education to have as s/he enters the “real world” of being both a productive and an intelligible member of our modern society? Actually, more specifically, isn’t the latter set of questions completely suitable for any American middle schooler to answer correctly before even taking a step into the halls of the modern high school? To answer: Yes. Yes! And just for emphasis, YES!!!

However, in my 14 years of experience as a high school English teacher, such is absolutely not the case. In fact, I would argue that fewer than 10% of my 10th graders could answer each one of those latter questions correctly (and I believe I’m being generous). Simply put, students these days do not know basic grammatical skills and concepts.

Honestly, it’s gotten to the point that trying to make my way through the grammatical land mines that await me anytime I assign a writing assessment becomes so painstakingly tedious that even the solid content of any given essay becomes lost in the ghastly-writing-skills shrapnel. (And don’t even get me started on the spelling skills of this generation of non-phonics-learning texters! OMG!)

Let’s face it—when high school students cannot use their own language correctly, their overall communication skills—both in written and oral form—suffer tremendously. And if their communication skills are sub-par (and, again, I believe I’m being generous), then they are simply not ready to move on to the next level, whether that level is continuing in post-secondary education or becoming a part of our educated work force. Yet, we in education continue to do just that—pass them on to the next level, washing our hands of their complete language inadequacy.

So, where exactly may I point my flaming finger of blame when 15- and 16-year-olds do not know extremely rudimentary grammar skills as they enter my high school classroom? At first glance, it would seem both easy and logical to blame my middle-school peers (since they didn’t force the knowledge into the students’ brains) or even society at large (since we have allowed written communication to be reduced to little more than texting and emailing). However, the first victim of my intended scorn is unfair, and the second is too broad.

Rather, I tend to blame those involved in curriculum development because somewhere along the line, teaching grammar has become something that we teachers can simply “imbed” into the reading and writing curriculum. I guess grammar is just too “boring” and, therefore, will not “engage” our “modern-day students” into true learning.

I'm sorry, but in my experience, the term "imbedded" is nothing more than educationalese for "not ever specifically taught." Somehow, this grammar-is-imbedded movement is supposed to help students naturally take in what proper grammar is (i.e., grammar by osmosis). It's very much a hyper-constructivist approach to education; the students are supposed to "discover" proper grammar on their own as they read good pieces. Then, somehow and some way, they are to emulate these proper mechanical structures in their own writing. And if the students don't quite "take it all in," the teacher may take 2.5 minutes here and there to show them what a damn verb is.

Allow me a moment to let curriculum developers in on an English-teacher trade secret: It ain’t working! When I’m hoping for nothing more than 3-4 grammatically correct sentences being strung together at a time as the sign of a “good” paper, then my expectations have dropped far, far too low. Yet, sadly, this is exactly to what I’ve resigned myself.

I honestly believe that the English curriculum needs to return to its roots—teaching and drilling proper grammar at younger ages—for the sake of helping our students be better communicators. I don’t believe there could be any other answer.

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.