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Monday, January 18, 2010

Public forums offer look at math curricula

Spokane Public Schools is undergoing a high school mathematics curriculum adoption process. In December, the adoption committee chose Holt Mathematics and Prentice Hall Mathematics as the two finalists.

District administrators have scheduled two public forums to give parents an opportunity to look at these two curricula and offer their thoughts:
Jan. 21, Rogers High School, 6-7 p.m.
Jan. 26, Ferris High School, 6-7 p.m.

The two meetings are open to the public, and I hope you'll attend. Please also pass on the message to other parents. Whatever your interest in K-12 math instruction, this is your opportunity to tell the school district what you want.

Both Holt and Prentice Hall are "traditional" in their presentation of the subject matter, each offering high school material in 3 separate texts: algebra I, geometry, and algebra II. (For many years, Spokane administrators have depended on math programs that use an "integrated" approach where the subjects are mixed together.)

Although a "traditional" presentation of content does not guarantee"traditional" content, both Holt and Prentice Hall are more traditional in content. In these two curricula, proofs, theorems and algorithms are presented in a clear, concise manner, and students are not expected to discover these on their own. The texts do contain some opportunities for discovery. (For many years, Spokane administrators have forced the use of extreme “reform” texts that deemphasized or removed standard algorithms and arithmetic skills, and that emphasized excessive calculator work, excessive group work, and almost constant student "discovery" of mathematical concepts).

Despite the abject failure of reform/discovery curricula in Spokane and across the entire nation, there still is stiff resistance here to adopting anything remotely “traditional.” It’s my belief, therefore, that Holt and Prentice Hall are as close as the district will get at this time to more "traditional" content. However, it is not certain that the district will adopt either of these curricula. Spokane administrators have left the door open to adopting neither. If the district rejects both, what will be the high school math program next fall? Perhaps it will be what we have now, the truly execrable Core-Plus Mathematics Project and the current long parade of (expensive, yet ultimately unsuccessful) supplementary materials.

Spokane is at a critical juncture – this high school adoption will set the template for future adoptions in middle school and elementary school. If you seek a more traditional approach to K-12 math instruction in Spokane, your feedback is desperately needed.

College students: High school graduates, college students, and college graduates could come to the forums and reflect back on their high school mathematics classes. Did they get the math they needed for a successful college experience? Did they require remediation in mathematics during K-12 or after they graduated? Would they have preferred a different approach to math instruction? Do they think either Holt or Prentice Hall would have given them the skills they needed? These reflections would help inform the selection process.

Parents and students: Parents can come to the forums and offer their thoughts on what they want from a high school mathematics curriculum and how they prefer this material be presented and taught. Does Holt or Prentice Hall meet those needs? Parents are welcome to bring their middle school and high school students, whom no doubt have experiences and preferences they would like to share with the committee.

Business: Business owners and tradespeople can attend and discuss the skills they require from high school graduates. Does Holt or Prentice Hall offer the skills necessary for a successful job or trades application?

College professors: College and university STEM instructors can come to the forums and offer informed input on the math skills of their incoming or remedial students. Does Holt or Prentice Hall offer appropriate instruction in those critical math skills?

To all:
January 21 and January 26 are your opportunities to be heard. I plan to attend both forums. If you can't make it to either meeting, please submit your comments in writing to members of the Spokane school board. Tell them what you want. Please also pass on the message to other parents. And thank you very much for whatever you can do to help inform the selection process.

Note: I am a member of the adoption committee, however this notice was not written on behalf of the committee. If you have questions about this notice or about my experiences on the adoption committee, please contact me at


Anonymous said...

You say: "Teachers will not be allowed to begin on page 1 of the Holt textbook. "

Do you realize that the first three chapters of the Holt text book are middle school PE's? Chapter 1 is operations with integers and is Unit 1 of 7th grade Math! You take a bunch of highschoolers and start out the year with a few weeks of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing with integers and you've lost your engagement. Move on to solving one step equations and they are all sitting there thinking I've been doing this same math since 5th or 6th grade.
Don't we want a challenging and engaging math curriculum where students are asked to think and solve problems? I don't have too much problem with the Holt textbook, but I think it would be sad to think teachers should just start on page 1. What happens then when teachers don't make it through the rest of the 800 pages before June? We should just not worry about all those challenging math concepts at the end of the text? About 800 pages in 180 days of school? How would teachers accomplish all of the state's Algebra PEs if they spend weeks on 7th and 8th grade PEs? How would teacher's accomplish all of the Algebra PEs if they do not "Instead, start with a later chapter, then skip around the book"?

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Anonymous, you must not be from around here. Students in Spokane have reform and discovery all through their K-12 experience. They are not prepared to begin Holt Mathematics because they are lacking basic skills such as fluency with multiplication, long division, fractions, decimals, percentages, conversions, etc. The reason they're lacking these skills is simply because they have not been taught these skills.

Just because certain skills are now in the PEs, it's doesn't mean the teachers are allowed to teach these skills. I have argued for HOURS – and to no avail – with several local administrators about the value of arithmetic. How crazy is that? Ask teachers if they've been allowed to teach arithmetic and standard algorithms over the last five years. But you'll have to promise them anonymity and immunity. Most are afraid to talk about it, due to a heavy administrative boot on their neck.

I doubt very many of the students are sitting there saying "I've been doing this same math since 5th or 6th grade." I WILL bet that most of them are itching to grab for their calculator to work out the simplest of calculations.

The remediation rate at local two-year colleges for recent SPS high school graduates is 87.1% (verfied). Of those students, most test into elementary algebra (verified). Of the students who take all remedial classes at the two-year colleges, about 47% of them flunk or withdraw from their remedial classes (also verified).

SPS administrators probably will be delighted to blame this on the colleges, students, parents, and society. But the failure is here, in Spokane Public Schools, which is married to reform and discovery beyond all data, all reason, all requests from parents and students, and all feedback from area professionals.

Holt was designed with our students in mind. The Spokane Public Schools program that is currently being built (to supplant Holt Mathematics) is being built with reform and discovery in mind. It has nothing to do with helping these students become college or work ready.

If the students are ready to skip past Page 1, their teachers can determine that very easily, instead of being micromanaged to skip past it by administrators who are not in the classroom and who do not know the students.

I have no doubt that every teacher out there would agree with me on that.