Summer Help in Math

** Do your children need outside help in math?
Have them take a free placement test
to see which skills are missing.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

RTTT, SB6696 dangerous; administrators, lawmakers support them

Have you heard about the “Race to the Top” initiative? President Barack Obama and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan want the states to sign on to RTTT, which allows states to compete for one-time “grants” if they agree to make certain permanent changes to public education. It goes a bit like this: “Do it our way, and you can scrabble for these sweet taxpayer dollars. Don’t do it our way, and you can’t even try for the bribe … I mean grant. You also might find yourself with a few other … problems.”

To qualify for a RTTT payoff … I mean grant … states have to adopt “national education standards” (among other things). The standards ostensibly are being written – not by the federal government (which isn’t supposed to write education standards), but by the CCSSO, the NGA, Achieve, Inc. and other shadowy organizations. Don’t be lulled by this supposed Wall of Separation. The fed’s fingerprints are all over the standards – through money, policy and heavy political pressure. There’s more. The standards will soon be followed by national assessments and probably national curricula.

Last year, 48 states signed a “Memorandum of Agreement” saying they would participate in the standards movement. Washington State signed on quietly, with nary a peep to the public. Concerns were assuaged with variations on this: “Signing the MOA doesn’t mean we’re signing on to the standards. We’re just agreeing to look at them.”

Six months later, Washington State is poised to adopt the unfinished standards – sight unseen – with Senate Bill 6696. There are many things wrong with SB6696. One is that, following a review of feedback on the national standards, SB6696 says, this state “shall adopt” them. Not “might adopt.” Shall.
On Feb. 10, a Spokane school board member praised SB6696, saying it’s a “bill to watch.” No one on the board asked questions about it. No one expressed concerns.

The intent of this bill is to adopt unfinished, nationally directed education standards, sight unseen. The states are giving away constitutionally protected autonomy for a few coins they might not get. Why would anyone support this bill? Especially considering that a leaked draft in January indicated that the national math standards are much weaker than Washington’s current standards. In fact, they look like what we had before, with embedded constructivism and insufficient emphasis on standard algorithms. We got rid of those standards after a multi-year battle and more than 1.6 million taxpayer dollars. Yet, here they are, back again.

Despite all of this, SB6696 easily passed through the Senate on Feb. 11, with just 5 nay votes. Co-sponsor Sen. Chris Marr (D) told me on Feb. 12 that he doesn’t know much about it, but he’s motivated by the RTTT money and he has “faith” in the process.
He shouldn’t. Besides carrying out this process in almost complete secrecy, Obama and Duncan are going way beyond their mandate. It’s all there in 20 USC 3403:
“The establishment of the Department of Education shall not increase the authority of the Federal Government over education or diminish the responsibility for education which is reserved to the States and the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States. … No provision of a program administered by the Secretary or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law.”

But that's so 1980s. Today, things are different. The Department of Education’s "High Priority Performance Goals" as of February 2010 include a "cradle to career" federal "education strategy"; mandated "intensive" reform for struggling schools; ensuring "comprehensive teacher evaluation systems" that are connected to student achievement data; and fostering - some would say demanding -"state collaboration."

In July 2009, I began asking the federal government, the CCSSO, the NGA, Achieve, the Washington State governor's office and OSPI about the national standards. The Department of Education tried several times to pass me off to the CCSSO. (I finally filed a formal request for public information, and since then, nothing. I threatened to make a federal case of it. Still nothing.) From the CCSSO - nothing. From the NGA - nothing. From Achieve – a phone call referring me to the CCSSO.

From Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office, I received heavily redacted documents and a referral to Executive Policy Advisor Judy Hartmann. After a few months and several phone calls from me, Ms. Hartmann finally agreed to talk. She told me on the record that before the state signed on to the national standards, the standards would have to pass muster with the SBE, the superintendent and the legislators.

From OSPI, also after a formal request for public information, Deputy Superintendent Alan Burke told me (his answers in blue):

  1. Is this effort supported politically, practically or financially by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE) and/or the White House?
  2. This question should be directed to the US Department of Education or the Obama Administration for an appropriate response.
    (Yeah, I already told you how that went.)
  3. How has the public been notified of Washington's participation?
  4. Education leaders in Washington State have been notified about the CCSSO/NGA initiative for common core standards in regional and statewide meetings. The general public has been notified through press reports about the initiative.
    (Not from OSPI or Gov. Gregoire’s office, however.)
  5. The NGA/CCSSO talks about an "ongoing development process that can support continuous improvement of this first version." Will there therefore be an annual cost to taxpayers?
    It is unknown to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) if there will be annual costs to taxpayers related to the development of the common core standards.
  6. Does OSPI support the section in the MOA called "Federal Role"?
    Once the common core standards are analyzed by OSPI with respect to their alignment to current standards for our state and a decision is made about Washington’s participation in this effort, a decision will be made with respect to accepting federal assistance.
  7. Washington just revised its standards at a cost upward of $1.6 million. Why is this state participating in this new movement? What will be the cost to Washington taxpayers? If the cost is nothing, what kind of participation is it?
  8. Washington has not decided to participate in implementation of the standards conceived of by this movement. OSPI has agreed to study the documents produced by CCSSO and NGA as the process evolves. Additionally, any costs to taxpayers is unknown.
  9. Under what specific authority did Superintendent Dorn sign Washington on to this movement without public notification, input or consent?
  10. Washington has not made a commitment to implement national standards; we have agreed to study the documents produced.
  11. Who advised Superintendent Dorn on this effort? When did Washington State receive notice of this movement? How long was Washington given to decide whether to sign the MOA?
    CCSSO is the organization advising OSPI about this movement, and OSPI first received notice on April 17, 2009. States were given approximately 3 weeks to sign the MOA.
  12. Under what conditions will Washington refuse federal incentives to implement these new national standards? Who decides?
    The decision process and conditions which would result in refusal of federal incentives to implement the proposed national standards is unknown at this time.
  13. States had to agree that the CCS would represent "at least 85%" of the state's language arts and math standards. What happens if they only like 40%?
    Adoption of the common core state standards is voluntary for states; if a percentage sharply greater than 15 percent of the proposed national standards are not acceptable, OSPI will not implement the standards in Washington State.
  14. Will current federal funding be grandfathered for states that reject the CCS?
    Federal fiscal impacts of not implementing common core standards are unknown at this time.
  15. Once most of the states adopt these national standards, how will parents assess the standards to see if they're rigorous enough?
    The process for parental review of the proposed common core standards is unknown at this time.
  16. In this process, there appears to have been no public notice, no public comment, no public vote. When will voters have a say?
    The process and timeline for public comment on the proposed common core standards is unknown at this time.
  17. The MOA talks about a National Policy Forum comprised of "signatory national organizations" that will share ideas and build "public will and support." Who are these organizations?
    Please contact CCSSO or NGA for an appropriate response regarding this information.
  18. How will additions and deletions to this forum be made and announced? Unknown
  19. How will the public be involved in this forum? Unknown

“As this national movement progresses,” Alan Burke summed up, “I expect that public communications will become appropriate should Washington decide to take any formal action.”

Yeah, not so much.

In September 2009, State Superintendent Randy Dorn finally commented publicly on the national standards: “Adoption of the standards will be a state-level decision. … The common standards created by the NGO and CCSSO will be examined thoroughly and transparently. Any changes to the state’s standards would not occur for at least two years, and then only after an ample opportunity for public review and comment.”

By January 2010, everything had changed. Judy Hartmann's promised process is missing, Alan Burke's answers don't apply, and in a Jan. 25 press release, Randy Dorn supported SB6696, ignored its dangers and deadlines, and even said it doesn't go far enough.

It's important to face reality. Decision-makers meant to force national standards (and national control) on states from the get-go, using whatever subterfuge was necessary, at whatever cost was necessary, whether the American people liked it or not, and whether we protested or not. Everything math advocates have achieved over the last several years is on the line. Our ability to advocate effectively is on the line. And that's before we talk about the constitutionality of these bribes … extortions … golly, I mean grants. (I don’t know why I can’t remember that word.)

Please help me fight this. Write to your senators and representatives, and tell them to vote against this bill. It’s a dangerous thing, and it won’t help your children learn. Don’t wait to speak up. This bill is moving fast.

(Read through the bill by Googling “SB6696 2010” for the latest version. I’m betting there are other things about it you won’t like.)

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (February, 2010). "RTTT, SB6696 dangerous steps; administrators all for them." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

A version of this article was published Feb. 15, 2010, on Education News at

Friday, February 5, 2010

Decision favors plaintiffs in court challenge of Seattle math text adoption

Statement from Laurie Rogers:

Last year, Seattle Public Schools adopted the Discovering math series despite valiant opposition from parents and math professionals, despite poor assessments of the Discovering series' rigor and quality of presentation, and despite the fact that OSPI did NOT ultimately recommend the Discovering math series.
In response, three people filed a lawsuit, saying that Seattle didn't have sufficient supporting evidence for its adoption, and also that the Discovering series was associated with an INCREASE in achievement gaps.

Recently, a judge agreed with the plaintiffs and - while stopping short of telling Seattle administrators to cease and desist in their adoption - told them to revisit it. The district can continue to use the Discovering series, and Seattle administrators have stated their clear intention to do so.
Nevertheless, the court decision is momentous. It sets a precedent for districts across the country. When board members can't justify their adoption decisions, the people now have legal recourse.

What sheer arrogance and hubris Seattle administrators must have to persist in pursuing reform/discovery math instruction -- despite the statistics, despite the resistance, despite the remediation rates, dropout rates, achievement gaps, lack of skills, opposition from math professionals, concerns from parents, and low pass rates on standardized tests. Even with a court decision that basically says the school board's adoption of the Discovering series was rooted in ignorance ... Seattle administrators STILL persist.

Please express appreciation to Martha McLaren and her fellow plaintiffs for their courage and dedication. If you would like to assist Martha in her substantial court costs, please let me know and I can pass on your message.
Meanwhile, a toast to you, Martha. Other advocates will follow in your footsteps.


Press release from Martha McLaren, plaintiff. Reprinted here with permission:

Decision Favors Plaintiffs in Court Challenge of Seattle High School Math Text Adoption

Seattle, Washington – February 4, 2010 – Judge Julie Spector today announced her finding of “arbitrary and capricious” in the Seattle School Board's May 6 vote to adopt the Discovering Math series of high school texts despite insufficient evidence of the series' effectiveness.

Judge Spector's decision states, “The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering series.”

Plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools, Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fifth grader, and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, had filed their appeal of the Board's controversial decision on June 5th, 2009. The hearing was held on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010.

Declared plaintiff Martha McLaren, “This is a sweet victory for the parents and students of Seattle Public Schools. It announces to Seattle that in this instance, the School District's practice of ignoring evidence, in favor of preconceived decisions, is arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law. The judge's finding may, hopefully, be a step towards improving high school math education through replacing confusing textbooks with coherent ones. However, students at all levels, not just in high school, badly need clear, understandable materials. In addition, it is essential that teachers, especially elementary teachers, understand fundamental math much more deeply than is now the norm. There is much work to be done to bring improvement; this decision is an encouraging development.

We are hopeful that the District will move forward responsibly, putting the students first, and will decline to appeal Judge Spector's decision. If the Board revisits its vote, as ordered by the court, and this time refuses to adopt Discovering, it seems possible that the textbook rated 2nd by the adoption committee, a series by Prentice Hall publishers which is well-regarded by critics of reform texts, might instead be recommended by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. The Seattle Public Schools could then begin undoing the long-term decline in math education that has been extended by this disastrous mistake.”

According to the plaintiffs' initial brief, Seattle Public Schools began eliminating "traditional" math texts in the 1990s, moving toward an approach called "reform," "discovery learning," or "constructivism," among other names. Reform texts rely heavily on written language, presenting complicated, “real-life” problems. Memorization and skills practice is de-emphasized, and calculator work is encouraged from kindergarten on. Students generally work in small groups to devise their own approaches and solutions. With traditional "explicit" texts, however, students are given the opportunity to master key topics through examples, practice and extensive teacher feedback.

The initial brief had stated that the district committee chosen to review mathematics textbooks was biased toward reform, and that the textbook criteria were similarly biased, so that the resulting recommendation would be a reform textbook. The plaintiffs also asserted that the board voted to adopt the Discovering textbook series in contradiction of information presented from community members prior to the vote.

Citizens testifying to the board prior to the May 6 vote emphasized that the Discovering textbook series had been rated “unsound” in a review conducted by the Washington State Board of Education, and that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had passed over the Discovering program, instead recommending Holt Mathematics, a balanced textbook series featuring increased explicit instruction.

In Seattle, the movement toward reform texts has culminated in the adoption of the Everyday Math K-5 texts in 2007, Connected Mathematics Project (CMP2) texts for grades 6 – 8 in 2006, and the Discovering texts for high school in 2009 .

Attorney Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann, LLP, represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Even before the decision was announced, the plaintiffs voiced their unanimous admiration for his presentation of the appeal; his handling of the case was clearly crucial to the success of the project.


Monday, February 1, 2010

Delphi Technique: The art of pretending to achieve consensus

By Laurie H. Rogers

"To me consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects—the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner 'I stand for consensus'?"
-- British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, 1981

I had heard of the “Delphi Technique” being used to bring a committee to “consensus,” but before my experience on Spokane Public Schools’ most recent high school math curriculum adoption committee, I hadn’t seen it in action. Fortunately for Spokane students, most members on the adoption committee resisted the siren call of the Delphi Technique and ultimately chose the two stronger curricula as their finalists for a high school math curriculum.
Here is an example of how any committee can achieve “consensus” without actually achieving it.

  1. First, the committee is split into small groups. Each group contains different “types” of committee members. Thus, like-minded individuals are separated from each other and spread around the room, and their influence is lessened and more easily “managed.”
  2. “Rules” for behavior are set up so that real debate is disallowed.
  3. Each group contains a few people loyal to the institution’s agenda. One is willing to grab for the pen and paper and be the official recorder; another can monitor group behavior for adherence to the “rules.”
  4. Oppositional or problematic comments are eliminated. Recorders politely but persistently “interpret,” reject, ignore, rewrite or “reframe” unwanted comments.
  5. Requests for debate or discussion are ignored or rejected. Monitors politely but persistently delay debate and redirect conversations to safer areas.
  6. Each recorder produces a “summary” or “synopsis” of comments. The summaries virtually eliminate most problematic comments. Remaining challenges are dismissed as being the minority view. Even clear oppositional statements can be questioned – “What does that mean, anyway?” – thus casting doubt upon them and lessening their influence.
  7. From these summaries or synopses, the institution creates a “perception” or a “perspective,” supposedly drawn directly from what committee members said.
  8. Persistent questioners are ignored or admonished for a) operating outside of the “rules,” b) refusing to accept the “consensus” of the group, or c) being unreasonable pains in the neck.
Most people find it difficult to combat all of this. It’s uncomfortable being the odd one out. It’s exhausting to fight for every inch of ground, every word, every phrase, every idea … and then look up to find that what was said isn’t there. It’s hard to go back and do it again the next day.
(And if one’s job depends on getting along with the people who run that committee, it can be a devastating choice one makes to continually try to get a solid word in edgewise. I think most employees won’t dare fight that battle.)

And so, most people give up and get quiet – or they suddenly find they have time conflicts and must drop out. Those who remain on the committee tend to be supporters of the institutional agenda, or they’re willing to go along to get along, or they become convinced they’re being heard. Dissent evaporates, and things quiet down. The few who continue to present an opposing view are easily managed and dismissed.

Voila! “Consensus.”

The first time the members of Spokane Public Schools’ high school math curriculum adoption committee met was Sept. 29, but it wasn’t until Dec. 9 – more than 10 weeks later – that we finally were allowed to examine eight possible curricula. What were we doing on all of the other days?

We could have spent those five days discussing the new state math standards; the various curricula assessments that had been done by OSPI and the State Board of Education; the National Mathematics Advisory Panel Final Report; any math curricula that had already arrived at the district; the suitcase of data and research that I brought for the committee; or our perspectives on how K-12 math should be taught. But the standards, curricula assessments and NMAP report weren’t discussed in depth; we didn’t see any math curricula until Dec. 3; the data and research I brought weren’t discussed at all; and debates over teaching methodology were actively discouraged. Instead, we were forced to endure 23 hours of discussion on items such as the following:
  1. How to speak with each other nicely.I kid you not. Committee leaders even “redirected” our discussions as if we were 6-year-olds. I half expected them to say, “Now use your words.”
  2. “Consensus” – what it means, that it was the goal of the committee, and how committee members were to go about achieving it.But our views were diverse, and we weren’t allowed to debate critical issues. True consensus, therefore, was not reached. Dissenters were ignored, deliberately misunderstood, or worn down until they gave up.
  3. A new definition of “dialogue.”Concerned that we weren’t allowed to debate anything, I asked that “dialogue” be added to our “norms” (our rules for behavior.) The word was added, but at the next meeting, the secondary math coordinator explained at length how “dialogue” means to not discuss the issues. In each group, he said, a person was to say something, and then tablemates were to respond, one by one, each with a thought that was brief, not an opinion, and not a challenge. We were then to move on.
  4. Discussions of the district’s education “research.” The district continually gave us “research” that is poorly written; illogical; adamantly opposed to anything traditional; and uncritically supportive of reform math and extreme constructivism.
    Although they kept telling us that the field of cognitive science supports current education theory, we weren’t given anything written by actual cognitive scientists. This is probably because actual cognitive scientists say that it’s premature to base curriculum decisions on cognitive science.
    A few of us objected to some or all of this education “research,” but our objections were generally ignored, rewritten, or reframed as questions.
Early in the process, committee members were asked to discuss our perception of the current state of mathematics in Spokane, and also to state what we want things to look like. The district rewrote our feedback and then tossed out our original notes. The rewrites are different from what we said. Most comments that were supportive of a "traditional" approach were minimized or eliminated.

Despite having to suffer with this dodgy process, Spokane’s adoption committee chose Holt Mathematics and Prentice Hall Mathematics as its two finalists for a new high school mathematics curriculum. I have a preference between the two, but both align better to the new state standards; are more rigorous in content; allow for more flexibility in teaching methodology; provide students, teachers and parents with solid resources, examples, explanations, and opportunities for practice; and they align well with what students and parents said they want in a new curriculum.

I’m exceedingly proud of this adoption committee, but we are not yet out of the woods. These two choices are being piloted in the district now. Some of those piloting the curricula are opposed to their adoption. The two curricula will then go past a group of principals and a group of administrators – most of whom have not done the work the adoption committee did. I expect many, if not most of them, to vehemently oppose both curricula. In their language to the committee, district administrators have left the door open to adopting neither.

Therefore, if you have anything to say about what you would like for a high school math curriculum for your children, now is the time to speak up. If you prefer to write a letter, I recommend you write it to the school board. This might improve your chances of being heard. Please do not delay. Time, tide, and the push for fake consensus wait for no one.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (February, 2010). "Delphi Technique: The art of pretending to achieve consensus." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: