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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.



Kai said...

After reading about this situation, I looked at the samples of Discovering Mathematics at the Key Curriculum Press website. It really was horrible. Lots of calculator use. Projects with toothpicks. In an *algebra* text.

Anonymous said...

Discovering Mathematics IS horrible. I taught from their Algebra I and II series down in Albuquerque a couple of years ago. Sad, too, because Key Curriculum Press does have some really good books (the book I used for AP Stat for many years is fantastic.)

As someone who is currently using CMP2 in middle school (and after two years using it, I have applied for a transfer back to HS!), I am really happy about the court decision in Seattle. There is no rhyme or reason for using such crappy texts. said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

Michael Paul Goldenberg said...

If a judge ruled that a medical procedure advocated for by a significant number of trained professionals in the field was "arbitrary," wouldn't you wonder what qualifications that judge brought to the decision from the field of medicine?

But since the folks who dislike the text in question are already dead-set against it, no such skepticism arises in their minds, not even for a second. After all, when you "win," you never doubt that everything was fair.

Seems to me there's something fundamentally wrong when a judge can decide that the selection of a text was "arbitrary." As opposed to what, I wonder? Biased?

Funny how law suits about mathematics textbooks have only cropped up since progressive educators starting writing books that offered alternatives to the dead-end textbooks of my own education and many that preceded and succeeded them. The fact that we have long (as in for centuries) had a majority of our citizenry who were mathematically ignorant never seemed to bother anyone until the reform efforts of the 1990s. I'm sure there's nothing at all political going on here. Of COURSE not. It's all objectively about the math. And I'm a Chinese jet pilot.

Anonymous said...

No, Michael, you're probably not a Chinese jet pilot. What you are is someone who apparently reads political motives into anything and everything.

This is not about politics. I'm a moderate, and in general have little interest in politics.

There's no question that traditionally, many students were "left behind" in math. But have you seen what's going on with the "Discovering" series and other "inquiry/constructivist" texts? I have. I have spent hundreds of hours in elementary, middle school and high school classes as a volunteer math tutor. I know what goes on day-to-day in an average classroom. Furthermore, I have a BA in Mathematics, so I know math.

It isn't pretty. Most high school (and many college) students don't know the "easy way" to multiply or divide by 10. After all, that's what calculators are for, right? Look, if I have to divide 1.34 by 15.96, I drag out a calculator. But if I know that 10x = 3.96, I also know that x = 0.396 pretty much immediately. It's called automaticity, and it's really quite important in any kind of serious study. You achieve automaticity in the "simple stuff" so you can free your brain to concentrate on the _interesting_ problems.

Isn't it strange that an aspiring pianist is expected to practice scales and arpeggios and trills and so forth hours on end, every day -- and yet we somehow expect students to become proficient in mathematics by encountering "real world problems"? Why isn't there a "reform music" movement? Why can't we simply expose the kids to Beethoven and then ask them to write a simple symphony or two?

IT DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY. Never did, never will. If you want to be good at something, you have to take your licks. In my profession (software design), I know that I wasn't truly capable of "higher order thinking" until I had written hundreds of thousands of lines of code. You don't design a bridge until you understand materials and stresses, and all of the mathematics that support those disciplines. Everything builds on prior knowledge. You don't START with higher order thinking, you start with the basics. No one really enjoys practicing scales, or long division, but until you master the foundations of your discipline, you're just making noise.

And by the way, I agree that the judge was probably out of line, but I'm glad she was!