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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spokane board adopts Holt Mathematics

On March 24, shortly after 10 p.m., the board of Spokane Public Schools voted to adopt Holt Mathematics as its new high school math program. The vote was 4-1, with the president, Sue Chapin, casting the only "nay" vote.

This is a positive step in the right direction for the students in this district. They have been waiting for a decade. I want to say to the students, "I'm sorry it has taken so long. I feel your pain. I know you have suffered. But I believe you will be happier with this book. It has most of the things you asked for - examples, explanations, descriptions, details, directions, tips & hints, instruction, clarity, 'real math,' definitions, procedures, answers, online help, videos, support materials, and helpful visuals. It will help prepare you for life after school, whether you go to college, begin a trade, start your own business, or just want to run your personal lives more effectively."

To the parents, I want to say, "I believe you will be much happier with this book. It has most of the things you asked for, too - clarity, examples, instructions, structure and 'real math.' You will be able to help your children. Your children will be able to help themselves. Please step away from any negativity you might hear and give the Holt program a chance. I think you'll appreciate it."

To the teachers, I want to say, "I know this book represents a change from what you've had for the last decade. I know you have been beat to death with reform and discovery, and when the result was a 42.3% pass rate on the 2009 10th-grade math WASL, you were blamed. I think you will find that the Holt program helps you, helps the students, and helps the parents. This is NOT a 'traditional' book from the 1940s. It is a balanced book. Some people want to scare you off of this book by saying it removes all of the conceptual learning, but this is not so. This book does contain discovery, application and conceptual learning. But room has been made in this book for actual content, and your students will benefit. The publishers have spent a lot of time developing support for you, including a good teacher text, online resources, examples, tests, and lab work. I hope you will give this program a chance."

To the school board, I want to say, "'Thank you,' especially to Dr. Jeff Bierman, who helped shepherd this process through the gate. I know you're all getting mixed messages from people, and that it's difficult sometimes to sort out the best action. This is a good thing you have done for almost 30,000 students. It will require follow-through. Students need more than this - like a better curriculum for K-8 so that they head into Holt Mathematics prepared. But this is a positive step in the right direction. You can feel proud of this vote. I am proud of you."

To the administrators who organized the high school math adoption committee, I want to say, "Thank you for allowing me to participate. Thank you for giving parents, students and teachers a voice in this particular adoption. It's been a long time coming, and every person who participated appreciated the opportunity. I hope you will continue to allow parents a voice. It is, after all, our children that all of this is for."

To the math and science professionals, and the math and literacy advocates who are so generous with their time, expertise and work, I want to say, "'Thank you,' especially to the folks with 'Where's the Math?' The last three years were a steep learning curve for me, and I couldn't have continued to advocate for these children without you. There is a special place in heaven for those who spend their days fighting for a better education for our children. It's an often-thankless task with many setbacks and few rewards. On the rare occasion we do get somewhere, we have done an immeasurably good thing for our children, our community, and our country. Many of you risk your jobs to be advocates. Many of you fight on, even though the decision-makers around you reject everything you say. Still, you share your heart, your time and your work with the rest of us. I appreciate you."

To my husband and daughter, I want to say, "Thank you for your patience, kindness, love and support. 222-222-2222 x infinity."

Onward, folks, to the K-8 math curriculum. Let's get it done.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:Rogers, L. (March, 2010). "Spokane board adopts Holt Mathematics." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Spokane's curriculum committee chooses Holt

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated June 11, 2010.)

On March 11, 2010, Spokane’s high school curriculum adoption committee voted to recommend Holt Mathematics to the school board. This vote could have gone any number of ways. Some of the possibilities discussed were:

  • Recommending Holt Mathematics

  • Recommending Prentice Hall Mathematics

  • Asking the publisher of Prentice Hall to build a special textbook for Spokane

  • Rejecting both books and deciding to wait

  • The people on the committee feel passionately about the issue. Because our backgrounds are diverse, we have different perspectives. In an unusual move for this district, the adoption committee included high school teachers, middle school teachers, instructional coaches, parents, college math professors, and administrators. Students also were allowed a voice in the deliberations. Last fall, students submitted requests for what they want in a textbook, and in February, the student voice again was heard when piloting teachers commented on how their students viewed two of the books.
    On March 11, I brought the committee a table of various assessments of Prentice Hall (2007 or 2011) and Holt. These assessments overwhelmingly recommend Holt. Here is a summary:

    • The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) examined 15 curricula for alignment to the new math standards. Holt was 1st, chosen over Prentice Hall at 4th.
    • Dr. George Bright, professor emeritus, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, examined 4 curricula for mathematical soundness in algebra. Holt was chosen over Prentice Hall.
    • Dr. James King, University of Washington math professor, examined 4 curricula for mathematical soundness in geometry. Holt and Prentice Hall were chosen over two other curricula.
    • May: OSPI made its final recommendation relative to high school math curricula. Holt was chosen over all other curricula that were examined.
    • December: Spokane’s adoption committee examined 8 curricula. Holt was chosen over Prentice Hall 2011 (overall, and also in certain specific areas such as “contextual,” “balanced,” “teacher planning” & “student-parent resources.”)
    • January/February: Spokane Public Schools piloted Holt and Prentice Hall 2011. Indications of teacher and student preference were presented to the adoption committee on Feb. 22.
    • Of 33 indications of preference, 26 were for Holt. All but 2 students chose Holt. Three teachers voted for neither text. Two people didn’t specify a preference. Holt was chosen by every teacher who expressed a preference.
    March 11 was the first time the committee was able to argue certain critical issues in an open, free-ranging manner. It felt great to be able to speak freely about our concerns.
    • Almost everyone seemed to agree that more mathematical content was necessary.
    • Several teachers said that teachers and parents absolutely need a math textbook – that without one, parents were lost and teachers were burning out.
    • Several people – teachers and administrators – noted that teachers have materials in their classrooms to help with whatever supplementing might be necessary, and also that more supplementary material can easily be built.
    After much heartfelt discussion and several votes, the committee voted in favor of Holt Mathematics. If the Spokane school board adopts Holt, it will join a number of districts in Washington State that have adopted (or that are moving to adopt) more rigorous math curricula, including Bellevue (which also chose Holt this week), Central Valley, Northshore, Edmonds, Shoreline, Tacoma, and Mercer Island.

    I greatly admire the passion and commitment everyone on Spokane’s adoption committee brought to the process. The March 11 discussion was touching and enlightening for all. In the end, I’m enthusiastic about the result. I believe that Holt addresses most of the parent, student and teacher concerns about K-12 math instruction that have been expressed to administrators and school board members over the last decade, and especially that were expressed to the adoption committee over the last six months.

    I also believe that while Holt represents a dramatic change from the current curriculum (Core-Plus Mathematics), teachers will appreciate the myriad benefits of the Holt materials: student textbook, teacher manual, online materials (including video and online textbook) and other helpful resources, while still being able to draw on their own knowledge, experience and other classroom materials.

    Meanwhile, the K-8 math curricula currently used in Spokane will not adequately prepare students for Holt Mathematics. (They didn’t prepare students for Core-Plus, either, as evidenced by weak pass rates on math WASLs in nearly every grade.) Administrators have said they want to prepare students for postsecondary math, and Spokane’s adoption committee determined that Holt Mathematics is best suited for the high school portion of that goal. Therefore, K-8 math curricula also must be implemented without delay in order to prepare students for Holt Mathematics.

    Spokane Public Schools should not wait for this next step. It is no exaggeration to say that there is a math crisis in Spokane. Spokane suffers with a 42.3% pass rate on the 2009 10th grade math WASL, a 60% on-time graduation rate, a 29.3% dropout rate, an 87.1% remediation rate in math in the Spokane Community colleges, and a net loss of about 2,500 students in this district since 2002/2003. A 2008 survey of families who had left the school district indicated that the main reason 33% of them left was the curriculum.

    It’s time to let go of the belief that math content doesn’t matter, or that math content must take a distant back seat to the learning process. Spokane must select and adopt better math curricula for K-8 that will adequately prepare students for Holt Mathematics. To not do so is to consign students to a disjointed, unhelpful pathway from K-12. A foundation in math is necessary for students to succeed in high school math, but that foundation is missing in Spokane’s current elementary math curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, and also in its middle school curriculum Connected Mathematics.

    If our students are to be successful in mathematics, this district must adopt K-12 materials that work well together to build a strong foundation in math skills and knowledge, and it must do that without delay.

    Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (March, 2010). "Spokane's curriculum committee chooses Holt." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

      Thursday, March 4, 2010

      Issaquah taken to task for choice of math textbook series

      Comment from Laurie Rogers:
      A curriculum adoption committee in Issaquah School District, WA, was slated to recommend to its school board that Issaquah adopt the Discovering series of math textbooks for grades 9-12. Dr. Steve Rasmussen, Issaquah superintendent, has said he supports that recommendation, and he wrote a letter to the Issaquah community to explain. You can read his letter here:

      Meanwhile, Dr. John Sweller, School of Education, University of New South Wales, Sidney, Australia, read through Dr. Rasmussen's letter to the community and had a succinct response, which he has given permission to quote: "That is a long letter to defend the indefensible."

      Below is a letter to Dr. Rasmussen from Dr. Paul A. Kirschner, Director of the Learning and Cognition Program at the Open Universiteit Nederland. Dr. Kirschner and Dr. Sweller are two of the authors of a 2006 article published in Educational Psychologist: "Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching."

      Dr. Kirschner gave me permission to reprint his letter to Dr. Rasmussen.

      (Update: On March 24, 2010, despite this input from math professionals, and despite concerted effort from community advocates, the Issaquah school board voted to adopt the reform Discovering math series.)


      Centre for Learning Sciences and Technologies
      Valkenburgerweg 177 6419 AT Heerlen
      PO Box 2960 6401 DL Heerlen, The Netherlands

      Dr. Steve Rasmussen
      Superintendent, Issaquah School District
      565 NW Holly Street
      Issaquah Washington 98027-2899

      23 February 2010
      Re: Save Math In Issaquah

      Dear Dr. Rasmussen,
      My colleague, Professor Richard Clark alerted me and my colleague Professor John Sweller to Mark Vanhorne’s open letter to the Issaquah School District about the district’s choice of a mathematics method “Discovering Math”. I read his open letter with a combined feeling of increasing astonishment and anger. Let me begin by saying that I myself am not acquainted with the method that the district has chosen, though I have taken the time to peruse the website of the publisher and read what the publisher says about the method. In my opinion, which is based upon years of research on learning materials, learning material development, and learning & cognition the choice that your school district is about to make will impact your students in a very negative way.

      The method is an inquiry-based learning method. There are two main assumptions which underlie such instructional programs using minimal guidance. First, is that they challenge students to solve ‘authentic’ problems or acquire complex knowledge in information-rich settings based on the assumption that having learners construct their own solutions leads to the most effective learning experience. Second, they appear to assume that knowledge can best be acquired through experience based on the procedures of the discipline (i.e., seeing the pedagogic content of the learning experience as identical to the methods and processes or epistemology of the discipline being studied; Kirschner, 1992). Minimal guidance is offered in the form of process- or task-relevant information that is available if learners choose to use it. Advocates of this approach imply that instructional guidance that provides or embeds learning strategies in instruction interferes with the natural processes by which learners draw on their unique, prior experience and learning styles to construct new, situated knowledge that will achieve their goals. There are a number of problems with these assumptions which I will go into very briefly. If you would like to read more on this, I am attaching an article that I wrote with the two aforementioned colleagues – and which I use in this letter - which was published in one of the top journals in the field along with an article from my colleague Professor Richard Mayer, the top ranked psychologist in the world.

      First, such discovery or inquiry-based methods ignore the structures that constitute human cognitive architecture and are thus not likely to be effective. Minimally guided instruction proceeds with no reference to the characteristics of working memory, long-term memory or the intricate relations between them. As John Sweller wrote in 1982:
      "Inquiry-based instruction requires the learner to search a problem space for problem-relevant information. All problem-based searching makes heavy demands on working-memory. Furthermore, that working memory load does not contribute to the accumulation of knowledge in long-term memory because while working memory is being used to search for problem solutions, it is not available and cannot be used to learn…The goal of instruction is rarely simply to search for or discover information. The goal is to give learners specific guidance about how to cognitively manipulate information in ways that are consistent with a learning goal, and store the result in long-term memory.”

      The result is a series of procedures and recommendations that most educators find almost impossible to implement because they require learners to engage in cognitive activities that are highly unlikely to result in effective learning. Further, these methods imply that the teachers have the domain knowledge and pedagogical content skills to carry out the instruction and can give the support and guidance that the method does not possess. Unfortunately, there is documented evidence (from your own Department of Education, that this is not the case as can be seen in the statement by Patricia O’Connell Ross,
      (, team leader for the Mathematics and Science Partnership Program, U.S. Department of Education:

      "While primary education in math and sciences is highly variable, depending on each teacher’s comfort zone, by middle school it gets worse, with less than 50 percent of math and science teachers holding a major or minor degree in those subject areas. In some districts, up to 25 percent of high school math and science teachers do not have major or minor degrees in these subjects; however, this varies widely" (n.p.).

      Second, inquiry-based learning is based upon the assumption that the epistemology of the domain (scientific inquiry) is also the best pedagogy for those who have to learn the domain. Scientists “do” science and math, are experts in their domains and are cognitively developed enough to abstract meaning from phenomena (both with respect to their expertise and age). Learners “learn” science and math, are novices in the domain and have neither the cognitive development nor maturation (see Piaget with respect to cognitive development and abstract thinking) to abstract the necessary meaning. In other words, children are not “little adults” (see Luria for example) and novices are not just less knowledgeable experts (see De Groot for example).

      "The incorrect belief that children and adults differ only in quantitative terms has become firmly entrenched in the general consciousness. Its proponents argue that if you take an adult, make him smaller, somewhat weaker and less intelligent, and take away his knowledge and skills, you will be left with a child. This notion of the child as a small adult is very widespread…essentially the child is…in many respects radically different from the adult, and [that he] is a very special creature with his own
      identity… qualitatively different from the adult" (Vygotsky & Luria, 1930 (translation 1992), Chapter 2, np).

      In other words, the differences between experts and novices manifest themselves not only at the conceptual level, but also at the level of epistemology and ontology. Hurd wrote in 1969 that this makes the mistake of ignoring the difference between the methods and behaviours of an expert in a domain and a student that has to learn that domain. A novice sees, experiences, and learns differently than an expert. Thus, while it might be important to teach students about the scientific method, this does not justify the use of the scientific method as an instructional method.

      I hope you will reconsider your decision. Remember, the mathematical literacy of thousands of students for an entire generation hangs in the balance.

      With kind regards,
      Prof. dr. Paul A. Kirschner
      Director of the Learning and Cognition Program