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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Teachers and parents: Take back the classroom from those who have stolen it

[Edited Oct. 12, 2011, to correct spelling of a name.]

By Laurie H. Rogers

Dear Teachers, Parents and Students in Spokane, WA:

In March 2010, Spokane’s high school math adoption committee recommended Holt Mathematics to the school board as its new high school math curriculum. This was based on:
  • the adoption committee’s work over six months
  • various assessments of Holt that had been done at the state level
  • feedback from piloting teachers in Spokane
  • feedback from students and parents in Spokane
  • Holt’s superior alignment with the state math standards.
The state assessments chose Holt. Every piloting teacher in Spokane who expressed a preference between Holt and the other finalist chose Holt. Students chose Holt. The Spokane adoption committee chose Holt. The Spokane board adopted Holt. Holt is needed. The math situation in Spokane is desperate.

At SCC and SFCC, the remediation rate in mathematics for recent graduates of Spokane Public Schools is 87.1% (verified). Most test into elementary algebra or below (verified). Of those who take remedial math classes in the SCC system, almost 47% do not pass their remedial classes (also verified). Just 42.3% of Spokane’s high school students passed the 10th grade WASL in 2009. That test was based on 7th and 8th-grade material, and it required a score of just over 56% to pass. But 57.7% of our high school students couldn’t do it. This is not, despite what you’ve heard, the fault of teachers, students, parents or society. This is a direct result of weak math curricula in Spokane, from K-12.

The adoption committee and the piloting teachers chose Holt because of its order, structure and logical presentation. After we voted, Associate Superintendent Karin Short told us all to support the decision. But a few people – several from Ferris High School – continued to agitate against Holt. As of May 2010, Holt Mathematics is suddenly not the new curriculum in Spokane. Teachers are now being told that the standards are the curriculum, and that Holt Mathematics is just "a resource." Teachers will not be allowed to begin on page 1 of the Holt textbook. Instead, the high school program will start with a later chapter, then skip around the book, along with heavy “supplementing” with a program from some folks at Ferris High School.

The Ferris program was supposedly based on the Washington State PEs and the Common Core Standards. But the CCS weren't released in final form until after Ferris began building this program. Additionally, Washington State has not yet adopted the CCS. And yet, the people at Ferris skipped ahead to plan a program based on these national standards.

This is the district’s run-around. They lost the battle, but they intend to win the war. This deceit is supported by curriculum staff and by Superintendent Stowell. They didn’t like how the adoption committee chose, so they are changing the rules to suit them. You are the ones who will pay. These people - this rogue element - in the central office and at Ferris High School apparently believe they know better than:
  • the publisher and the math professionals who built Holt Mathematics
  • the mathematicians who assessed Holt Mathematics
  • the adoption committee that chose Holt Mathematics
  • the piloting teachers who chose Holt Mathematics
  • the students and parents who chose Holt Mathematics
  • the school board director who is a physics professor and who recommended the adoption of Holt Mathematics
  • the school board that adopted Holt Mathematics
  • the state administrators and legislators who have not yet officially adopted the national standards
Take a lesson, folks. This is true arrogance. They have no research to support their new program, no data that supports their ideology or methodology. They have nothing except their own certainty. And apparently, that's all they think they need. This bastardized program is likely to fail. They will then probably say that Holt failed when in actuality Holt was never given a fair chance. And another entire generation of students, a million taxpayer dollars, and several teachers will be tossed under the bus.

On May 27, 2010, Dr. Stowell, and Board Directors Sue Chapin, Bob Douthitt and Rocky Treppiedi hosted "Educating Spokane," a call-in show on PBS. Asked about Holt Mathematics being shoved aside, Dr. Stowell said that Holt is not the curriculum. The standards are the curriculum, she said.

Another question was asked: "The piloting teachers recommended a curriculum. The committee recommended a curriculum. The board adopted a curriculum. How is it that Holt is not the curriculum?" The superintendent answered that the Holt book was just instructional material, not the curriculum. It wasn't perfect, she said, and so they were “supplementing” it.

Supplementing?? Is it “supplementing” to pick apart the textbook, skip chapters, cut out chunks and bring in their own materials to replace it?? This “process” was fraudulent, and it’s breathtakingly unfair to teachers and students. No longer will it be enough for teachers to just do as they’re told. The system is being set up so that ALL teachers are at risk. Because this process will not work for the students, the math remediation and dropout rates will continue to rise. With the new federal, state and local emphasis on firing "ineffective teachers," teachers will be assessed based on how students do on standardized tests for which the students will not be prepared. Many teachers (at least the ones who do not work at Ferris High School) will be at risk of being disciplined, demoted, retired or fired for being “ineffective” or “insubordinate.”

This is the school district you have right now. It's embarrassing and shameful. But they are not shamed. Nothing will change for you until we have a new superintendent. This district is corrupt. Teachers, parents, students and taxpayers need to rise up and organize, become our own force. We need to take back the classroom from these cynical, self-centered people. Teachers have no protection, not from the unions, not from administrators, not from their state leaders, and – so far – not from the media. But you can rise up en masse and take the classroom back. You can organize in basements, backyards and living rooms, vote no-confidence in your superintendent, and fight for your right to teach. Please come to the next school board meeting – or write to the school board – and tell them to ensure fidelity of implementation of Holt Mathematics.

Ask them to also investigate this fraudulent process.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (May, 2010). "Teachers and parents: Take back the classroom from those who have stolen it." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Monday, May 10, 2010

On May 12, tell school board to vote no to RTTT

By Laurie H. Rogers

(Updated May 30, 2010: see comment at bottom.)

On May 12, at 7 p.m. Spokane Public Schools board directors will vote on whether to support Washington State's Race to the Top application. I'm asking you to attend that board meeting, or call school board directors, and tell them to vote no. Ask others you know to come or to call. Your rights as a citizen, parent, teacher and taxpayer hang in the balance.

Race to the Top represents a de facto federal takeover of public education. Its intent is unconstitutional and banned in 20 USC 3403. This bare fact is not stopping people at federal, state and local levels from enthusiastically pressing for a handover of state rights and responsibilities for public education to the federal government.

At the school board's May 5 work session, Spokane Superintendent Nancy Stowell articulated her reasons for why the school board should vote to support Washington's Race to the Top application. Note that none of these reasons has to do with improving student learning.

Nancy Stowell argues (paraphrased, unless in quote marks): Laurie Rogers argues:
Almost everyone else is doing it. 1. Not true. Some states, districts, and policy-makers are saying no. Others are hesitating.
2. Maybe those who are saying yes are making a mistake.
3. If everyone said no, it wouldn’t happen.
Race to the Top is coming, so Spokane might as well get some money for it. 1. This is a revolting, embarrassing argument. When a bad thing looms, we should just sit back and get money for it? What does that make us?
2. This is not "their money," "the money," "federal money," or "some money." This is taxpayer money, all of it. And taxpayers should have a say in how it is spent. Once public education is managed at the federal level, this right will be de facto removed, possibly forever.
Spokane would get about $6.4 million over four years. 1. Half of all "grant" money for Race to the Top stays with administrators at the state level. (That's their cut of the take.) So, if the total is $250 million, the state gets $125 million.
2. IF Washington State gets all $250 million dollars it could get, Spokane will get $6.4 million over four years, which is less than $60 per student per year.
3. Much of the $56.82 per student per year will pay for administrative overhead and bureaucracy. How much will go to the classroom? Any?
Most of what's in the RTTT application will be required by the recently passed Senate Bill 6696. This is a circular argument. SB6696 was expressly designed to set Washington up to apply for RTTT. But SB6696 is not in stone. It can be reversed.
Many educators said "hallelujah" to SB6696 and said it didn't even go far enough.
SB6696 takes us forward to doing business very differently from how we've been doing it.
1. And there you have it. I urge you to read SB6696. It was a bad bill that should not have been passed. It is just the beginning of more bad policy.
2. SB6696 shows you exactly why RTTT is all wrong.
Spokane will have "better positioning" to be "part of the reform movement." What does this even mean? Education is ALWAYS being reformed. How does RTTT help the students learn better?
People will ask whether Spokane is on board. Tell them Spokane said no to this federal takeover of public education and to another complete waste of billions of taxpayer dollars.
We have 90 days AFTER getting the money to come up with a plan for spending it. Superintendent Stowell doesn't have a plan now? So, it's get the money, then figure out how to spend it?
The money is earmarked for things required by U.S. Secretary Arne Duncan. 1. Superintendent Stowell acknowledged that there will be "considerable oversight" of RTTT spending and procedure. She has already complained about the punitive nature of NCLB. Constant hovering by the federal government already takes precious time, money and resources away from the classroom.
2. Superintendent Stowell acknowledged that not everything that is required by RTTT will actually be useful for our students.
3. If RTTT is implemented in this state, bureaucrats in Washington, DC, will decide how to spend our money, educate our children, set policy for our state, assess our teachers - perhaps bargain with our teachers - and run our school district.
4. If you think Arne Duncan has all of the answers, remember that he will not be there forever.
Spokane is "desperate" for money. "We're going after every dollar we can." 1. The Department of Education says $658 billion was spent (from all sources) last year on K-12 education. Much of this was poorly spent. It just vanishes, spent on things that have little public accountability and nothing to do with the classroom.
2. Look at the plans for Race to the Top -- at the 50% going to the state, plus another (unknown) percentage for local administration. All of this vs. the pittance that goes to the classroom.
Signing on to the state application doesn't "bind us" to doing anything. I keep getting told this, by the ED, the governor's office, and state and district superintendents... I don't see anyone offering a plan or conditions for saying no. Don't believe this false reassurance. None of these people will say no.
We can apply for more money under other aspects of the application. 1. Policy will continue to be set by running after money, instead of doing what is best for the children.
2. What is best for the children has to do with what happens in the classroom. Little of the RTTT money is destined to go there.
This is a quick turnaround, so we have to decide now. 1. The deadline for Washington's application is on June 1, the same day as the projected release of the final draft of the national standards ("common core standards"), the adoption of which is required as part of a successful application.
2. Previous drafts of these national standards indicate that they're weaker than our own state standards.
3. No one will have a chance to see or comment on the final draft of the national standards before Washington's application is sent in.
4. Why the big rush? Why are administrators not taking a moment to ask hard questions about this critical shift in policy?
The two successful state applications had huge district sign-on. This argument is a red herring. It doesn't support any supposed benefits of the application itself.
"Many educators" believe that if we want our children to be able to compete, we need common standards that all states accept. The national standards will bring needed consistency.1. Having "common" standards isn't what helps children compete. Having GOOD standards that lead to GOOD curricula is what helps them compete.
2. The national standards that are required as a part of RTTT have so far been WEAKER than Washington's state standards.
"The common core standards is a very small part of this." The national standards are a HUGE part of this. The national standards are already leading to national tests and plans for national curricula. At that point, the federal government will control the K-12 classroom.
This gives us the opportunity to make some changes we've been wanting to make. There is nothing stopping this district from making changes it wants to make. However, in exchange for a few dollars, it will be forced to make changes it should not be making.
If we say no now, we can't say yes later. "Buy NOW or miss out" is a red herring. If Spokane says no, it will be harassed to say yes later. There will always be another chance to say yes to this federal takeover.
The real question is: If Spokane says yes now, will it ever have an opportunity later to say no?

Many people want Spokane to sign on: President Obama, Secretary Duncan, Governor Chris Gregoire, Superintendent Randy Dorn, various unions (WASA, AWSP, WEA and WSSDA), and Superintendent Stowell. This is some heavy-duty pushing. None of these people have articulated how RTTT money will help students learn better. Why the big rush? Why the heavy coercion? Why are they not asking nor answering hard questions about this critical shift in policy? Why has so much of the federal and state process on RTTT been done away from the public eye?

I am asking you to go to the school board meeting on May 12 and tell the school board to say no to supporting Washington State's Race to the Top application. If you can't go, please write to them or call them individually. This might be the last chance you get.

(Update May 30, 2010: Comment from Laurie Rogers.
On May 12, 2010, The school board voted 3-2, with Dr. Jeff Bierman and President Sue Chapin dissenting, to sign on to Race to the Top. The argumentation for signing on was as weak as the argumentation noted above. Directors didn't answer the concerns from the public - or even concerns from within their own ranks. It was a truly embarrassing display. This school board sold its teachers, parents and students for a nickel it isn't even certain to get. Shameful.)

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (May, 2010). "On May 12, tell school board to vote no to RTTT." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: