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Monday, February 21, 2011

Stop fighting lost causes; start talking with the people

By Laurie H. Rogers

I’ve had a Eureka moment.

We advocates for public education heroically argue against bad legislation, bad policy, and bad process. Ultimately, it’s a losing battle. We spend scarce time and energy fighting a single fire – watching numbly as 20 more erupt. And the fire we thought we’d extinguished flares up again.

We, the People are on one side – minimally funded, with minimal time. On the other side is the Education Machine: administrators, legislators, governors, national leaders, business and institutional interests, and folks with a reform agenda. The Machine has the process sewn up tight – people in their pocket, well-heeled connections, powerful promises, backroom deals, and seductive lies.

Just look at much of public education today. The most dedicated, caring teachers can’t overcome the program: We have guessing and estimation rather than accuracy; weak process; insufficient grammar, civics, or math skills; no cursive writing (so, no reading original historical documents); constant group work and "consensus-building" that lead to groupthink; "peer reviews"; low achievement; weak skills; social issues and self-esteem trumping academics; inadequate testing; deceitful scoring; manipulated data; wasted taxpayer dollars; and administrative denial and obstruction. It takes one's breath away.

It’s time to switch gears. It’s time to stop arguing with the power structure and start talking with the people.

What do students need in any academic subject? They need a strong set of learning materials, an effective teacher, and a focused learning environment. We, the People must work together to make this happen, to focus on what matters, and to push for what our children and our country need.

The Education Machine doesn’t want this kind of involvement. Legislation is oozing across the country that will remove the People from the process, through a) “common” K-12 standards/tests/curriculum; b) consolidation and centralization of public education “from cradle to career”; and c) elimination of elected positions. Why are they forcing this legislation? Because it’s easier to press an agenda when no one can argue.

Textbooks and program materials

School administrators like to say that the textbook is less important than the learning standards. Here's why that's wrong. With good materials that are clear, logical, concise and thorough … written in appropriate language for those who are to learn from them ... students don't need standards OR testing to learn sufficient content. Conversely, with excellent standards and testing, but with weak materials, students are unlikely to learn sufficient content. 

Our daughter is a prime example. We’ve tutored her in math since the 4th grade. We pulled her out of her 6th-grade and 8th-grade math classes to avoid reform content and excessive constructivism. She takes a traditional textbook to school and works on her own. At home, I check for good process, correct answers, understanding and application. She’s comfortably halfway through Algebra II. She blows Washington’s weak tests out of the water. She took the PSAT as an 8th grader and scored in the 94th percentile in math. The difference in math knowledge between her and most Spokane 8th graders is a mountain. Most of them could be where she is, but Spokane teachers must use the materials and process they’re given.

The keys to learning math are efficiency and effectiveness in content and in teaching. Interestingly, parents, teachers, students, and community members want to talk about these things, while administrators, legislators, politicians, and policy makers do not. Meanwhile, the People are being neatly excised from discussions, as the tentacles of national standards and national tests envelop the nation. These initiatives are unlikely to bring clear, logical, concise, and thorough materials into our schools. Here’s why.

Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and common test initiatives

Shortly after Arne Duncan was appointed Secretary of the Department of Education, advocates heard about an initiative to develop national standards. Called the Common Core State Standards initiative, or CCSS, it wasn’t a new idea. The 1989 NCTM Standards, which brought today’s reform math into our schools, were an example of de facto national standards, albeit not mandatory.

Billed as a grass-roots effort, the CCSS were to align all state standards and produce stability and international competitiveness – supposedly for less money. States, districts, organizations and companies fell in line with this federal vision – lured, no doubt, by political alliances and promises of money.

I respect the effort and intent of some traditionalists who helped write the CCSS, but in the end, these initiatives will bury us in more bad materials. People who oppose anything of a more traditional bent are excited at the prospect of the CCSS. States began signing on to the CCSS sight unseen. Supporters didn’t seem bothered by early weak drafts or by public concerns over the clarity, rigor, and thoroughness of the final version. State adoption processes often cut out or ignored public opposition. Proponents dismissed public concerns about “local control,” “state rights,” and “federal overreach.”

What’s the result? Even supporters of the initiatives acknowledge that the CCSS for math aren’t as good as Washington’s 2008 math standards. Why would taxpayers want to spend scarce dollars adopting standards that aren’t as good? We don’t, but the Machine is determined to do it. If the CCSS are a pathway to more reform math – this time, reform will be mandated, and the people will be powerless to change it.

The process of adopting the CCSS in Washington State was fraught with secrecy, deceit and manipulation. We, the People were allowed just minimal involvement. Despite what the people were led to believe, the 2011 legislature never had a chance to vote against the their permanent adoption. It was a done deal from the beginning, on the sneak -- before the standards were written, before the people saw them, before we could give input.

These political machinations at local, state and federal levels indicate that the initiatives are about control, not academics. The CCSS are dangerous, and the Education Machine wants them badly. How will We, the People argue with Sec. Duncan, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the NGA, the CCSSO, Achieve, Pearson Education, Texas Instruments, state legislators, our governor, our superintendents, various institutions, and multiple corporations and organizations? Our interests are about our children and our country – not about profits, ego, reform ideology, and political alliances.

The solution, then, is to stop arguing. Stop fighting with an immoveable force. Start rousing the people. We advocates have been nobly but ineffectually focused on putting out spot fires, and we’ve neglected to light a fire under the people. When the people do hear the truth, they listen, they understand, and they want to save their children.

We need to remove from our classrooms 1) reform math programs, 2) excessive constructivism, and 3) constant distraction from academics. If district staff won’t do it, then the superintendent must replace them with people who will. If she/he won’t do it, then the school board must replace him/her with someone who will. If the school board won’t do it, then the people must vote out the school board. If that doesn’t happen, then parents have choices to make about how they’ll get good materials to their children.

District people keep trying to distract the conversation away from the math materials. But - minus that distraction - the people can hear us. Advocates must stay focused.

Here’s what needs to happen for things to improve for the children:
  • Replace K-12 reform programs with programs that are clear, logical, concise, and thorough, and that are proved to be effective in scientifically conducted, peer-reviewed research.
  • Teachers must be allowed to directly teach their students.
  • The learning environment must be focused on academics.
  • Remediation must be provided to all students who require it.
 In addition, to retain our voice and to promote real public accountability:
  • The CCSS must be stopped. CCSS adoptions must be reversed.
  • Centralization of public education, and the elimination of elected positions, must be rejected. In WA, there are half a dozen bills that seek to consolidate and centralize public education, pre-K to career:
  • Check registers for school districts and state education agencies must be posted online. It’s all our money. Let’s see where it’s going. I guarantee that a) there’s a lot more money for public education than you think, and b) most of it isn’t going where you think it is.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (February 2011). "Stop fighting lost causes; start talking with the people." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Monday, February 14, 2011

Democracy denied (so far) on HB1891

By Bob Dean

It’s ironic that while we are watching Egyptians half way around the globe fight for democracy, we are being denied democracy right here in the state of Washington. Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos of the 37th district, chairman of the house education committee, is refusing to have a hearing on HB1891, a bill to delay the adoption of the Common Core State Standards on math and English. This is a monumental decision by our state and it deserves to have an up or down vote from the legislature.

The legislature is playing a sly game, because they have never voted on the Common Core. Instead they voted to give our State Superintendent Randy Dorn the power to provisionally adopt the Common Core last August so we could look better on our application for the Race to the Top funds. Unfortunately, we never got a dime of RttT money.

Even so, Dorn was given the right to make the decision on Common Core. The legislature added a clause in the legislation, SB6696, that stated the adoption could be made permanent by Dorn after the 2011 session if there were no objections by the education committees. Thus, the Common Core State Standards can be adopted without ever being voted on by the legislature. If this move turns out to be a big mistake they can blame it all on Randy Dorn for making this historic change in our state education system.

I have given long technical arguments about why the Common Core standards would be bad for our state in earlier blogs, but the bottom line is just this: The people for the CCSS want to nationalize our education system. They want to give away the rights of the citizens of Washington to affect the education of our children and give it to a very small group of unelected people in Washington DC. This small group of people (CCSSI) was formed and financed by Bill Gates and then put under the auspices of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Counsel of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The governors and the state superintendents really have very little input to this group. Any state only has one vote to make any changes or to resist what they are doing. While a state could back out of the association, once we start down the CCSS road it would cost hundreds of millions to reverse course. This is even worse than federal control because these people are insulated from any public vote.

Washington State had the worst math standards in the nation for more than a decade. It was the citizens of Washington who finally forced OSPI and the legislature to dump our old standards and begin the process of rewriting our standards. Washington now has some of the best math standards in the nation. There is absolutely no justification to make this change based on the merit of the CCSS and there is no reason to take away the rights of Washingtonians. This is about nationalizing our education system pure and simple.

A decision of this magnitude begs for a vote from the full legislature. Win or lose we do not want the legislature to be able to slip the CCSS through under the radar. Many who voted for SB6696 did so for other reasons. They were unaware of what the CCSS were all about. We want an up or down vote on the CCSS. Washington citizens deserve to know who it is that is giving away their rights. That is what HB1891 is all about.

Please call the legislative hotline at 1.800.562.6000 and tell your legislators that HB1891 deserves a hearing. Even better, email Representative Santos right now at, and tell her that Washingtonians don’t want democracy to be denied and she has no right to keep HB1891 from being heard. After you email her, call her legislative number at 1.360.786.7944 (Olympia) and give her the same message, but be prepared for a grumpy voice at the other end of the line (not hers) because she is getting hundreds of calls from all over the state.

Bob Dean is math department chairman at Evergreen High School, Vancouver, WA. He was a State Board of Education Math Advisory Panel Member; on the OSPI Standards Revision Team; and is a member of the Where's the Math? Executive Committee.

Note from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at Please limit columns to not more than 1,000 words. Columns might be edited for length, content or grammar. You may remain anonymous to the public, however I must know who you are. All decisions on guest columns are the sole right and responsibility of Laurie Rogers.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

District tries to silence dissenting voices

By Laurie H. Rogers

Note from Laurie Rogers: Our public forums are designed to inform, to collect input, and to provide like-minded people with a path for improving math education in Spokane. The forums are public, with no expectation of privacy. We will make every effort to maintain privacy and to quote statements rather than specific people. However, district administration and board directors should expect to be directly and freely quoted.

Wow. WOW.

John Barber, retired engineer, Clint Thatcher, retired math instructor, and I are holding free community forums on K-12 math education. I am shocked at how school district employees treated members of the public at our Feb. 7 forum at Shadle Public Library.

The stated goals of our forums are to:
  1. inform the community about the math materials being used in our schools,
  2. listen to what parents and concerned community members had to say about the math program, and
  3. gather together like-minded individuals for future conversations.
Several Spokane administrators, instructional coaches and other supporters of the district’s approach to math instruction laughed at us, interrupted us, criticized us, mocked us, and shouted us down. Some refused to sit down when asked to do so; several refused to obey the rules we had set. Frequently, when we tried to return to a discussion of the math materials, or we tried to turn over the floor to parents and community members who had come to talk about the math materials, district employees accused us of being rude.

“You can’t do that,” we were told at our forum.

They sure tried hard to silence the public voice, but they didn't succeed. We’re asking members of the public to come to the next forum on Feb. 15 and exercise your right to speak about your concerns. Bring relatives; bring friends, and when we ask if you have something to say, please raise your hand and say it.

Many of the people obstructing our forums have the future of our children in their hands. If I were a caring district employee, I would be embarrassed to be associated with them. If they worked for me, they would be fired so fast, they would be a blur on the way out the door. Actually, some of them do work for me. I’m the taxpayer, and they are taxpayer-funded. But I have no way to fire them. In Spokane, administrator jobs are practically set in concrete.

Even I didn’t know our district is stocked with so many people who would go out of their way to sabotage our efforts to speak with the people about the math materials used in Spokane Public Schools.

It makes you wonder what they’re so worried about. Why stack our little community forum with avid supporters of reform math and constructivism? Why shout us down when we try to discuss the abysmal student outcomes? Why interrupt and speak over parents and grandparents who try to explain how things are for their families? If administrators honestly believe in their approach, if it actually works, why alienate so many people by defending a system that brought Spokane to a 38.9% pass rate on the 2010 math test (on which students needed just 56.9% to pass)? They must be feeling anxious.

Administrators Tammy Campbell, Karin Short, and Rick Biggerstaff again did not have an answer to offer for that 38.9% pass rate in Spokane. Campbell claimed that:
  1. things have improved over time. (But this is true only for a few groups, and only slightly), and
  2. Spokane is doing better than the state averages. (But this is not true for Spokane 8th or 10th graders. Additionally, the other, better results she mentioned are still awful.)
On Jan. 31, John, Clint and I held our first community forum at South Hill Public Library. That meeting also was packed with supporters of the district’s weak math materials and its “constructivist” (or “discovery”) approach to teaching math. We allowed people to talk at will, and administrators and instructional coaches defended their approach to math for much of the meeting.

We felt that parents and community members didn’t get enough time to speak on Jan. 31, so at our Feb. 7 forum, we asked the administration and instructional coaches to stay quiet so that we could hear first from the parents and community members who had come to express their concerns.

There was immediate rebellion from district staff in attendance, as if the meeting was theirs, as if they had set the agenda, as if we were the ones being rude. We were interrupted constantly, shouted down, told that we were interrupting and being rude. We kept trying to bring the conversation back to the math materials – the entire reason we had set the meeting. But district personnel and supporters of reform were having none of it.

Campbell interrupted a parent and a grandma. She interrupted me. Short interrupted me. Other district administrative types interrupted John, Clint and me and laughed at us. Whenever I tried to answer a question – and yes, I did occasionally try to clarify or stop someone from going on for too long – I was interrupted and accused of being rude. I tried repeatedly to get Campbell to answer how she would fix our low pass rates, and she sniffed that she hadn’t been allowed to talk, so she wasn’t going to answer.

What is she? Six years old?

They haven’t been good at running a math program that will get our children where they need to go in math, but they are very good at running things the way they want; at obstructing anyone who wants traditional instruction; at blaming things on teachers, parents and students; and at rudely interfering when the public wants to speak. I have always felt sympathy for our teachers, but sympathy has become empathy. Imagine living with that day after day after day. Who could stand to be bullied that way?

Clint, John and I did our best on Feb. 7 to seek civil discourse with district employees who refused to be civil, who openly mocked others, and who expected to control the discussion at our forum. I have no idea how it looked from the outside, but from the inside, it was shocking. And telling.

The message from last night’s forum was clear; administrators do not see the students’ low pass rates, high dropout rates, high remediation rates, or concerns from parents and community members as any reason to change course on math. They are so sure that they know and that we don’t, they don’t appear to think they have to listen or even be polite. They have a million excuses why the math problem isn’t their beloved reform math, and our children will continue to suffer for it.

If anything in math is to change for students in Spokane Public Schools, these people must be replaced with people who understand the math problem and who will show some respect for parents, teachers, and others in the community.

John, Clint and I are concerned volunteers. We care about the children and about the future of our community and our country. We’re trying to do a good thing – holding public forums so that the public can share concerns about the district’s math program. We tried our best to allow the public to talk at the Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 forums, but district administration, instructional coaches and other supporters of reform were unbelievably, shockingly rude – not just to us, but to all of the people who took time from their busy schedules to attend. What is a concerned community member to do?

Don’t let them get away with this bullying behavior. Please tell your friends, relatives and acquaintances to come to our forums. See how little your point of view matters to those in control of the math program. Our forums are free and community centered. They are intended to obtain feedback from parents and other members of the public who are concerned about the math program. They are not designed to listen to reform twaddle, to support district excuses, or to help defend the reformers' interests. All attendees will be expected to adhere to simple rules of conduct. If you live in a different district, you’re welcome to join us. The math problem is not exclusive to Spokane.

Our next forums:
Feb. 15, 6-8 p.m., Shadle Public Library
Feb. 26, noon-2 p.m., Hillyard Public Library
March 8, 6-8 p.m., Moran Prairie County Library

Let’s give this another try, shall we? John, Clint and I want to hear from people who have concerns about how math is being taught. Let’s have civility, respect, and an honest discussion about the math materials.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (February 2011). "District tries to silence dissenting voices." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

School administrators no help at community math forum

By Laurie H. Rogers

Note from Laurie Rogers: Our public forums are designed to inform, to collect input, and to provide like-minded people with a path for improving math education in Spokane. The forums are public, with no expectation of privacy. We will make every effort to maintain privacy and to quote statements rather than specific people. However, district administration and board directors should expect to be directly and freely quoted.

If there was any doubt, I think we can put it safely to rest. Despite a decade or more of steadily deteriorating math results in Spokane Public Schools, administrators continue to support a failing approach.

The school district packed our first K-12 math forum, held Jan. 31 at South Hill Public Library. We knew when we saw them all herd into the room that it would be an interesting evening. When we asked how many people worked for the district, most of the people in the room held up a hand.

The district’s pass rate on the spring 2010 10th-grade state math test was 38.9%, on a test that required just 56.9% to pass. And yet, on Jan. 31, each time we asked the administrators, principals and instructional coaches how they planned to fix the math problem, not one would hazard a solution. We heard how wonderful reform and constructivism are, how terrible “traditional” math is, how traditional math has “never worked” – a truly ridiculous thing to say – how poverty is such a problem in Spokane, how Spokane is doing better than other districts in the state, and how we are over-emphasizing the role of curriculum in the math problem.

That’s all symptomatic of the inherent flaw in their argument. They begin with, “We’ll continue with reform math and constructivism.”

Imagine, if you will, that the K-12 math program has a form of cancer. The only drug that will cure this cancer is Tamifloxin. But the district doesn’t believe in Tamifloxin, and so the use of that drug is off the table. "Now," the hospital administrators say to each other brightly, "how will we cure this cancer?"

The doctors suggest using Tamifloxin. “No,” administrators state confidently, ignoring the vast amount of research on Tamifloxin, “we know Tamifloxin has never worked.”

The dying K-12 math program asks weakly for Tamifloxin. The administrators pat the program on the head and say condescendingly, “You’re just asking for that because you heard the doctors say it. Tamifloxin has never worked. We’ll professionally develop our doctors until they understand that they’ve been brainwashed. And by the way, have you considered the possibility that you just aren’t that good at being healthy?”

The administrators then kick into high gear. “We need more money to cure this cancer,” they state to the family. “If you care at all about your math program, you’ll open your wallet and give us more. We need our patients to be more involved. We know we need more effective doctors. We have a real problem in this hospital with quality doctors. We also must acknowledge the high rates of cancer in math programs all over the country. It’s entirely possible that the math programs aren’t motivated to get well. Therefore, we have a plan to send our doctors for more professional development so they can learn how to treat their patients using balloon therapy and mud baths.”

The administrators pull the family aside and whisper, “You know, your math program is no doubt dying because some doctors are sneaking in Tamifloxin on the side. We’ll be going into the hospital rooms to watch and see if anyone is doing that. But we KNOW Tamifloxin has never worked. People who say it does work are completely ignoring all of the special challenges we face. We want to help you, and we’re doing our best, so you must give our programs a chance to work. Once we’ve had the full slate of balloons and mud, you’ll see everything turn around.”

And so, the K-12 math program dies a slow, lingering death, sighing painfully as its 10th-grade scores sink to abysmal levels, buoyed only slightly by the few students who are able to receive Tamifloxin outside of the hospital.

At the Jan. 31 forum, we put this district’s low pass rates to the people, asking them, “How do we turn these numbers around?” The back row of administrators never answered that question, but a few mocked those who were speaking. From a few instructional coaches, we heard anecdotes about how much they enjoy our reform math programs, how some students do “really well” with it. “Show us proof,” we were challenged – with vivid proof all around – “that traditional math has ever worked.”

Despite being asked several times, administrators Karin Short ($129,299 in base salary per year), Rick Biggerstaff ($77,377), Tammy Campbell ($114,849), a few principals (each more than $100,000), and several instructional coaches could not – or would not – tell the people at the Jan. 31 forum how they planned to turn things around. The entire room of administration – so gleefully dismissive of traditional math – and some of them rude and mocking in the back row – was absolutely silent on the impact on students of a decade or more of reform math and excessive constructivism. They had nothing to say about that 38.9% pass rate and no answers to offer, yet some of them felt OK about mocking or dismissing those who think teachers should be allowed to teach.

They did NOT appear to want to talk about the reform math programs we have in Spokane Public Schools – Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and Connected Mathematics. Those who defended reform instead kept diverting the conversation to side issues such as poverty, testing, parents, student motivation, professional development, and money.

Spokane administrators did not discuss the fact that Spokane’s new high-school math program Holt Mathematics has been virtually destroyed by district administration. Holt isn’t a perfect math program, but it’s infinitely better than the Core-Plus Mathematics Project Spokane had for the four years prior. Despite widespread support in this district for Holt’s adoption in spring 2010, the district’s Department of Teaching and Learning immediately thumbed its nose at the wishes of teachers, parents, students, and board directors – and persisted in forcing more reform math on high school math classrooms.

A high school math teacher said that Spokane teachers haven’t been able to properly use the Holt textbook. In a year or so, district administrators will no doubt say – as one of the “coaches” did at the Jan. 31 forum – that the district “had” Holt Mathematics, and it didn’t work. The truth will be that Holt was never given a chance.

This is what we face, folks. This is what I’ve been staring at for four years. We talk about data; they talk about how much they enjoy reform and discovery. We ask for solutions; they blame everyone else. We want results, they offer excuses and “we’re doing so much better than other people.” They appear to be completely married to a reform Titanic. Our children and community are stuck on that sinking boat, and we must find a way to get off of it.

John Barber, Clint Thatcher and I need your help. If you want the math curriculum in Spokane Public Schools to change, and teachers and principals to be allowed the freedom to do what needs to be done for the children, you will have to fight for it. The board needs to make some long-needed changes in this district, and if the board won’t do it, then changes need to be made in the board.

Please join us in the conversation. The district administration doesn’t appear to care about what you want in math, or about what the children need in math, but we’re listening to you. We aren’t going to blame teachers, and we aren’t going to take any garbage from the district. We’re solely focused on getting the math program where it needs to go. We’re out in the community, gathering input, and we need you.

Join us on Feb. 7, at Shadle Public Library, or on Feb. 15, also at Shadle Public Library. If you can’t attend either forum, then please write to us at  to add your name to our list. Forward this article to your friends and family. Put it on Facebook. Put it on the wall at your place of employment. Rouse the people.

Together, we can turn this thing around.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (February 2011). "School administrators no help at community math forum." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: