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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:



Anonymous said...

Videotape your meetings. Video camera and tripod, set it up in the back of the room, post that the meeting is being taped. They can't stop you from taping a private meeting if is not a hidden camera. Either they show up and play nice (or better yet, you get them on tape acting like jerks) or they stay away. I've done this at the meetings I've held with parents in my district. No district personnel came and I was able to be frank (and uninterrupted) about the criminal state of math in my district. My admin pretty much knows I've got my bases covered with data and documentation, and none of them are math people either, so sooner or later the house of cards will come down. You can only tell a lie for so long.

Breann said...

Wow is right. You couldn't have said it better, Laurie. What struck me hardest was the absolute arrogance of the district administrators present. Their behavior clearly reveals their claim to power over our kids' education, and that not only we will have no say in it, but we won't even be allowed to discuss it if they disagree. Who in the hell do they think they are to stifle the parents of the children whose fates have been trustingly placed in their hands?

I'm glad you're able to add more forums, and I hope more of the public can come and witness this arrogant weilding of power for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I am a mother/educator, and my 17 year old daughter and I attended the first meeting. I thought most people were civil and considerate, but missing the point. From the teachers/adminstrators who spoke, it showed that they were not willing to address the problems (i.e. cirriculum and teaching methods - clearly the "system" in place is not working - so why not look at what does work. Math does not change - teaching/instruction, practice (some homework) and the opportunity to ask questions is what should be stardard methods. How can this be so hard?

Thank you for initiating the possibility of dialogue -- it is obvious you care and are willing to take the time to do something about it. This is a reality we must face - in general, we are failing our kids when it comes to math -- sure - there may be more than one issue contributing to the low test scores, but since this is a math forum - let's start here. I for one am grateful!

Anonymous said...

Ms. Rogers you are very kind to District 81 when you point out facts.

In your recent Blog:
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
School administrators no help at community math forum

You posted base salaries for Karin Short and Tammy Campbell. Very conservative of you to only post the “base salaries” because you leave out their lucrative benefit packages. I am not sure where you got your numbers but they are old. Karin Shorts Base salary is 153K add in her medical dental and other perks and she has a total package of 185K. Tammy Campbell is at 160K for her total package. Mind you that this is 2009-10 numbers they do not include the 2010-11 “board approved” raises that caused teachers to storm the school board meeting on October 13, 2010 see spokesman review article. Teachers protest raises for administrators

Our Superintendent pulls in a cool 255K a year for her total package (2009-10).

You mentioned a 62.1% On time Graduation rate but did not mention with that number District 81 leads the state (for the last 4 years). You mentioned 90% of District 81 students have to take remedial math in community colleges but did not mention the state average is 48% (were #1 again)

Look at special education on time graduation rates we have also led that category for the last 4 years (35.8%) no other schools can even touch us on that stat. We also lead the state in suspensions of general and special education students. The list goes on...

I have two children in grade school 2 grades apart at different district 81 schools and they are both doing the exact same math. They don’t get enough instruction to grasp basic math concepts so they have to revisit it until, as you mentioned, 61% of District 81’s tenth graders can’t pass an estimated internationally comparable 7th grade math test.

I was struck by one of the math teachers last night who mentioned a couple of Asian countries, I don’t remember the names but he indicated they only had to educate 25% of their students, and were mandated to educate 100%. On a human rights scale I can say I am very proud of that for America. But when 90% of his students are taking remedial math in college, I find his in your face criticism to Ms. Rogers unpaid research and advocacy, just for better math students (lets see, what was that word district 81 employees used last night to describe the numbers she was trying to communicate) “irrelevant”.

HiDefMathFan said...

"Anonymous" suggests videotaping these meetings. Good idea! A few youtube videos showing bellicose behavior on the part of district staff would be choice.
The fact that your district ed-twits will spend their time showing up at your events proves that you have them on the defensive. They're worried.
As that same "anonymous" says, they are not math people. This is the root of our national dysfunction with math-ed - those in charge learned what little math they do know in the context of teaching elementary students, from other people who learned it the same way. Virtually none of them learned math as STEM professionals do, and must, so it's no wonder they can't recognize the difference. But the fact that they refuse to acknowledge that there is one and go to such lengths to steer others away from the idea is a huge problem.

Matt said...

I attended this forum and was appalled by the behavior of the district employees, both administrators and teachers. When Laurie pointed out that test scores have declined since 2006, the year she began advocating, one teacher yelled out "maybe you're the problem then". Really? What's next, an insult to your mother? Grow up, people! When a mother expressed concern over her daughter's and her daughter's friends' frustration with math and the teacher not allowing them to solve problems "the old way", an instructional coach from the district responded "my heart goes out to you and your daughter". Well, thanks for that. I'm sure that helped a lot! If there truly is no cause for concern in math education, as the district would have us believe, then why are they attending these forums in huge numbers? It seems as if they are stacking the audience in a blatant attempt to shut the community up. If everything is fine and dandy, then these forums are, as they say, irrelevant, right? They obviously don't realize that by showing up and dominating the discussion, they are giving these forums even more relevance. They are sending the message that these forums must be stopped at all cost. We need parents to attend these forums and tell the district, in no uncertain terms, to let us speak! If they don't like what they are hearing, then don't attend. Better yet, the district could have their own forum. They could call it "Sit Down and Shut Up...We Know Better Than You...Na Na Na Boo Boo"!

Kate Martin said...

Great work, Laurie. I could insert the word Seattle in place of Spokane in nearly every case. Seems reasonable to offer the type of instruction that parents want for their kids. Let parents choose. If they make a stampede for the constructivist classes, fine. If they don't, offer less of those and more of the explicit instruction classes they may prefer. Compare the outcomes. It might be a middle ground step to move the ball down the field in case we can't get this stuff gone in one step. I've often thought of having a "Mobile Math Lab" that would pull up curbside at the schools where kids could go for "alternative" explicit math instruction instead of their constructivist classrooms. :-)

Anonymous said...

It's glaringly apparent that district employees attending YOUR meeting were uncomfortable with, or couldn't relate to the meeting format. The solution is simple. Give them a format with which they are familiar.
First, welcome everyone in attendance. Tell all attendees that you're going to present a plan to drastically improve math ed outcomes in Spokane schools. Everyone will be afforded the opportunity to provide "input" AFTER your presentation. Inform attendees that anyone interupting your presentation will politely be asked to leave.
Second, present your common sense plan, disallowing any disruption.
Third, divide all attendees into "facillitated small-groups" as described in your blog-post article dated 2-1-10. District employees will then be able to write their concerns on small pieces of paper that will be sorted for "relevance" and paraphrased by YOUR facillitators.
Fourth, reconvene the larger meeting, and address concerns that YOU deem pertinent, relevant, and unobstructive.
Educators are all about process. Give them a process with which they're familiar. The same "objective" process that's used in the district to select curricula should satisfy their anxiety. Give them the Delphi Technique.

Anonymous said...

After attending the meeting on February 7 at the Shadle Park library I'm still shaking four days later. What I thought was going to be a discussion of math ciriculum in dist 81 turned out to be a shouting match between district personell and the host moderators. From the onset of the meeting I felt uncomfortable as district administrators heckeld the speaker and made it almost impossible to learn what I'd originally came to the meeting for. My wife was also deeply disturbed and is also in shock. Confrontational and disturbing behavior on behalf of the district employees made for an inviroment so counter to learning it... I struggle to find words to describe it. Children who did attend
witnessed a shamfull display of immaturity and a complete lack of decorum by the guests who identified themselfs a leaders of our educational district.

Wow is correct, I'm still in shock, but with renewed interest
in the process required for change. I came away knowing that if the host had been dist 81, they would NOT allowed the same behaviors they imposed on this meeting and should be ashamed and humiliated by there actions.
I know I feel this way for them.

Anonymous said...

I have wondered why bullying in schools has reached epidemic proportions. I do not wonder anymore.