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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 wlroge@comcast.net  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: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

5 comments:

concerned said...

This is exactly why CONTENT must come to the forefront of public discussion on education.

School administrators will continue to tout ideas indoctrinated in ed schools...

Textbook publishers will capitalize on the latest educational "crisis"...

And teachers will be blamed for poor student performance...

when the real issue is LACK OF CONTENT!

Vain Saints said...

Can you start a charter school? Most states are fairly friendly to charter schools. The state grants the money and some state guidelines, but beyond that you will have freedom to put in the curriculum that you wish.

It only takes a couple of years to put the thing together and you get to make the bastards look bad.

Gary said...

@Vain Saints...
Charter schools are not permitted in WA state.
See - http://www.wacharterschools.org/
40 states have charter school laws BUT NOT WASHINGTON STATE.
Although the Washington Legislature passed a charter school law in March 2004, labor unions and other charter school opponents persuaded a majority of voters to overturn the law in a referendum that was decided in the November 2004 election. As a result, bringing the CHOICE of charter public schools to WA will require the passage of new legislation authorizing charter schools, either by the Legislature or, through the initiative process, by the People.

Anonymous said...

Administrators and school employees work for the School Board.

How are the efforts to elect new School Board members going? That is where you need to focus your attention. Finding good candidates and getting out there and making sure they are elected.

Then fire the overpaid employees.

Anonymous said...

"It is the job of our combined institutions to manage cultural information so as to deny the harmful aspects of the rackets they protect through legislation and promote through institutional research." (Joe Bageant)