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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

District not replacing math materials for two more years

By Laurie H. Rogers


After more than 20 years of absolute commitment to a “reform” approach to K-12 mathematics, our nation has a serious math problem. Students suffer from high remediation rates in math in college, low pass rates on state math tests, low levels of math skills, high student anxiety toward mathematics, and high dropout rates.

Properly conducted research clearly indicates serious problems with the K-8 math programs used in Spokane Public Schools (Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and Connected Mathematics Project (CMP). Public feedback at our community forums indicates widespread discontent with the district’s approach to math. You’d think all of that would be enough to convince Spokane administrators and board directors to replace the district’s much-criticized K-8 math programs.

Think again.

For four years and seven weeks, I’ve been asking administrators to replace these awful math materials. Since Nov. 8, 2010, I’ve been asking if they plan to do it. I want their answer “on the record” – delivered in public or in writing. Longtime district administrator Karin Short has repeatedly refused to deliver an answer in writing. And, rather than direct the superintendent to have her staff comply with this citizen request, board president Sue Chapin appears to find fault with my request for a written answer.

That’s where things stood for 153 days, until March 14. On that day, I finally got my answer in public. The answer is no. They don't plan to replace these materials – not for at least two years and not because the public asked them to. What they're waiting for is the "common" curriculum.

On March 14, at a Spokane Public Schools Citizens Advisory Committee meeting, district administrators discussed how they plan to fix the middle schools. Administrative “solutions” to the middle-school problem include adopting new methods for assessing teachers, and hiring an unnamed “expert.” The math materials weren’t mentioned.

So, at that meeting, I again asked Tammy Campbell, executive director of instructional programs, if the district planned to replace Connected Mathematics (CMP). She said CMP wouldn’t be replaced for at least two more years. Two years from now, she said, the national initiatives for the Common Core State Standards, common tests, and common curricula will necessitate changes and the district doesn’t want to spend money now or drag teachers through multiple changes.

Thus, we can already see how federal control results in local paralysis. I’ll also note here that it’s questionable whether the Common Core initiatives ultimately will bring the changes in math that the children actually require.

Meanwhile, I noted to Campbell on March 14 that research indicates that CMP is a weak program. She said other districts (Lake Washington, Bellevue, Issaquah, and Federal Way) use CMP and do well with it. This argument is weak. Statistically, these district comparisons are neither valid nor reliable.
  • Comparison districts should have similar types of student populations. The four districts Campbell chose are not similar to Spokane in this way.
  • Students in comparison districts should have a similar background in mathematics. Spokane uses Investigations in Number, Data, and Space to prepare its K-5 students for middle-school math. Bellevue, however, uses Math Expressions, and Lake Washington uses enVisionMATH -- both have a more-traditional structure. Federal Way uses a mix of traditional and reform programs.
  • We don’t know much about these other districts’ students or math programs.
    • When did the districts adopt their math programs? How were those programs implemented, used, modified or supplemented? We don’t know.
    • How many students in those districts received outside supplementation or tutoring in math? How many came from other districts, programs, states or countries? We don’t know.
  • Campbell said these four other districts are “doing well” with CMP.
    • Federal Way no longer uses CMP. It finally replaced CMP with programs that use a more-traditional structure.
    • In 2010, Bellevue's 10th-grade pass rate in math was 67.7%. Issaquah's was 70.6%. Lake Washington had a 61.3% pass rate in 8th grade and a 66% pass rate in 10th grade. Next to Spokane's 48.5% pass rate in 8th grade and 38.9% pass rate in 10th grade, the other districts looked better, but let's not get carried away. The math tests were on "basic skills." Students needed just 56.9% to pass the 10th-grade test, and just 55% to pass the 8th-grade test.
Here’s what I take away from Campbell’s March 14 answer. Our district administrators:
  • Are OK with allowing our children and grandchildren to suffer for at least two more years with obviously failing math programs – quite possibly the two worst programs in the country. In a child’s math life, this is a massive, devastating amount of time.
  • Are willing to let our children and grandchildren flounder and fail while they continue to chug down our tax money and wait for other people to tell them what to do.
  • Appear to not understand what good research looks like.
  • Appear to not understand logic. If CMP and Investigations are as good as Campbell claimed on March 14, why is the district talking about replacing them in two years? And, if they aren’t as good as she claimed, why would she not change them now in order to help the students?
  • Cling to the idea that reform math programs are better than traditional programs, and that if the teachers would just DO the reform programs properly, everything would be fine.
  • Really want the Common Core State Standards, tests and curriculum. What does that tell you about where these federal initiatives are likely to take us?
In the end – despite weak student outcomes, high remediation rates in math, low pass rates on state math tests, high dropout rates, research indicating problems with these reform programs, 20 years of criticism from STEM professionals, and much local feedback from students, parents, and community members asking for a more-structured approach to mathematics – Spokane administrators refuse to budge.

I get a clear sense that in Spokane, as in many districts across the country, public education is all about the adults – about what they like, about what they want to do, about what kind of money they want to spend or not spend, and about where they want to go with things.

It isn’t about the students’ academic needs at all.



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

Rogers, L. (March 2011). "District not replacing math materials for two more years." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/

This article was published March 27, 2011, on educationnews.org at this address: http://www.educationnews.org/commentaries/152347.html

3 comments:

Bob Dean said...

Laurie,

Thanks for pointing out this nonsensical decision making. Unfortunately, what you are pointing out in Spokane is no isolated incident.... the same thing is happening all over this state and the nation. Teachers are taking the fall for these poor decisions while those who deserve real accountability get a free pass.... keep pulling the mask off of this charade...

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Thank you, Bob, for all of your hard work. I appreciate you and all of the other teachers like you.

This country has many caring, effective teachers who fight hard for the students, but they will soon be boxed and labeled and pushed out the door. Already, they are hounded, criticized, constantly pulled out of their classrooms, given curricula that aren't worth a plug nickel, and pounded to death with excessive constructivism. How could any teacher BE effective with such an impossible scenario?

No one seems to assess the administrators on whether their policies are effective, particularly as related to student outcomes. The concept doesn't even enter into most conversations. In Spokane, they're now talking about doing it, in the same way they talked about "reviewing" our math materials. Talking about it is just a diversionary tactic.

I'm disgusted with this whole setup. I do believe in any employee being evaluated on job performance, but this is a national "blame the teacher" movement -- a national witch hunt, a national scapegoating. It will serve to remove many excellent teachers from the system, allow administrators to put in people who will follow the failing party line, and it won't do a thing to help the children.

Once tenure and the unions are gone, who will be left to stand up for teachers who want to treat our children as the individuals they are?

Once our effective teachers have all been replaced, it will be generations before we can replenish our K-12 teaching corps with anyone who truly understands the issues with mathematics, grammar, civics and history.

Good lord. What a mess.

Breann said...

This article brings to mind the district's butchering of the Holt Mathematics program adopted for high school by a committee of parents, teachers, and university professors. If the district can write their own proceedure, relegating the adopted curriculum to merely "materials", surely they could do the same to Investigations and CMP. They dictate so much of what goes on in the classroom but stop short of requiring that the crucial skills, practice, etc. missing from Investigations and CMP be supplemented. This would constitute minimal effort while they're waiting on the CCSS.

You're right, Laurie, it is a diversionary tactic. CCSS or not, Spokane Public Schools has the power right now to help their students in math by requiring the programs' holes to be filled. Yet all they offer is excuses because it doesn't fit their agenda (which, as far as I can tell, must be to maintain their amazingly high college remediation rate).