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Monday, January 23, 2012

Hold district accountable for deceit, academic failure and questionable activity

“Where ignorance is bliss, ignorance of ignorance is sublime.” – Paul Dunham

By Laurie H. Rogers

Last week, I went to a Spokane Public Schools math presentation at Indian Trail Elementary School. It was billed as a forum in the school newsletter and on the reader board outside of the school. It was not, in any way, a forum. It was a tightly controlled 20-minute presentation that offered no data, little information, allowed for no parent input and was patronizing in tone.

At one point, parents were asked to define math to the person next to us. (The principal said he would not offer his definition.) We also were told to describe to our neighbor a math experience we’d had. These conversations ended right there, thus being pointless. We watched a video of several small children talking about the importance of math. The kids were cute, but the video was long. It was made clear to us that math is hard, parents don’t get it (see slide 7 of the presentation), “traditional math” is no longer useful, and math is intimidating to all. Printed materials reinforced the idea of parent incompetence, with students supposedly “taking the lead” and teaching their parents.

Parents were warned to stay positive about math, however, despite our supposed fear and lack of skill, and we also were told what a “balanced” program looks like – as if that’s what Spokane actually has.

What a ridiculous, condescending mess. The person who put this presentation together should be fired immediately.

Initially, the principal told us that questions could be asked, but when a parent raised her hand to do that (before the end of the presentation), she was told to write her question on a piece of paper. Another parent’s hand was in the air for a while until I called out, “Excuse me! This parent would like to ask you a question.” That parent said she wanted to hear the first parent’s question. The principal said there was no time. Voice inflection is a subjective thing, but I’m not the only one who was shocked at the principal’s snippy tone.

Hovering around the “forum” were three central-office administrators – elementary math coordinator Kim Dennis, and executive directors Irene Gonzales and Lorna Spear. Dennis and Gonzales did not answer questions, disappearing immediately after the presentation. A few parents waited to ask questions of the principal. He had to be called back into the gym, and he appeared reluctant to come back or to stay. Spear showed up briefly to herd the principal back out of the gym. Almost $400,000 in base salary for these four individuals, and not one wanted to answer a question from a parent. Clearly, the district doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “forum.”

Dear District: At “forums,” attendees are supposed to be allowed to get a word in.

After my five years of math advocacy; after the “Betrayed” blog and the “Betrayed” book; after several math forums last year; and after the people’s complaints in school board meetings, emails, and letters to the editor – you would think the district would change course on reform math. District staff still talk about how basic math has “changed,” (no, it hasn’t), and still wax poetic about how students learn better when they struggle through it, get things wrong initially, work constantly in groups, and learn inefficient methods first. The district remains willfully, sublimely ignorant.

Last week’s non-forum at Indian Trail is just one of several in the district. Their goal isn’t to learn something – it’s to prove something. Unfortunately, that “something” isn’t true, which is why the presentations tend to be weak, pitiful and patronizing, with wrong information, leaps of logic, lots of dead space, multiple appeals to parent emotion, and zero actual data. The district knows the community is increasingly concerned about math. These “forums” appear to be their response to those concerns – and to my forums from last year. It seems they want to convince us that we’re wrong.

A year ago, from January through March, two STEM professionals and I put on several public forums, designed to talk about Spokane’s execrable math curricula. These reform curricula, used in Spokane now for a few decades, have been criticized across the country since their inception. In spite of concerns from parents and mathematicians, Washington State followed along with reform math, as most states did. Millions of taxpayer dollars in Spokane, and billions across the country, have been wasted and continue to be wasted on these inadequate materials. Our children’s futures – and the country’s future – have been devastated by how math is approached in our public schools.

Here is one example I’ve seen. In this instance, a 4th-grade teacher was teaching the adding of fractions by connecting the fractions to money. Each denominator had to fit into 100 so it could be part of a dollar. The children were to change numerators correspondingly. The numerators were brought down to the next line, but the denominators weren't brought down, so the fractions suddenly became whole numbers (although they were actually parts of a dollar). The numerators were added, and the result was turned into a decimal, by mentally dividing it by 100. (This was a separate step, which leads one to think the 50 cents and 25 cents were thought of as whole numbers.) At any rate, the decimal was changed back into a fraction, the fraction was reduced, and it was plunked back at the top as the answer. I saw no actual work done on the white board. Like this:

½ + ¼ = ?
50 cents plus 25 cents = 75 cents
50 cents plus 25 cents = .75
½ + ¼ = ¾

This is just ignorant. The children seemed lost. This is a poor method, using poor process, and it won’t work well for problems like 1/8 + 1/3. There is no excuse for this. It was painful to watch. I looked sadly at those little kids, aware that most of them are probably doomed, mathematically speaking.

So, last year, my colleagues and I wanted to talk with the public about reform math, about the history of these materials and about how the efficient math algorithms have been purposefully perverted, undermined and dismantled. We wanted to hear parent experiences, to offer a look at real student data, and to suggest avenues for how parents can save their children. For maximum public access, we made the forums free and held them at public libraries. This meant we had to let in whoever came.

Parents and grandparents came to the forums and expressed concerns. The district also came – a large, intimidating block of people whose presence scared potential allies into silence. At the time, I didn’t know this block of people had been purposefully gathered.

District administrators spent working time and public resources building a schedule of people to come to our forums. They pushed repeatedly for staff attendance and wrote “talking points” for them. Clearly, they did NOT want us to talk about the math curriculum. At our Feb. 7, 2011, forum, administrators tolerated and encouraged abysmal behavior from their staff. We three volunteers – who brought solid data, noble intentions, and concern for the children – were mocked and interrupted, and told that student outcomes were “irrelevant.” District staff continually pushed us off our topic of choice, interrupting us to do so. When we tried to quiet them, we were accused of interrupting. District personnel who might have spoken up in our defense were silent.

Never in my years of advocacy had I ever seen such rudeness. Far from reining it in, district leadership initiated it and kept it going. Could we have handled the Feb. 7 forum better? Sure. We learned from that experience, and it would not go that way again. In my view, however, the district administrators responsible should have been fired on the spot.

On Feb. 7, administrator Tammy Campbell interrupted me three times in the first 18 minutes of my presentation. Asked to be quiet, she talked over top of us and other community members. Associate Superintendent Karin Short interrupted me to tell parents I was misrepresenting student outcomes. (It was district data I was writing on the white board.) A district staff member twice said I might be the reason student scores had dropped. When I tried to get Campbell to answer a question about student outcomes, she refused. The next day, The Spokesman-Review criticized us and called us district “antagonists” – without ever speaking with us or offering any helpful information to the public.

Instead of disciplining Campbell and Short, the district leadership, and Board Director Bob Douthitt were filled with sympathy. Immediate plans were made to hold district math forums (to present “our message,” as Douthitt put it, where, supposedly, “some truth” would be provided).

And there you have it: math “forums” like the one last week at Indian Trail, where cute kids replaced real information, where parents weren’t allowed to ask questions in public, and where $100,000+ administrators wouldn’t answer questions or even stick around.

Do you feel respected now? Do you believe your taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely?

Over the last few months, the district has been promoting its $73 million levy, up for a vote Feb. 14. The Public Disclosure Commission has launched a formal investigation of Spokane Public Schools’ election activity in 2009 and 2011. The PDC probably could investigate 2012 activity as well.

Do you trust the district? Do you believe them? Do you think they have the best interests of your children and grandchildren at heart? See the remedial rates (and the success rates in those remedial classes) of recent Spokane graduates who attended Spokane Community Colleges. Do you think the students are leaving Spokane Public Schools well educated and ready for post-secondary life? Do you think the quality of education in Spokane is fueling the local economy, providing job-ready, innovation-ready graduates? Do you think it’s OK that the district threatens the public and teachers over an alleged 800 education jobs and various enrichment programs, while they spend our tax dollars on more administration, bigger salaries, an unnecessary, unproved data system and an unproved, arguably illegal federal plan? Do you think the district is listening to you, to me, to the community or to the law?

If you say yes to all, then by all means, vote for the levy. But if you see the district as wasteful, deceitful, manipulative, bullying, law-breaking, and/or clueless about math, grammar and other necessary academic skills, then please take a hard look at your levy ballot when it comes out in a few days.

I believe the district does listen to money. Maybe that’s the only thing.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (January 2012). "Hold districts accountable for deceit, academic failures and questionable activity." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:  

This article was republished Jan. 25, 2012, on Education News at:


Richard Reuther said...

This District's behavior goes beyond "rudeness" and crosses over into bullying. When concerned teachers are intimidated into silence by the presence of administrators, even in an open public venue, that qualifies by any definition to be bullying. When administrators attend with the specific purpose of interupting and disrupting public discourse of educational issues, it is bullying. Do not think for one moment that their behavior was "spontaneous."

Bullying is the sick behavior of incompetent supervisors. The purpose of bullying is to create psychological havoc in order to shut people up or get them to "go somewhere else." Mary Thorson was a bullied Illionis teacher who parked her car at the side of the freeway last Thanksgiving and stepped into the path of an oncoming semi. Her death is not an isolated case. Administrators in Spokane and other districts are playing with people's lives when they bully, when they deliberately create the tension that bullying is designed to produce. Bullying is designed to mess with your head. It is akin to the treatment of prisoners of war-intended to break a person's psychological well being.

Bullying indicates a lack of "people skills" and a proper understanding of positive motivation. It is much more about the stick than the carrot. If bullying and intimidation are the only ways that these managers know how to manage, they need to "go somewhere else," as we were frequently told by our bullying principal in Edmonds.

SB 5789 and companion bill HB 1928 are before the Legislature now. These bills classify bullying in the workplace (all workplaces with more than 8 employees, not just schools) an unfair practice and subject to Human Rights Commission review with potential penalties.

My wife and I have been speaking out for the past six years arguing that bullying has no place in the schoolhouse. If we are to stop student bullying, adults need to stop bullying, too. The kids see it and model it. Neither parents, nor teachers, nor staff, nor interested citizens should be bullied by any school employee on or off school property. Schools should be "safe" places to learn and work.

If you agree, write your state representatives and senator urging them to support these bills. Now. Today. Go to to connect with your legislator.

Anonymous said...

i am NOT in your district but FEEL your frustrations. I'm new at this game called public ed (1st grader). HOWEVER, these learning specialists, etc.. do love to conduct forums (even here in grand ol' Fairfax County, VA...we are a leader, right?) where input is not taken (and when they refer to people who 'get math' they like to call me 'you people'). They have the audacity to tell ME i don't get math (oh, yeah, i took up through Calculus III..yeah, I don't get it!). They are KILLING ME! We have strayed so off-course..and maybe we don't agree with each other..I'm not sure...but let me say, part of math is simply putting in the work. It takes TIME to learn your multiplication tables. Simply time. There are no tricks (or what is the fancy word these days..oh, algorithms..what?!). I think it is GREAT that there are different WAYS that math is being taught; HOWEVER, that is all for NOT when you fail fail fail to require students to learn some of the VERY basics (instead, they send our kids home with a problem like 8x7 and then have them draw pictures, etc... and tell you how it makes them feel!). To be brutally honest, math takes time and the work must be put in to learn! It isn't 'easy' for everyone, but teaching kids 'tricks' and just 'talking' about math isn't going to fix ANYTHING!

Bruce Price said...

Please start a discussion of motives. When these administrators and the Education Establishment generally behave in a rude, ignorant, quackish, totalitarian way, we have to ask why. Ask them directly. Get others to speculate on what drives our so-called educators.

(Here are my four best generalizations about these people: 1) not very bright; 2) subversive ideologues; 3) lost in theoryland; and 4) chasing money and promotions.)

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure how you expect to feel respected by administrators when you call them deceitful and ask for their firing over a pretty decent set of powerpoint slides (obviously targeted to newer parents, not to those like you who have done tons of research on the topic). Administrators are human and I'm sure they recognize your face. I'm glad there is a vocal citizen critic of SPS (personally I think they should be split into at least 2 smaller districts), but I think that if you could tone done some of your more inflammatory statements, you might find more support from inside the system. I believe you that you have the students' best interests at heart, but I also believe that almost all administrators do as well.

Laurie H. Rogers said...

Dear Anonymous (Jan. 25, 1:47):

Thank you for your comment. I do have support within the district. It's quiet, but it's there. Many teachers know they aren't respected by the district.

I wonder how you would rather I phrase things. If you have specific wording in mind, I'm open to suggestion. I do support what I say. I provide links and emails. If the district is not telling the truth to the people, how would you rather I word that? Perhaps what you see as "inflammatory," others see as the truth.

Meanwhile, I no longer expect to be respected by administrators or board directors. They appear to respect obedience, allegiance, and silence. If a choice is necessary, and it appears to be, I would rather be respected by we, the people.

survivalguy said...

Sometimes you have to drain the pool to clean it out. I’ll be voting against the Levy – FOR THE KIDS! If it is the kids we truly want to serve, we serve them best by draining the pool and seeing what is left at the bottom, what is really essential.

Citizens shouldn't stand for teachers to be removed from classrooms and class sizes to go through the roof so long as there is one Administrator earning more than $100,000 in the Central Office pushing paper.

In a world of invoolved parents & citizens - They would ALL have to go before teachers – or at least that’s the way it SHOULD be.

Want to make a bet on what your District’s plans say about that?

Richard Reuther said...

There was an interesting article recently in the Atlantic (hardly a raging right or left magazine) about the schools of Finland, which has score in the top three nations on an international test that is given every three years. No private schools. The only standardized test is the one given at graduation. Teachers must have an MA before they are INVITED to go to teacher ed school. They are rigorously trained, well paid, and respected in the community. Broad outlines of subject matter to be covered are drawn up by the government and the teachers are given the latitude to choose what to teach and how to teach it. NCLB got it right on one front: we need a highly qualified teacher in every classroom. But the reformers are going about it the wrong way, bullying any teacher who disagrees with the narrowing of curriculum and the DECREASE in the rigorous coursework they offer. In our building, we lost a for-high-school-credit-biology class (the only one in the District), Japanese language (the only foreign language offered), and National History Day work in social studies. WASL scores in reading writing and science dropped when the senior staff were bullied out of the building and they never recovered. New tests don't allow a comparison to old WASL scores so there is no way to track any change up or down.

"Highly qualified" criteria were wide and loosely applied so that the "numbers" would looked good. Too much money is being spent in central administration. Schools should not be the first place we look to cut spending in a down economy; they are the way out for the next generation of workers and citizens.

The Finnish system is on the right track- train good teachers well, Of course it took them 15-20 years to get to this point....

C.M. said...

Hi Laurie--

Love your blog! I saw the following article online the other day and didn't know if you caught it. Just one more research team confirming what we already know: small groups lower our IQ's!
Here's the link--

Now to get math classes BACK to what actually works! Thanks again for all you do.

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