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Monday, December 9, 2013

Good news: District finally admits math problem. Bad news: Board adopts unfinished, unproved curriculum that contains no textbooks

By Laurie H. Rogers

The leadership of Spokane Public Schools (SPS) took a huge step forward at its Dec. 4 board meeting. Unfortunately, it also took a huge step backward. Let’s begin with the good news: the step forward.

On Dec. 4, an administrator and two board directors acknowledged publicly that SPS has a serious problem in math and that much of the problem is due to inadequate K-8 math materials. Hallelujah. Chief Academic Officer Steve Gering called the district’s K-8 math program "weak," and he detailed at length how it doesn't allow for enough teaching and practicing of basic skills. Director Jeff Bierman called the program inadequate; Director Rocky Treppiedi called it a "disgrace."

I almost fell out of my chair. I wish those public admissions had come years ago, in time to save tens of thousands of children from hating math class, tens of thousands of parents from having to pay for tutoring and private programs, and tens of thousands of graduates from having to either give up on math or take multiple remedial math classes.

Not everyone seemed to be on board with these obvious truths. Board director Sue Chapin said her own daughter had done well with the current math program and that good teachers are what matter most. Her comment pretty much blames teachers for the problems – a long-time district strategy that the former superintendent used to great effect. (Nice way to toss teachers under the bus, Sue.)

Despite a few tone-deaf moments like this, however, the district presentation and the leadership responses were light years from any previous district presentation on math I've seen.

The Spokesman-Review could have helped broadcast the district’s sea change in thinking, so that all parents could see the truth and begin taking necessary steps to save their children. This about-face should have been headline news, considering the years of unrelenting propaganda from the district and newspaper about how great the district is, how things are getting better, how the curriculum is NOT a problem, and how dissenters are just haters with a selfish axe to grind. Instead, the SR’s next-day coverage said
not a word about it.

Nevertheless, the first step to beating a problem is admitting you have one, and the district finally did it. The second step is to isolate the causes: in this case, the math materials and method of delivery. However, the board then made a perplexing decision to address the problem by adopting an unfinished, unproved, online curriculum that pushes the Common Core and contains no textbooks.

That’s the bad news, an intolerable echo of every bad curriculum decision over the past two decades. This district seems to have a strange compulsion to adopt unproved curricula in an uncritical echo chamber.

The board meeting was momentous, yet supremely frustrating. It was like listening to an alcoholic finally stand up and say, “My name is Harry, and I’m an alcoholic,” then watching him pull out a flask and take a long drink of whiskey. So it was with Spokane Public Schools. At the end of the evening, I had emotional whiplash. My jaws ached from clenching my teeth.

Despite their public acknowledgement of a serious failure in their math program, no one there took ownership of this academic train wreck. No one said: “For decades, this District has betrayed 27,000+ students, their parents and this community. We were told and told and told, and not only did we refuse to listen to parents, teachers, students, professionals and mathematicians, we actively attacked dissenters, and we punished teachers for telling the truth. We encouraged our friends and allies to publicly attack and reject them too. We ignored parents who cried in front of us, and we blamed them for not being involved. We watched children struggle and fail, and we blamed them for not being motivated. We refused to acknowledge the problem, and we refused to tell the truth even as we helped our own children. We wasted 20 years of your tax dollars out of sheer stubbornness, and we betrayed children.”

Director Treppiedi bemoaned the fact that the math program was allowed to get so bad, but he’s been on the board since 1996. He helped to make it bad. Bierman has repeatedly voted for materials that on Wednesday he called inadequate. Directors Chapin and Bob Douthitt have been rude and dismissive about dissenters. By the time Deana Brower was elected to the board in 2011 (telling voters she was “very pleased” with the district’s direction in math),
she had already asked around about outside math tutoring.

Bierman said last Wednesday, and I agree, that parents shouldn’t have to be nuclear physicists to get their children a good math program. However, one also shouldn’t have to be a director, administrator, or pusher of the levies to obtain the truth or be treated with respect.  My reputation has been purposefully trashed across the city and state for telling parents what the district finally acknowledged on Wednesday to be true. Apologies are in order (and I will accept them by email because I'm a 21st-century kind of gal and also because it means I wouldn't have to talk with them).

But their worst betrayal by far is of the children, who were failed and blamed for decades, day after day after day – a senseless emotional torture. Sadly, more betrayal in math appears to be on the way.
Gering explained that OSPI (state education agency) recommended districts not buy more materials now, but instead wait until publishers "catch up" with the Common Core initiatives. Districts can meanwhile use free "open educational resources," OSPI has said. Gering said the recommendation "creates a problem" for districts. However, more to the point, the recommendation creates a problem for the children, which is why districts should ignore it. Alas, the children appear to carry less weight in many districts than unhelpful recommendations from OSPI.
Meanwhile, an at-grade-level assessment in math should be done on all Spokane students, with the grim results made public. I’ve been asking the new superintendent for that since September 2012. She said “no one wants” a test like that. I told her parents want and deserve a test like that so they can learn the truth and help their children. (If she gave an assessment like that, she must not have made the results public. Pass rates would be abysmal, and everyone would be talking about it.) It takes courage to speak frankly about a failure so massive and destructive, but that’s why she gets the big bucks, and it is the board’s job to tell us the truth.

Instead, the superintendent reportedly
told the newspaper in October that math outcomes are “average” and that “where [the district needs] work is in language arts.” I asked her several times to explain her choice of the word “average” and to tell me what the district is planning for math. After multiple requests, on Dec. 3, the superintendent finally wrote that the district would give a presentation on math at the Dec. 4 board meeting. I guess I was expected to go fetch the answer by leaving my family and wasting hours of my life at a board meeting.

The next morning, I found out she had answered one of my questions – not to me, but to a reporter. The district was considering adopting
EngageNY, a new online program that’s still being put together. It's technically free, but there will be associated costs.

…. Sigh

Looking at the EngageNY Web site, it appears that the creators want it to be a national curriculum. It’s a heavy promoter of the Common Core initiatives, and there are federal tax dollars involved. EngageNY promotes the "Standards for Mathematical Practice," which are connected to the Common Core but which focus on pedagogy. (Districts that focus on the SMP tend to emphasize fuzzy math and excessive constructivism, both of which have failed American students since the 1980s and are at the root of Spokane’s math problem.)

Not only is EngageNY not proved as being effective, it isn't even finished. “Modules” are still being built and modified. Who knows what the final result will be? EngageNY can change its online materials any time, and Spokane parents won’t know. The program is highly scripted, down to minutes, and there are no books for parents. There is no easy way to know what children are learning or to help them learn it.

I reluctantly dragged myself to the Dec. 4 board meeting, where I expressed my concerns. Breann Treffry, another parent, warned the board of the fierce opposition in New York to EngageNY, that some there are calling it Enrage NY. A New York math teacher wrote to our board and begged directors to not adopt this program.

Naturally, the board adopted the program unanimously. They didn’t address its incompleteness or its unproved nature. They praised each other and looked satisfied. This is standard procedure in education, to waste tax dollars and the children’s time and self-esteem on things that aren’t proved as effective, that have no data behind them, that are controlled by people we don’t know, and that are dogged by dissent and controversy. Spokane has done it repeatedly, and it describes the Common Core experiment exactly.

This adoption isn’t logical. Even if EngageNY were complete and a good product, the district isn’t implementing it until 2014. The board also voted to give individual schools the option to not adopt it. They intend it to be a bridge, with another undetermined adoption coming in 2016. The next adoption is to be yet another unproved program that’s based on the unproved Common Core.

If EngageNY is that good, why not make the adoption permanent? If it isn’t, why adopt it? As a heavy promoter of the Common Core, it looks like a Trojan Horse for the CC's political agenda.

In the meantime, the District will continue to torture students with two of the worst math programs on the planet: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space, and Connected Mathematics. (Nice way to throw other people’s children under the bus, SPS.)

Director Bierman, who pushed for EngageNY, said the key is in its implementation. I’ve heard that argument a thousand times. It's a handy way to blame others for a leadership error: "We didn't make a mistake in choosing this product; you just didn't implement it properly." If the program is bad, teachers will again be expected to turn straw into gold, and they’ll be assessed based on impossibilities.

All this district needs to do is buy a proved math program that is solid and mathematically sound, and allow teachers to teach from it. It's really that simple. But the district obstinately refuses to do it. Saxon Math -- an excellent program -- has been demonized in Spokane, but in the real world, it’s a useful tool, like a hammer. It gets the job done, and many frustrated parents end up using it. It got my daughter most of the way through Algebra II by the end of 8th grade, and well enough that she blew all subsequent assessments out of the water.
Unfortunately, deeper pockets than ours are involved, and district ears are attuned to them. All we have is a solid argument and our love for our children. It’s difficult for us to overcome shadowy faces and ulterior motives. Echo-chamber decision-makers often don’t see, or pretend to not see, problems and solutions that, to us, are glaringly obvious. They’ll call solutions the problem, and problems the solution, and they’ll flatly deny successes that others have had with the very solutions they’ve rejected.

All of this could have been part of the newspaper’s
Dec. 4 article or its Dec. 5 brief. (On Dec. 5, by the way, the SR got the name of the curriculum wrong, calling it ExchangeNY. Good job, guys.)

Perhaps there is some in-house dialogue regarding this adoption that the district is refusing to tell us, but I’m tired of having to “read between the lies.” The proof is in the pudding, and their proposed “pudding” is another experiment on children.
They won’t get respect from parents like me until they tell the public the truth and they actually fix the damn math program.

In the meantime, they’re still willing to pretend there’s a larger worthwhile picture that requires sacrificing the children's academics to it. They're still willing to adopt an unproved product, withhold the stark truth from parents, and toss teachers and parents under the Blame Bus.

An administrator hoped last Wednesday that the adoption of EngageNY will help to end what he calls “the math wars.” I wish it would. The children's futures depend on the district fixing its issues, and it's always nice to hope, but hope is not a method. The district’s choice of “method” is likely to fail all of us, including 27,000+ children.

Download the audio of the math-presentation portion of the Dec. 4 board meeting.
Steve Gering presents on math from 0 to 55.46. The presentation is frank and worth hearing.
Gering says the Common Core is not his focus at 29:00.
Rocky Treppiedi asks how the district knows EngageNY will be good at 41:15.
Breann Treffry testifies against the adoption of EngageNY at 56:20.
Laurie Rogers testifies against the adoption of EngageNY at 1:03:55.
Sue Chapin's comments on teachers and "integrated math" at 1:48:10.
Board adopts EngageNY unanimously at 2:05:26.
Gering notes -- truthfully, yet ironically -- that the district would be in a better place now had administrators listened years ago to parent concerns: 2:05:40.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (December 2013). "Good news: District finally admits math problem. Bad news: Board adopts unfinished, unproved curriculum that contains no textbooks." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Secretary of Education displays arrogant, bigoted, anti-parent sentiment. Alas, he speaks for many

By Laurie H. Rogers

“It was we, the people, not we, the white male citizens, nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed this Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings or liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people—women as well as men.” -- Susan B. Anthony, who in 1873 was under indictment for voting in a presidential election

On Nov. 15, 2013, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told state school superintendents
he’s “fascinated” that “white suburban moms” are opposed to the Common Core initiatives.

Really? I’m "fascinated" that someone put Arne Duncan in charge of the nation’s public education system.

Duncan’s entire college education appears to consist of a bachelor’s degree in sociology. (This is a step up from community organizing, but not a very big step.) It’s bizarre that someone with a bachelor’s degree in sociology is the Secretary of Education, entrusted with 700 billion taxpayer dollars annually and now dictating education policy to all of us.

According to white suburban dad Duncan, the opposition of white suburban moms to the Common Core is because they’ve been blind up to now. He said: "It's fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were, and that's pretty scary. You've bet your house and where you live and everything on, 'My child's going to be prepared.' That can be a punch in the gut."

Ah, yes: The 2013 version of “they’re just hysterical females.” Even if our children are stupid, it isn’t polite of Duncan to point it out. But that’s only the tip of what’s wrong with his comments.

Asked later to clarify, Duncan said he "didn't say it perfectly," but he declined to modify his central position that opponents of Common Core don’t get it, are opposed to higher standards, or might actually want “less” for students.

In a later email, Department of Education spokesman Massie Ritsch reportedly blamed extremists: "The far right and far left have made up their minds," Ritsch reportedly wrote. "But there's angst in the middle -- which includes many open-minded suburban parents -- that needs to be addressed."

And just like that, the legitimate concerns of Common Core opponents are again misrepresented, mislabeled and dismissed.

What actually needs to be addressed is the fact that many of those in charge of education (and so the future of our children and the country) seem uninformed, arrogant, anti-parent, out-of-touch, antagonistic, bigoted, elitist, chauvinistic, condescending, dismissive, divisive, snobbish, petty, obstructive, ignorant of what actually works in education, blind to the children's needs, and adept at saying things that obviously aren’t true.

In the echo chamber of education, Duncan’s comments exemplify the general attitude toward parents: You don’t get it. You’re the problem. We don’t need to listen to you because you have nothing to tell us. Stop being a pain. Vote for our levies if you don’t hate children, but please don’t talk unless you agree with us.

Indeed, if arrogance were water, it might have flooded the state superintendents’ Nov. 15 meeting and drowned them all.

Administrators frequently blame parents for not being involved. They also blame parents who are very involved. They accuse us of not knowing enough math, but most won’t listen to those of us who know a lot of math. Many have no problem calling us names, mocking our efforts, refusing to answer our questions, stepping between us and our children, and lying about their real intentions. To our face, they’re careful to produce acceptable language, but behind our back, in the echo chamber, Duncan has shown us exactly what many education administrators are: Arrogant, dismissive, bigoted and deceitful.

One must agree with Duncan on the public schools. Most are inadequate and most parents don’t realize it – because we are lied to constantly by the federal government, state education agencies, district administration, board directors, the media and some teachers. Duncan’s comments are a nice turn on the truth; a strategy that’s been his stock and trade pretty much since he took over as secretary.

Following a storm of outrage, Duncan blamed sound-bites, poor communication and a “fast-moving world” for the negative reaction. He said he “regrets” his
“clumsy phrasing”  – “particularly because it distracted” from the “important” conversation. He wants to return to the discussion of “implementing reform.”

Well, sure. He’s always welcome to join in as parents continue to question his “reform.” We anti-CC parents never left that conversation. We understand exactly how important it is, which is why we insist on and persist in having it. The CC initiatives are alarming – sloppy, expensive, unproved, poorly done, dictatorial, divisive and intrusive. Some parents call the initiatives “Obamacore.”

Whether or not you see Duncan’s attempt at damage control as an actual apology, it’s too late. He accidentally stated his inner thoughts, and there is no putting that nasty genie back in the bottle.

Being able to lie well used to be a sign of sociopathy, but it’s now a government norm. Consider the vast nationwide deceit that is public education. It must be that education agencies hire based on the abilities to lie well to children and parents; to turn away from the obvious needs of desperate children; and to deflect all parental doubt, worry and criticism as being the ravings of the deluded and uninformed.

In actuality, parental concerns about the CC initiatives are legitimate and worthy of media investigation.

The initiatives were supposed to be common standards in K-12 math and English, but are becoming national standards in all subjects, along with national tests, forced curricula and a creepy national data system on children and families. They’ve taken over the country, in preschools, K-12, colleges, public schools, charter schools, private schools, Christian schools, curricular materials, state and college testing, and public and private daycares. There is zero proof of their efficacy; this is a national experiment on children. Many CC-aligned curricular materials are already proving to be academically weak, with insufficient grammar, no cursive writing, heavy (and extreme) political bias, questionable literary content, and the same fuzzy math that devastated the last 30 years of K-12 math instruction.

The standards are both a “floor “ and a ceiling for students; there are mandated limitations on what can be taught, and the Common Core doesn’t provide for special types of learners. In addition, the cost of this national experiment could financially bury the country. It’s simple math. There are about 14,000 K-12 school districts. 14,000 districts x multi-millions of dollars each = billions of our tax dollars.

And yet, with all of this, Duncan says he’s “fascinated” that white suburban moms don’t get it. What those moms need is do, he said, is understand that education is global.

Right. Because that will fix it.

Journalist Michelle Malkin, who is not white, is anti-Common Core.
Last week, Malkin wrote about Duncan: “He pretends that minority parents and students in inner-city charter and magnet schools with rigorous locally crafted classical education missions simply don't exist. A textbook liberal racist, Duncan whitewashes all minority parents and educators who oppose Common Core out of the debate.”

On Nov. 18, Duncan
explained that he didn’t mean to pick on white suburban moms. “Every demographic has room for improvement,” he clarified.

Ah, that’s better. In his mind, we all suck.

Dear Mr. Duncan: Every government agency nowadays has room for improvement, but most show no sign of knowing what improvement looks like.  If you would stop mucking around in classrooms, insulting involved parents and capable teachers, wasting tax dollars on unproved initiatives, and secretively throwing your lightweight around – in violation of the U.S. Code and the Tenth Amendment – then We, the People could take care of making actual academic improvements.

Math advocates did that in Washington State in 2007-08 with better standards in math. Just two years later, Duncan, with his bachelor’s degree in sociology, caused those better math standards to be tossed in favor of the lesser and infinitely more expensive Common Core experiment. Clearly, the CC was never about academics or the children’s needs; it’s always been about money and control.

The solutions to problems in public education do not entail more government and more Arne Duncan; they entail less government and preferably no Arne Duncan at all.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (November 2013). "Secretary of Education displays arrogant, bigoted, anti-parent sentiment. Alas, he speaks for many." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Monday, November 11, 2013

Spokane print media failing all of us, but especially the children

By Laurie H. Rogers

"If they were forced to add the truth to what they already say about you, Laurie, it would look like this: [The truth:] 'Wow, that Laurie Rogers. She volunteers her time to advocate for proper math, help small children, and uncover the truth about how public schools spend our money. [What they say:] What a bitch.'"-- A friend and colleague

If the Spokane print media ever want to get rid of me and my reporting on Spokane Public Schools (SPS), all they have to do is publish a thorough, accurate and balanced article about me and my efforts to inform Spokane parents. I’m sure I would die of the shock. I’m not worried it will happen any time soon.
Their worst betrayal is of the children. I do not understand adults who can look away from children in need, who can persistently deny or ignore a child’s grim reality – even as they take steps to help their own children. Sadly, Spokane is filled with adults just like that.
After nearly seven years of advocacy, I wasn't surprised at The Spokesman-Review’s “coverage” of a lawsuit I filed against SPS over public records. The SR article was published Oct. 9, 2013, on the front page, above the fold. In the first sentence, it claims I have a "history of needling officials." The article contains several errors, including the date and the wording of my records request. The reporter and editors made no effort to contact me before publishing the article, and the opportunity to post comments online was shut down after just one day.
I’ve been a reporter and an editor. This article would never have been published “as is” at the newspapers I worked for. The article would have been fact-checked and corrected. Diligent efforts would have been made to contact the subject of the article, and those efforts would have been noted in the article. Any factual errors would have been corrected on subsequent days.
Despite multiple attempts, I’ve never actually had a conversation about education with anyone from the SR. I’ve been investigating the district since 2007, writing an education blog since 2008, and I published a book about education in 2011. I speak with students, teachers, parents and advocates from around the world. None of this seems to be of interest to the local daily, which has repeatedly trashed my name and reputation without speaking with me.
  • In early 2011, some colleagues and I held several public forums on math. After one in which administrators were rude and obstructive, the SR criticized our inability to restrain the administrators and called us district “antagonists.”  The editors didn't bother to speak with us or explain the objective of our forums.
  • In October 2011, during an election, I sent the SR a Letter to the Editor that described the Public Disclosure Commission complaint I had filed on the school district. The editor acknowledged my letter but didn’t publish it. Instead, he sent my letter to the SR’s education reporter. Two weeks later, when the paper finally published a brief note about the PDC complaint, the district had been allowed to respond, but not me.
  • In October 2011, the SR published a Letter to the Editor that contained unsubstantiated accusations about a local citizen and a local school board candidate. I asked an editor about it, and he said “that one got by us.” However, that letter was published three times – twice online and once in the paper. As of Nov. 11, 2013, it's still on the SR’s Web site.
  • In October 2011, I painstakingly transcribed an audio recording of a candidate forum. Compare my transcription with the SR’s version, which the paper published unattributed two months later. The hyphenation, punctuation, parentheses, word choice and spelling are the same.
  • In December 2011, without speaking with me, SR columnist Shawn Vestal wrote that a teacher and I had engaged in "vigorous bashing" of a board candidate prior to the teacher's hosting of a candidate forum. Asked for proof, Vestal cited one line from an email between the teacher and me. He said he wasn't "going to hunt down other examples in the e-mails again." (This is convenient; the email he quoted doesn’t represent “vigorous bashing” and there are no other examples.)
  • In 2012, Vestal emailed to ask for an interview about “the many records requests being filed with the school district.” Wary of his intentions, I did not grant the interview.
    • Vestal subsequently wrote that my efforts seem "less than fully hinged" and my complaint seemed “conspiracy-minded and poorly informed.”
    • He noted that my PDC complaint cited district employees for using school resources to promote a board candidate although I had emailed a teacher with praise for a candidate. He added sarcastically, "but that is doubtlessly different." (It is different. I'm not a public employee.)
    • Vestal implied that I might be lying about my relationship with local anti-levy advocates, and he said I'm part of the cause of school district's "administrative waste and bloat."
  • In 2013, in the online comments for a SR article about the district, a commenter called me a "crackpot," as in "Crackpot hits the jackpot." I emailed the SR about the comment, and it was removed (without a reply to me). This week, I noticed that a similar comment (from someone named “misjustice”) has appeared and was not removed.
The SR’s education reporter did call me once in 2011 – not to talk about math or education or my blog or my book. She called to complain about my comments about her reporting.

Then there’s the Inlander, a weekly entertainment paper in Spokane. Inlander staff members have spoken with me a couple of times about education, and there has been occasional reasonable coverage. However, the Inlander also has:
An Inlander reporter did call to ask for comments regarding the lawsuit. I asked Cheryl Mitchell, a Spokane lawyer, to speak with the Inlander reporter. Here is the Inlander’s “coverage.” The reporter did not quote Mrs. Mitchell, and his article falls under the Inlander heading “Friends and Enemies.”

“Enemies”?? Wow. That’s a new one on me. I’ve never in my life seen a newspaper call citizens “enemies.”

Do Inlander editors consider the school district to be a friend or an enemy? If the district is a "friend," does that make me an “enemy”? I’m just trying to speak truth to the people. The truth isn’t comfy to hear, but it is what it is. I didn’t build these problems. I also didn’t receive a “big payout” from the lawsuit, as the Inlander said I did. The District admitted to errors and made an “Offer of Judgment,” which included a settlement offer. Most of the settlement paid for my legal counsel.

Meanwhile, the district:
  • Didn’t abide by the requirements of the Public Records Act, and continues to employ people who didn’t abide by the PRA requirements. School board directors also keep trying to undermine the Public Records Act.
  • Has failed for decades to properly educate 27,000-28,000 children, and persistently refuses to give the general public an accurate accounting of student outcomes.
  • Wants ever-more taxpayer dollars for a failed system, and refuses to give citizens an accurate accounting of how our taxes are spent.
  • Is under investigation by the Public Disclosure Commission for election activities.
  • Used taxpayer dollars to help support a lawsuit against taxpayers to wrestle more taxpayer dollars from taxpayers (the McCleary lawsuit).
Is none of this worth an investigation? I’ve tried to hold the school district accountable for what it does with our children and our tax dollars. Is that what makes a citizen an “enemy” nowadays, or “less than fully hinged”?

Since 2006, I’ve always tried to take the high road with my education advocacy. I’ve tried to not engage in the petty ad hominem attacks I see so often from avid supporters of the public schools. Whereas backbiters tend to post anonymously or under a pseudonym, I post using my real name, and I support my comments with facts, statistics and hyperlinks.

I’m a frank person, but generally polite. I’m a learner, and I work hard to get my facts in order. I care about the children, and I’m a patriot who is deeply concerned about my community and my country. With training in proper journalism and argumentation, I know how to ask tough questions, how to write well and carefully, and how to put together a solid argument.

None of that matters to backbiters. It’s much easier to trash whistleblowers than to hold public agencies accountable. They don’t seem to know this, but education isn’t about them. Nor is it about me. Education is about the children. Everyone is supposed to be there for the children, to get the children the academics they need. It isn’t supposed to be a make-work project, a jobs program, a money trough, a social experiment, or a place for political advocacy.

I’m focused on the children’s academic needs and on district transparency and accountability. I haven’t had much help from those in Spokane city and county “leadership.” This school district boasts a heavy footprint in the city and the state, and has thrown its weight around with impunity and without apparent shame. Decision-making appears largely driven by selfish interests, big government salaries and a half-a-billion-dollars-per-year budget.

Building a coalition to hold the district accountable is an ongoing challenge. Adults would need to put the children’s needs ahead of their own interests, and few in leadership seem willing. Most appear to not want to risk upsetting this 10,000-pound government gorilla, its hefty capital budget, its horde of union voters, and its stable of taxpayer-funded lawyers. That isn’t a Democrat or Republican thing. It isn’t a left or right thing. It’s a “Just as long as I get mine” thing. When you see the damaging effect on the children, however, you come to realize how corrupted and perverse it’s become.

It’s appalling that these people are in charge of the well-being and future of children.

I’m not an enemy; I’m a messenger, and I try to be a good one. Every second of what I've done over the last seven years, in an effort to help 27,000+ children who aren't mine, was volunteered. I did it because someone must and because the newspapers refuse to do it. If they would step up, I would happily step down. They will not do it. Instead, they blame me, criticize me and call me names. They steadfastly refuse to properly investigate this public agency or to inform citizens.

Real leaders accept the blame and pass the credit. This school district and these media outlets have a habit of scrounging for credit while passing the blame – to teachers, parents and the children themselves. Trying to have it both ways, they also claim that no blame is warranted because students are doing as well as can be expected. In actuality, the district fails 27,000+ children in academics every year. As its leadership makes piles of money, their near-absolute focus is on gaining more taxpayer dollars and more power, while adroitly covering their tracks.

The print media in Spokane fail all of us, but especially the children. They refuse to do their job while frequently targeting citizens whom they think threaten their status quo. Now, one media outlet appears to have decided that some law-abiding, well-intentioned citizens are “enemies.”

It’s irresponsible and dangerous, and it's difficult for media to be more alarming than that.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is: Rogers, L. (November 2013). "Spokane print media failing all of us, but especially the children." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Spokane math teacher offers suggestions for improving math instruction

Note from Laurie Rogers: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Nowhere is this more true than in Spokane Public Schools. Recent School District decisions have included:

** putting loaded handguns in the schools (in the hands of District employees, no less). There's no telling what this will do to the District's budget or to insurance rates, since The Spokesman-Review reporter apparently didn't ask. This is an unfunded mandate the District has given to itself;

** implementing a new "T-2-4" program, which theoretically will prepare students for trades or for college (Not to be negative, but isn't this what the District was supposed to be doing all along?);

** placing all kindergartners, ready or not, into all-day kindergarten (thus stuffing those cute little money-makers into the failed public system even sooner);

** providing all students with their own school district email address, which will not be accessible to parents (thus removing the children - and the District curriculum - even farther from parents);

** and setting up the District for charter schools (even though it's yet to be shown that this District's school board actually knows how to run an academically effective school system).

To the best of my knowledge, however -- what the District has NOT recently decided to do is buy an effective K-8 math program for students and teachers. It also hasn't told the community the truth about the K-8 math program it has now.

It's hard to believe, folks, but Spokane Public Schools is going into yet another year with two of the worst math programs on the planet: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space; and Connected Mathematics. These programs have been heavily criticized across this country for decades, and proof of their abject failure is all around. Some in District and City leadership have quietly taken steps to fill in the gaps the programs have left in their own children.

Last September, the superintendent told me she understands the math problem in Spokane, and she promised to fix it. Some $250,000 in salary later --- K-8 students in the District are left to swing in math for yet another year while the adults in charge of providing them with math skills are busy with other things.

And so, I'm reprinting, with his permission, a fantastic article written in June 2013 by Spokane high school math teacher George Brown. It was first published in The Spokesman-Review in June.


By George K. Brown

Once again Washington state is changing math standards and end-of-course exams. Fifteen years of such changes have produced nothing. I teach mathematics courses at Lewis and Clark High School. Since 1987, I have taught Business Math, Applied Math, Algebra I and II, Geometry, Trigonometry and Pre-calculus. I’m not the best, but I am pretty good at what I do. I still love teaching mathematics to children.

For 10 years or more, the pass rate on Washington state tests of mathematics has been unacceptable. The number of kids requiring private tutoring for high school math classes and remedial mathematics classes in college is also unacceptable. This is a national problem and it has been written about extensively for years. On international tests of mathematics, the United States ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations, and this is without dispute.

Most of my current students are extremely poor in basic arithmetic skills. They cannot add, subtract, multiply or divide with any accuracy or confidence without the use of a calculator. They have virtually no competence or fluency with fractions, decimals or percents. This deficiency has been worsening over the past eight to 10 years. In 2008, Washington State Standards required such proficiency. I have yet to see it. If a student is not fluent in arithmetic, then algebra will represent a serious hurdle. If a student is not fluent in algebra, then a firm grasp of calculus will be impossible. College-level mathematics is out of reach for many, if not most, of my students.

In my opinion, we need to implement some common sense changes. Here’s a list of starters:

1) Children should arrive at high school fluent in basic arithmetic and some simple algebra. For this to happen they must be taught to add, subtract, multiply and divide whole numbers, and to compute with fractions, decimals and percents. Proficiency must be developed through much practice.

2) Eliminate the use of calculators for kids learning arithmetic and algebra. It is neither necessary nor helpful. Calculators have their place, but not in the mastering of basic skills.

3) Enforce a strong attendance policy. It is not uncommon for a student to miss 10, 20 or even 30 class periods of instruction. What good are standards when we don’t require attendance? A student must know that excessive absences (more than 10 percent) will result in loss of credit. This is, after all, compulsory education.

4) Stop placing students in math classes for which they are not qualified. For example, students who fail algebra must repeat algebra. They should not be placed in geometry. This practice is not only counterintuitive, it is counterproductive.

5) Establish a rigorous and challenging applied math track at high school that teaches mathematics for business, construction, electricity, plumbing, mechanics and other trades. We desperately need an alternative to college prep math that counts toward graduation.

6) Establish a rigorous and challenging college prep math track, including algebra with some geometry, advanced algebra with trigonometry, pre-calculus and calculus. The geometry course we currently teach is nonessential to the study of advanced algebra and calculus. Remove it.

7) Don’t raise the math requirements for high school graduation. Student interest cannot be mandated and without it little or no learning takes place. This practice has not produced better-prepared math students. Higher-level analytical mathematics classes should be available as electives for those who choose them and who are academically qualified to participate in them.

8) Allow teachers to use district-purchased textbooks as written, without interference from folks who confuse having data with knowing students.

9) End state and federal meddling in local schools. The ever-changing obstacle course of requirements, regulations and testing is destroying the education of our children.

I expect that with the arrival of a new set of standards and new state end-of-course exams, we will fight anew the battles of curriculum and methodology and continue to ignore the need for attendance, interest and competency on the part of the learner. While the children are poorly prepared for postsecondary education, we continue to fight to the death over which book to use or how to use the books we have.

This is a shame and a tragedy. At the end of the day, the children are the real casualties.

George K. Brown is a math instructor at Lewis and Clark High School.

Comment from Laurie Rogers: If you would like to submit a guest column on public education, please write to me at . Please limit columns to about 1,000 words, give or take a few. 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.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Children are the key to America's future. The government wants control of that key.

By Laurie H. Rogers
Those who exert the first influence upon the mind, have the greatest power.
-- Horace Mann, Thoughts
The writing is on the wall. In a June 7, 2013, statement, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said President Obama is planning to "redesign" America’s high schools. This redesigning will take place through “competitive grants” (also known as “bait”). Who will pay for this redesigning? (Taxpayers will, as we always do.) How much will it cost? (The secretary and president haven’t said, as they rarely do.) Does the president have the legal or constitutional authority to “redesign” America’s high schools? (No.)
According to 20 USC 3403, Obama and Duncan also lack the authority to direct standards, curriculum and teaching approaches. That isn’t stopping them. They say their interventions are for our own good.
He would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where should we be? (Animal Farm)Please take note of the language in Duncan’s press release. The “redesigned” high schools will entail:
  • "Student-centered" learning
  • "Project- or-problem-based" learning
  • "Real-world experiences” and “real-world challenges"
  • "Evidence-based professional development"
  • Engaging in “complex projects” and working with others to apply knowledge
  • Moving “away from the traditional notion of seat time"
Uh, oh.

Math advocates will recognize that language. It typically alerts us to reform math – to fuzzy content, “discovery learning” (or constructivism), excessive group work, teachers who don’t directly teach, and lofty concepts presented before skills. That approach has not worked well for students for the last three decades.
It seems Duncan is a reformer, and why wouldn’t he be? Public education systems, colleges of education, curriculum developers and policy makers all have been bathed in reform philosophy and approaches since the 1980s. The president’s new mandate – excuse me, his new initiative – appears to mandate an instructional model that has completely failed children for 30 years.
Duncan and Obama also push the controversial Common Core initiatives, which are leading many districts to fuzzy math and weak English programs. The CC math standards contain a separate section, called the “Standards for Mathematical Practice.” Many states and districts are emphasizing the SMP, and the SMP supports a constructivist approach. Voila: more reform math.
It’s noteworthy that the publisher of Singapore Math – a series long praised by traditionalists – released a new “discovery” version based on the CC. Other publishers also have done so. They appear to believe the CC embraces constructivism, and they're going along with it.
And now we have this high-school initiative, announced with the same language used by proponents of reform math. After three decades of grim failure, reform approaches to math are unlikely to suddenly work for students just because the feds throw another trillion taxpayer dollars at them.
In April, Obama also announced plans to “expand” early learning programs for 4-year-olds, rolling them into the K-12 system. Initially, children will be from low-income families, but other families and toddlers are to be rolled in, too. “Preschool for All” is estimated to cost taxpayers $75 billion over 10 years.
This de facto federal takeover of public education is cunning and devious. Many Americans have been persuaded that the Common Core and related initiatives are “state-led” and academically better; that nothing is federally mandated; that our right to privacy is intact; and that the Standards are the key.
Not true.
Proponents say the CC initiatives are voluntary; internationally benchmarked; research-based; rigorous; proved to work; that they’ll save money; they’ll provide commonality and consistency; and that they aren’t “one-size-fits-all.”
Not true.
The CC initiatives were never internationally benchmarked or academically sufficient. They aren’t grounded in scientifically conducted, replicable research. They’re unproved, with no student data behind them. They’re a national experiment on children. They won’t save taxpayers money. A base cost estimate just to get started is $140 billion nationwide (14,000 school districts x $10 million each).
The CC initiatives are voluntary only in a technical sense. States and districts have been threatened with the loss of federal funds, with the loss of money for impoverished students, and (ironically) with punishments under the No Child Left Behind Act if they don’t comply.
This work was strictly voluntary, but any animal who absented himself from it would have his rations reduced by half. (Animal Farm)The CC initiatives aren’t “state-led.” The feds are pushing them very hard. They were rammed through states before they were completed, with many proponents appearing to have had a financial reason to support them. The Department of Education has yet to fulfill my FOIA request from four years ago on its role in the development of the CC, but even if the initiatives really were “state-led,” why do the organizations in charge claim to not be subject to public-disclosure laws?
The nature of the CC also is expanding rapidly. Initially, this was K-12 standards in mathematics and English/language arts, but now it’s to be a complete nationalized educational program – with standards, tests, curricula and professional development; from cradle through workforce (P-20); in all subjects, all grades and all schools; in daycares, preschools, K-12 systems and colleges.

The CC initiatives also include an intrusive national database on children and their parents and guardians. Data and information are to be collected and shipped around public agencies, corporations and organizations without our knowledge or consent. Certain state and federal laws were altered or ignored in order to allow and facilitate this sharing of private information. Citizens were not informed.
At the foot of the end wall of the big barn, where the Seven Commandments were written, there lay a ladder broken in two pieces. ... [N]ear at hand there lay a lantern, a paint-brush, and an overturned pot of white paint. (Animal Farm)The CC initiatives appear to entail serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Code. The overall deceit is so huge, few believe it. Fewer in leadership have questioned it. Legislators on all sides, media, state agencies, governors, districts, money advocates, unions, corporations and foundations have lined up at the Common Core trough, ready for a treat and a pat on the head.
The birds did not understand Snowball’s long words, but they accepted his explanation, and all the humbler animals set to work to learn the new maxim by heart. (Animal Farm)
How long will it be before the feds threaten the loss of taxpayer dollars if states don’t comply with the new high school “grant” initiative or the new early learning initiative? How long before states and districts shrug off questions from parents and taxpayers, saying they had no choice in these matters?

Considering the unproved and dictatorial nature of these federal initiatives, they can’t be about academics. I expect the feds will find it necessary to redesign middle schools to “align” with redesigned high schools. Elementary schools will have to “align” with redesigned middle schools. Preschools will have to “align” with redesigned elementary schools. Colleges are already aligning. It will be one brick at a time, each ripped from the fabric and foundation of the country. This is about control.

With this incredible taxpayer expense – and with academic programs that continue to be as weak as a White House explanation – the children and the country will sink into economic and academic dust. Education policy makers have learned nothing over three decades. Or, perhaps they’ve learned everything. Choose your poison. No doubt, Obama and Duncan will report great improvements.
Somehow it seemed as though the farm had grown richer without making the animals themselves any richer – except, of course, for the pigs and the dogs. Perhaps this was partly because there were so many pigs and so many dogs. (Animal Farm)The Department of Education is now dictatorial and intrusive, assisted by non-government organizations and corporations working together behind our back. Did you think fascism was just for right-wingers? Read up on “fascism” (but do look beyond Google’s definition). This is educational tyranny.
There are some things you can do, however:
  • Help your child. Fill in academic gaps. Leave the public system if it isn’t working for your child.
  • Support Alabama Representative Martha Roby’s effort to rein in the U.S. Department of Education. Ask your representatives to support H.R.5 (the Student Success Act 2013), introduced in Congress on June 6, 2013. This bill won’t undo everything, but it’s a step in the right direction.
  • Say no to the intrusive data collection that comes with a district’s participation in the CC. Don’t tell them anything about your family that you don’t want Bill Gates, Pearson Education, the ED, the IRS, the Department of Justice, and other government agencies to know. Refuse questionnaires and surveys. Don’t tell them your voting status, political preference or religion.
“In a world of locked rooms, the man with the key is king...” (BBC series Sherlock). Don’t let them have the key.

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

Rogers, L. (June 2013). "Children are the key to America's future. The government wants control of that key." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: