Friday, May 23, 2008

Broken Baby ... Severely Broken

How Broken is WA Math? Is repair even a realistic possibility given current OSPI guidance?

Example based instructional materials can be considered a best practice; although not so noted by NMAP.

This whole SBE Math Advisory experience has certainly been interesting and enlightening on a variety of fronts for me.

Given the political framework in which everything seems to exist I've reached the following conclusion:

Panels often say what they are allowed to say and little more. In education what is said and often acted upon is often the result of certain adult centered interests rather than in the students' interests. This is becoming increasingly apparent in OSPI's direction in regard to the Legislature's effort to improve WA math, as well as in the SBE’s Algebra II for all thrust.

I am now thoroughly disgusted with what appears to be OSPI's continuing bias against example based instructional materials.

It now appears the Seattle School Board has reached the conclusion that it is likely pointless to look for further math guidance from the State in regard to math education beyond the Math Standards.

OSPI, SBE, and the legislature are engaged in a pissing match and no matter who wins... it will not be the kids. It is time for the SPS to step up to the plate and provide some real leadership to improve the mathematics education of kids k-12 in Seattle. Waiting for the State beyond the standards is a huge waste of time given OSPI's current distortion of process. Seattle had best use the NMAP and the new WA standards k-8 and soon coming high school standards. With these as guides the SPS needs to get started on thoughtful planning rather than waiting for the state and then acting mindlessly on state recommendations. The difficulty Seattle faces is their propensity for top down edicts from the central department of math ignorance. Remember these are the folks still trying at all costs, and those costs are really substantial, to make non-example based instructional materials work in math. Good luck with that; this is the math that made the USA into the international laughing stock of k-12 math education.

I do think that NMAP may have had more to say but did not risk saying it. NMAP was fairly silent on the clear superiority of example based instructional materials.

Given that most NSF funded professional development is directed away from example based instructional materials, I think that NMAP chose to leave that topic alone as it could have seriously threatened acceptance of what else they had to recommend.

In regard to k-12 math leadership in many places the Non-Example based leaders predominate. I think a lot of this has come about through NSF professional development. The PD^3 project from NSF, thorough the UW and Dr Jim King is just one example of a continuing preference for professional prejudice over positive results.

It is most apparent that in a great many WA school districts the people in charge know far more about district office politics than Mathematics. Even in districts with Mathematically competent leadership Non-Example based instructional materials predominate. I was astounded when a friend sent me a spreadsheet of instruction materials in use in this state at the k-12 level by individual school district. Let me say it is becoming increasingly difficult if not impossible to find a k-12 math teaching position in which one would be using example based instructional materials. It is almost equally unlikely that a school district system has any belief in the idea that the learning of mathematics is usually a process that requires the mastery of layer upon layer of increasingly sophisticated mathematics. {Internationally accepted but rejected in Washington…duh!!!}

In my most recent SPS testimony, I cautioned that Seattle has demonstrated little in the way of math decision making skills at the central office level that inspire any confidence in me. Director Martin-Morris is new to the School Board and a really sharp guy. I trust he will find a way for better process. To follow Dr Terry Bergeson in math or to follow Director Martin-Morris? That question is the biggest no-brainer of the last decade.

I am teaching in the Clover Park School District which has high poverty and was an early adopter of both TERC/Investigations and Connected Math both OSPI highly recommended non-example based text series.

At the better of the CPSD's two comprehensive high schools LAKES HS, testing indicates that 65% of incoming 9th graders are unprepared to begin an algebra or higher-level class. The school district offers no classes below Algebra at the high school level. {Logic demonstrated by CPSD = ZERO.} CPSD is not alone in this regard.

We have a system in place that is severely broken. In many places the political powers that be are waiting for an OSPI fix as they are unwilling to undertake responsibility for anything and certainly would not risk making a judgment in an area they are unfamiliar with... that area being how to improve mathematics education k-12.... after all that is only the job they are hired to do and supposedly know something about... BROKEN.... SEVERELY BROKEN.

It is now becoming more apparent by the day that if math teachers are expecting a better situation next year to occur without some direct action on their part, they will be disappointed.

As to whether a better math situation even happens in the next decade, all I can say is… the jury is out and the system is broken … severely broken.

Agent of Math Repair Dan Dempsey

There appears to be no shortage of math repair work coming any time soon.

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