Monday, March 16, 2009

Letter to SPS Directors about H.S. Math adoption

Dear Director, 3-16-2009

Having watched the SPS math adoptions in action and having analyzed data from the last 12 years, it is apparent that the math adoption process is extremely flawed.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Richard P. Feynman in 1964 participated in the California Math text adoption. He shared his views on the severe flaws in math textbook adoptions in his autobiography Surely You’re Joking Mr. Feynman. A friend of mine, Paul Dunham, with two degrees in Engineering has similar opinions to those expressed by Professor Feynman. I think you would benefit from reading his analysis here:

Paul Dunham has a rather unique perspective as he spent 15 months preparing to teach high school math. Upon gaining his teaching certificate he did not seek a high school math position because he observed that most high school math programs in Washington were headed in a futile direction. Paul took a job at Cascadia Community College and referred to himself as an agent of math repair.
The School Board polices in the C and D sections make it very apparent that the Board is to determine the curriculum and adopt the instructional materials to fulfill the standards of the curriculum. It is time for the board to fulfill these board responsibilities. Brita Butler-Wall said she chose to trust the administration’s hired math professionals. Like Paul Dunham I believe such trust is very unwise and there are now 12 years of SPS data to verify this.

As I read the Board Policies and reflect on what has happened and is happening currently, several things spring to mind.

1: SPS administrative actions during 2008-2009 school-year ignored the WA state math standards k-5 in favor of the Everyday Math pacing plan, which misses huge portions of the arithmetic base needed for the preparation to take “Authentic Algebra” later. The Grade level math expectations as posted on the SPS website were ignored. The “Immediate Actions” for math listed on page 17 of the Strategic Plan never happened. The Singapore Math materials that should have been purchased (May 30, 2007 one Singapore Text book and one Singapore Workbook) were not. The Singapore Extra practice is virtually worthless without a Singapore Text book.

2: The folks who actually know lots of mathematics (engineers etc.) have very little if any input into math selections. This defect was very apparent at the EDM adoption (unfortunately the testimony was not recorded in fact the entire board meeting was not recorded) and is even more apparent in the makeup of the HS Core math committee. The UW and the NSF have produced and pushed materials that have produced abysmal results in Seattle. The PD^3 project run through the UW that focused on WSHS, Cleveland and Garfield became a drive to push Interactive Math Program materials into Seattle High Schools. WSHS declined to have a PD^3 sponsored project when Dr James King of UW made it apparent that he would only allow IMP and rejected an informal proposal from WSHS to do intervention of incoming students with Singapore Math materials. Cleveland scores were an absolute disaster despite UW assistance in a variety of ways. Oddly enough the Admin was still pushing an IMP adoption as this disaster was in progress.

3. The selection of the “Discovering” math series for the core adoption is mind boggling. I urge you and other board members to read the NMAP report and look at the emphasis on “Authentic Algebra”. Did these committee members read the analysis of “Discovering” done for the SBE by Drs. Wilson and Harel? Please page through the first six chapters of Discovering Algebra. This is a text on how to use a graphing calculator and any treatment of authentic algebra is minimal. The selection of College Prep Math as a finalist was equally puzzling as it fails to present definitions or a variety of other essentials in a rational way.

4. If the Board adopts the “Discovering” series k-12, math in Seattle will be out of sync with the state standards and the entire program could not be further away from the recommendations of the Seattle Transition Math Project that is attempting to get students better prepared for College math success.
I think that Paul Kurose could provide you with an outline of Seattle TMP’s plans. I urge you to adopt either Prentice Hall or start all over again.


Dan Dempsey

the SPS Board policies referred to can be found here:

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