Saturday, June 20, 2009

Good intentions are not enough

Good intentions are not enough 6-20-2009

Dear Director,

WASL Math data reported by OSPI on 6-18-2009 for the class of 2011 our current 10th graders set a new record in math futility as the passing rate dropped by 4.34 points smashing the previous record drop of 1.60 points set in the Spring of 2002.

10th Grade
... Year to year
Year ...... State ...... change
1998-99 : 33.00%
1999-00 : 35.00% : 2.00%
2000-01 : 38.90% : 3.90%
2001-02 : 37.30% : -1.60%
2002-03 : 39.40% : 2.10%
2003-04 : 43.90% : 4.50%
2004-05 : 47.50% : 3.60%
2005-06 : 51.00% : 3.50%
2006-07 : 50.40% : -0.60%
2007-08 : 49.60% : -0.80%
2008-09 : 45.26% : -4.34%

The Seattle School District’s feeble attempts to educate students in mathematics are nearly legendary. The School Board continues to approve irrational decisions despite overwhelming evidence that illuminates how poor these decisions are.

The balance of this communication to each school director assumes an interest in improving the pathetic current situation. Keep in mind that only 16% of Seattle’s Black tenth grade students passed the Math WASL in 2008. Grade 4 WASL math data showed achievement gaps increasing after the first year of Everyday Math for Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Limited English, and Low Income students. Is Federal Court the only way to get a change in direction?

From the introduction to his paper “Good intentions are not enough” (attached), research mathematician and University of Wisconsin Professor emeritus Richard A. Askey states:

#1… NCTM did not face up to the most critical problem, the lack of firm content knowledge of far too many teachers.

#2... NCTM did not look seriously at mathematics education in other countries.

#3… Mathematicians were not involved in the development of the Standards.

#4 The NCTM authors of their Standards had the strange notion that it is possible to teach conceptual understanding without developing technical skill at the same time.

Seattle and Washington State are floundering and making little progress. The summer before Dr. Bergeson’s failed re-election campaign, a large amount of money (estimate $30 million) was spent to teach teachers about the new math standards. This money was squandered, as it did nothing to address the most critical problem, the lack of firm content knowledge of teachers.

In Seattle in similar fashion there was significant spending with the Everyday Math adoption. None of this was to address the lack of firm content knowledge of teachers. Seattle chose to spend money to inform teachers how to use specific activities and strategies in the Everyday Math series.

The University of Washington’s supposed math education experts influenced Dr. Bergeson, Governor Gregoire, and the Seattle Schools. Unfortunately the U.W. maintains a belief that it is possible to teach conceptual understanding without developing technical skill at the same time. The results of the last decade are an absolute disaster. HS Graduation rate dropped to #43 nationally and WA state’s NAEP math achievement gap changes from 2003-2007 were among the worst in the Nation.

The UW experts have failed to produce any credible results. The fact the math line UW pushes upon schools #1 contradicts the successful math practices in other countries, and #2 rarely if ever produces a positive result is apparently not a problem for some gullible Seattle School Directors.

Thanks to the final report “Foundations for Success” from the National Math Advisory Panel we now are aware that the often-used UW line “Research Shows” is meaningless.

“Foundations for Success” reveals there are some things that do produce consistently positive results in math. Unfortunately the School Board adopted a high school text series, which ignores those practices known to produce positive results for students struggling with mathematics.

The Seattle School Board has apparently been focused on Math achievement for sometime but has no positive results to report. Your achievement gap focus produced only widening achievement gaps.

In looking at math decisions in the Seattle School District over the last decade the record is clear. It is one of failed decision after failed decision.

Once again it is time to make a decision: this time the Cleveland STEM option.

As Charlie Mas asked: “What is the District hoping to accomplish with this change?” The introductory item materials passed out on 6-17-2009 contained no answer to his question.

The materials did contain the following: COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT PROCESS : The course of study offered at Cleveland High School has increasingly been driven by a science and mathematics focus.

At first glance one would think that a course of study increasingly driven by a math and science focus would be a good preparation for STEM. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this focus has been anything other than an enormous waste of funds.

Cleveland began this intensive math focus as one of three Seattle high schools in the PD^3 N.S.F.-funded professional development collaboration between the UW College of Education, UW Mathematics Department, and Seattle Schools math leadership. The program initially focused on professional development of high school math teachers. In 2006 Cleveland began a school-based project. This project involved professional learning communities, collaborative planning, and other supposed advantages that were not available to other schools. This certainly should have guaranteed a successful implementation of the Interactive Math Program materials but the result was catastrophic failure as recorded in WASL grade 10 scores for Spring 2007 and 2008.

Black students pass rate on grade 10 math WASL for Spring 2005 through 2008
District = ... 12.9% : 21.7% : 19.6% : 16.0%
Cleveland = . 16.5% : 8.5% : 11.1% : 6.3%

All Students
District = ... 40.8% :*55.7% : 50.2% : 50.4%
Cleveland = . 23.2% : 21.1% : 17.9% : 12.2%

*Note: Spring 2005 vs. Spring *2006 the pool of tested students changed in 2004 all student who had entered grade 9 were tested as a group of second year high school students …. In 2005 students in addition to being second year high school students they had to have sophomore credits to be WASL tested. This was a district requirement, which raised Seattle scores; the state had no such requirement.

The Cleveland IMP school based project is a prime example of the needless expense and futility of pursuing the discovery/inquiry math direction in Seattle mathematics.

Today after over 10 years of math futility the SPS mathematics page still reads:
Mathematics is the language and science of patterns and connections. Learning and doing mathematics are active processes in which students construct meaning through exploration and inquiry of challenging problems.

Charlie asked about Cleveland STEM: “What is the District hoping to accomplish with this change?”

I ask about the district definition of math and the direction still pursued by Math Program Manager Anna-Maria de la Fuente and math coach Art Mabbott: “What is the District hoping to accomplish with its constantly failing direction of exploration and inquiry?”

Penn State can offer math guidance

It has come to light that the original State College committee of 11 people who chose “Investigations” K-5 in 2002 included five teachers who had 2.5 years or less experience teaching in elementary school. We also know that Penn State requires no more than just one semester of math to graduate with an elementary education degree. Is it sensible to entrust our district’s math curriculum to people for whom math is an elective academic subject?

[ Seattle chooses committee members selected for dedication to inquiry based mathematics … the results are a disaster … but four directors seem to find this practice and direction most acceptable. To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. If you have not done so, try it some time you might like it. ]

Considering we have the good fortune of living next to one of the largest universities in the country, with one of the most outstanding math departments and engineering schools, I do believe that as a district, we should have the intelligence and humility to acknowledge that the math professionals at Penn State are a phenomenal resource. Should we be so lucky!

At this juncture, how can we not consult those who-do-math and use-math, and stop assuming that “math education” is a different discipline, because it’s not. If we are to prepare our students for the 21st century and a global world, we must include in the process these outstanding folks, who represent and practice the language of math from all over the world.

Cecilia Dunoyer State College

A substantive response by the board to this ongoing problem would be appreciated.


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

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