Thursday, June 25, 2009

Improvement Plan for Seattle Math

Dear Board Members and Ms. de la Fuente,

Washington State has approved new K – 12 mathematics standards, which state that a strong mathematics program should incorporate a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural proficiency, and problem solving and processes.

Unfortunately Seattle Math leaders have the mistaken idea that a balance of conceptual understanding, problem-solving and procedural proficiency means a balance between inquiry and direct instruction. Problem solving skills and deep conceptual understanding can result from programs that emphasize “Explicit Instruction”. Without procedural proficiency it is hard to believe there can be deep conceptual understanding {see Askey Lipping Ma’s statement page 6}. See Singapore Math “Challenging Word Problems” grade 6 for evidence of problem solving skills taught without excessive inquiry. This erroneous Seattle idea of what constitutes appropriate mathematical balance is one reason the Seattle math programs will remain sub-par until improved direction and guidance are in place.

Soon a Cleveland STEM decision will be made. Just as it is not possible to build the “high rent” 9th through 12th floors of a building without those below it, a similar situation exists in Seattle mathematics as mathematics is hierarchical. Floors k-8 in Seattle math are in remarkable poor condition especially for educationally disadvantaged tenants. If this situation for poor and or minority students is getting better, it is hard to notice.

As I pointed out 6 of 6 achievement gaps (grade 4) increased with EDM’s first year of use. The WASL math pass rate for Seattle Black students, in 2008, was 27.6% for grade 4 (lowest since 2002) ; 24.2% for grade 7 ; 16.0% for grade 10. Currently three items are painfully obvious:

#1… EDM {27.6% pass rate for grade 4 Black students (lowest since 2002)} is inappropriate for use in fulfilling the state standards without major modifications, which Seattle has thus far demonstrated will not be done. See EDM co-author Andy Isaac’s article The Case for Everyday Math and the 51 comments for detailed reasons that major EDM modifications are needed if the State Math Standards are the curriculum.

#2… OSPI’s Greta Bornemann, Dorian Drury, and George Bright authored a paper in which non-standard ways of recording an algorithm were presented as acceptable forms of the standard algorithm. Dr. Ruth Parker, a Reform Math leader, a consultant, and public presenter for the district’s reform math agenda in the past, recently gave a presentation at NCTM national. Her presentation centered on her belief that the Standard Algorithm always harms conceptual understanding. I fear that despite the district’s claim that the State Math Standards are the Curriculum, this is still not really the case. The SPS is still well stocked with personnel, who are EDM philosophical adherents, often giving presentations and guidance to Elementary School teachers. The national trend of sub-par mathematical content knowledge of teachers is also apparent in many presenters.

#3… The district now has in place k-12 materials that are incredibly misaligned with NMAP recommendations. The lack of explicit instruction is rampant. The spiraling in EDM is specifically mentioned in NMAP as a practice to be avoided. The April 8, 2009 HS Math Adoption recommendation from the Superintendent contained the following:

During the first semester of this school year, 76% of our ninth graders were enrolled in Math 1 or Algebra or above, meaning that nearly one-quarter of our students are entering high school in remedial mathematics courses. For students from the groups listed above, enrollment in Math 1 or Algebra is lower:

African-American 68%
Latino 66%
Native American 57%
Low-income 69%
English Language Learners 51%
Special Education 33%

Unfortunately instead of actually preparing students k-8 to take an authentic algebra course, the course of action will be 9th grade placement into a less than Authentic Algebra course that is mathematically unsound. This practice of few if any placements below grade 9 math proved to be an astonishing failure at Cleveland. Despite the math resources PD3 brought to Cleveland’s IMP implementation 2006-2009, which included no math classes below Integrated 1, it was an enormous failure. The idea that this practice should be extended to almost all Seattle high schools is another example of experimentation on the student population. The proven practice of “Explicit Instruction” is available and is ignored so the failing experiments can be continued.

A decade plus of math practices that discriminate against educationally disadvantaged learners needs to end. Given the current k-12 math materials, the ending of discriminatory practices seems unlikely unless significant efforts are made in that regard.

#1. Seattle needs to focus k-8 mathematics on practices recommended by NMAP. Focus k-8 on the State Math Standards. Stop wasting student’s valuable class time on EDM focus algorithms instead effectively teaching the Standard Algorithms.

#2. Increase not just the math content knowledge of teachers but presenters as well. The district wasted both time and money in the summer of 2007 with EDM training that did not focus on increasing teacher content knowledge.

Consider the following:

Some presenters "can't make any sense" of the standard algorithm and prefer the EDM focus algorithms. That's another stunning example of mathematical incompetence. See H Wu's paper, "Basis Skills vs Conceptual Understanding" :A Bogus Dichotomy in Mathematics Education, where he deconstructs the standard algorithms in all their glory, summarizing this with the multiplication algorithm from page 6:

"Finally, we call attention to the breathtaking simplicity of the multiplication algorithm itself despite the tediousness of its derivation. The conceptual understanding hidden in the algorithm is the kind that students eventually need in order to prepare for algebra. In short, this algorithm is a shining example of elementary mathematics at its finest and is fully deserving to be learned by every student. If there is any so-called harmful effect in learning the algorithms, it could only be because they are not taught properly."

In 2008-2009 the SPS taught lattice multiplication and failed to teach long division.

I am not asking the Board to micro-manage math. I would like to see NMAP used as a guide. I am asking the Board to hold Staff accountable to the State Math Standards, the Strategic Plan, and article IX of the State Constitution.

Given that the district prefers to socially promote many children rather than educate them, what should be happening to prepare students for Algebra? The answer is to prepare them using materials that work. See this Ed Week article Catching Up on Algebra, it mentions the Mind Institute’s Algebra Readiness materials that I gave directors Carr and Martin-Morris to preview. It certainly is a better option than spreading Cleveland’s nothing below high school level math for 9th graders to the entire district. Cleveland 2008 WASL gr 10 math pass rates:
All students = 12.2% ; Black students = 6.3%


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This oughta be good. How can you improve something that stinks to begin with?