Tuesday, July 21, 2009


The Seattle School Board needs to step up to the plate and act differently than those that produced the last 30 years of substandard education.

On July 20, 2009 eSchool News published retiring Intel Chairman Craig Barrett’s speech


Dr. Barrett makes several points worthy of consideration. The most striking aspect of what he wrote is how poorly the education system has performed in the last 35 years. This made me think of the old saying think globally and act locally. It is particularly imperative for the board to act thoughtfully and forcefully if we are to see significant academic improvement in Seattle. While I was disgusted on May 30, 2007, when the board voted 6-0 for Everyday Math, the most disturbing part for me occurred when Director DeBell said to me in informal conversation that the math situation would likely be settled by the state.

Fortunately Director DeBell is no longer buying the math line and hopefully questions everything coming from the state and the Feds. In many areas I see the overall situation as worse than two years ago. To any director thinking of using a path of incremental change check Barrett’s commentary. Incremental change is woefully insufficient for the mess Seattle and the nation are in.

In regard to State leadership I find that despite teachers with Masters degrees, ongoing credits required for continued certification, frequent professional development offerings, late start and early release days and much more that the result is a worsened math situation.

Dr. Barrett writes: “America has 30-plus years of high quality reports saying K-12 education is in serious trouble”….. “Nobody has done a thing. The system has not done a thing.” ….. “to run a good education system your education system cannot be any better than the quality of the teachers in it”…. “America has become #1 in the world at one thing – making excuses for failure.” … “my proposal is to blow up all undergraduate schools of education in the United States.”

What has Seattle done to effect significant positive change in k-12 mathematics?
Nobody has done a thing.

#1… Seattle’s EDM Professional Development for the elementary school teachers focused on pedagogy and games not increasing mathematical content knowledge of teachers. It was well known that Seattle had unacceptably high and growing math achievement gaps. Washington State from 2003-2007 had among the worst changes in NAEP math achievement gaps in the nation at grades 4 and 8.

Given the above background why anyone would elect to continue to use the most used k-8 materials in the state and be expecting significant improvement, is beyond my understanding.

#2… The Board had the data from the Cleveland Math disaster and yet adopted a math program that uses almost the exact same design with slightly different materials. It’s plain crazy.

#3… Now Seattle is headed off to “Managed Instruction” another proven failure is being undertaken.

#4… No one in administration is ever held accountable for misleading the board. Ms. Santorno’s deception in May 2007 includes this partial list: achievement gaps will close, focus on fewer topics, arithmetic fluency to the point of automaticity, Singapore will be used 15 minutes per day.

#5… Ms. de la Fuente has stated that the math materials are not particularly important. According to her, it is the other things that are really important. Supposedly all those other things were provided at Cleveland and produced an incredible failure. The idea that the instructional materials are not particularly important is a uniquely American thought. The careful development of Singapore Math texts over the last 25 years was an important component in producing that nation’s planned phenomenal math improvement. When Seattle math leaders believe otherwise it explains why USA math goes nowhere. Directors must stop accepting Central Office nonsense.

Where is the accountability for #1, #2, #3, #4, and #5?
“We can have a crummy education product and be okay,” it’s plain crazy.

The average American kid is sub-standard, well below the average of most of the developed countries, and how we … can tolerate that is absolutely beyond me.

Clearly in Seattle we not only tolerate it, we plan for it.

The text of Dr. Barrett’s speech is linked.

He states: There are only three things we can do to compete with the rest of the world, and one of them is our educational system, our base educational system.

It does not appear that Seattle has much interest in competing. No one could look at “Discovering” and then the high school math texts used in Singapore, Japan, Korea, or Poland, and believe there is any competition intended.

The only driving force behind the HS math adoption appeared to be the politics of covering for ongoing mistakes. It appears adults’ interests trumped children’s interests once again.


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.


Anonymous said...

I think its eroding economics -- 10years ago we were teaching in fully equipped labs with caps of 28students.

Now its a classroom with 36-40 students. There is no budget and I get textbooks. I teach reading. My classroom is 90% Latino.

I'm supposed to post a notice in my room that everyone has the right to a textbook.

Everything else is a liability. Life is simple and I have lots of extra time. I walk home.

This is school reform, right back to the Dark Ages.

dan dempsey said...

what district are you teaching in?

Anonymous said...

Not in Washington, thank goodness. Been there, never again...glad to see B. finally got her broom boiled.

Anonymous said...

There is the "D" word and the "S" word? Words spoken by a retiring teacher. "What are you talking about?" I asked puzzled. He said -"Data and Standards. After this year, I'm through with it!"

I have to agree with him. We went over data at our school and I pointed out to some baffled colleagues that to find a five year trend, the spreadsheet had incorrectly subtracted this year's test scores from last years test scores, showing our test scores had dropped 8 points in one year."

Still not understanding, I had to explain -"We were supposed to be looking at the five year trend."

Then I pointed out that when the data was disaggregated by 'strand' and 'English proficiency group' the spreadsheet had correctly subtracted test scores from five years previously from last years test scores SHOWING that we had improved 8 points on average in each of the strands. This is a discrepancy.

In my mind the scores are entirely random - there can't be less than a 5% significant difference between test scores especially when you begin comparing smaller groups of students.

Secondly. Where did students score worse in the math strands - algebra (37% passing five years ago). This is nothing new for those of us who know better.

Ever hear of FIRPs - I've forgotten the acronym but this is second generation Hispanics who speak English, but have someone living at home speaking Spanish. They usually pass the bilingual profiency test. This is also the group that showed the largest declines in test scores (over five years).

Her comment (I'm trying to be candid): Was how can over half the student population be Hispanic, yet the majority of Hispanics at our school speak only English.

My thought - These are probably the failing Hispanics who speak English and naturally stay the longest with the mistaken notion that they are going to graduate on time.

Teacher concerns - "How do we identify these different students in our classrooms so we can individually tailor our instruction?"

My comment - "I don't know."

From this meeting our staff was supposed to come up with a mission statement for our school.

For homework, faculty were supposed to storyboard what should be the purpose of our school?

Why are we doing this? Our principal was being equally candid. "Look guys, we want to stay out of program improvement, because once you're in, you will never get out."

NCLB comment - "Way to go, more useless money spent on staff development leading teachers no where."

Welcome back.

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