Thursday, September 17, 2009

Letter to Seattle CAO 9-15-2009

Dear Seattle CAO Susan Enfield, 9-15-2009

I see that you will be addressing the School Board tomorrow night.

B. Chief Academic Officer’s Update (S. Enfield) - WASL Update
- Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Program Update

Normally these addresses about the WASL appear to be exercises in Cherry-Picking, where the good is highlighted and other things ignored. The WASL is not much of a math test but it is about all we have because the SPS has refused to publicly release the PSAT results from fall 2008. Please note the when Everyday Math (May 2007) was adopted specific references were made to closing grade 4 achievement gaps from WASL 2006. After one year of EDM use every grade 4 WASL math achievement gap increased from the already unacceptable 2006 levels and at the end of year two all of these gaps except one had increased even further. Yet no one is held accountable. The fact is these scores are never mentioned except by me.

In the June of 2008 the Strategic Plan stated:
Immediate Actions
• Math: A Math Project Team will develop an implementation plan and timeline for action during summer 2008. Alignment of the elementary and middle school instructional materials to the new State Performance Expectations will be completed this summer.

Except the Everyday Math pacing plan was the k-5 math curriculum during 2008-2009 NOT the new State Performance Expectations.

When I began my year in the SPS (2006-2007) in my initial interview for a “Pathways math” teaching position, it was apparent that the “Stand and Deliver” model was out and the “small group inquiry” “guide on the side” model was in. This “small group inquiry” was the “Best Practice” that the SPS was pushing for mathematics. (SPS ignores PFT, NMAP, and Hattie’s “Visible Learning” preferring make-believe best practices for math)

Despite a continually enlarging achievement gap over the preceding decade, in 2006 and 2007 it was believed that more in-service, professional development, and coaching would bring success.

The PD^3 collaboration between UW math, UW College of Education, and the Seattle Schools centered on small group problem centered inquiry using “IMP” materials. The “PD^3” results at Garfield were unimpressive and at Cleveland disastrous. For ELL students the results could hardly have been worse.

The majority of school directors inexplicably continue to trust that the Central Administration actions in regard to mathematics have merit despite a decade plus of evidence to the contrary. “Club Ed” fads and failed ideology have driven and continue to drive instructional materials selections and practices.

The empirical evidence continually points to the failure of SPS math direction. It seemed absurd to focus on vertical alignment k-12 in the high school math adoption when the k-8 program served educationally disadvantaged learners so poorly. The fact that the k-12 direction, practices, and instructional materials are so far removed from NMAP recommendations and the work of several cognitive psychologists (Geary, Sweller, Willingham) goes unaddressed by the SPS. There is no SPS accountability in fact there is no creditable response.

Here is Daniel Willingham’s Sept 14, 2009 interview from the Washington Post:

On May 19, 2004 the School Board signed a document about institutionalized racism. In the next 5 years the SPS continued to use mathematics practices known to be ineffective for disadvantaged learners (Project Follow Through etc.).

The SPS current definition of mathematics continues this SPS tradition of discrimination:
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.

The State of Washington has a “plan” at OSPI:
Plan to Close the Academic Achievement Gap for African American Students (PDF)
Except this “plan” when read it is NOT a plan for there are no actions recommended that will impact daily life in the classroom. We have in place a large number of agents that do nothing to impact the achievement gaps in mathematics but claim to be involved in that work.

Recently an opinion article appeared in the Seattle Times by Seattle teacher Mr. Michael Sparks: Discovery-based math makes a difference in performance of U.S. students

Mr. Michael Sparks” article is correctly labeled opinion as it has little in the way of logic or correct analysis in his praise for “Discovery-based Mathematics”.

It states: “And 12 years later down the road of reform? How goes it? Although we have now shot up — exponentially, by any stretch of the imagination —“
It ends with: “All things considered, however, the critics have failed to fully engage, discern, understand and appreciate the value and marvelous qualities and outcomes of programs like Connected Math2 when done well.
However one views the performance of the Seattle school district in these matters, the CM2 program itself, for all its imperfections, is of a world-class lineage and quality.”
The comparisons made are between TIMSS results in 1995 and 2007. The link between improved results and reform math is NOT demonstrated as:
1.. How much more reform math was in use in 2007 than 1995?
2.. Was there the exponential improvement that Mr. Sparks mentioned?

Previously I’ve informed the board that the 1995 nations and the 2007 nations are markedly different groups. The 1995 to 2007 difference is every nation added was academically weak with the exception of Taipei, Taiwan.

There was no measurable change in the percentage of either U.S. fourth- or eighth-graders performing at or above the advanced international benchmark in mathematics between 1995 and 2007 (grade four: 9 v. 10 percent; grade eight: 4 v. 6 percent).

Seven countries had higher percentages of fourth-grade students performing at or above the advanced international mathematics benchmark than the United States. The percentages in these countries ranged from 16 percent in the Russian Federation to 41 percent in Singapore.

Seven countries had higher percentages of eighth-grade students performing at or above the advanced international mathematics benchmark than the United States. The percentages in these countries ranged from 8 percent in the Russian Federation to 45 percent in Chinese Taipei.

A major goal should be to increase the mathematical preparedness of students a significant measure of this is the ability to score at or above the advanced international benchmark.

When the USA at grade 8 goes from 4% advanced to 6% advanced and the USA at grade 4 goes from 9% advanced to 10% advanced over 12 years, this is NOT exponential growth. In 2007 at grade 4 USA 10% scored advanced and Singapore 41%. (at the current rate of improvement of 1% every 12 years the USA will be at 41% in 372 years)
In 2007 at grade 8 USA scored 6% advanced and Taipei scored 45%. (at the 2% improvement rate the USA will be at 45% in 234 years) This is clearly not exponential growth on the part of USA mathematics. Why Mr. Sparks would think so is beyond my understanding.

Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, and Seattle are all major cities but only one of these refuses to use an internationally competitive mathematics curriculum and thus the poor results to show it. Why does the SPS continually refuse to adopt an internationally competitive math curriculum that uses internationally competitive materials and practices?

The good news for WASL 2009 k-12 SPS math is that only 26.3% (in 2006 this was at 32.4%) of students now fail to score above level 1 on the 8th grade math WASL (ELL = 62.6%, Blacks 47.5%, Hispanics 44.4%, Low Income 44.4% these are all improvements from 2006). The significant bad news is that at grade 10 in WASL math only Cleveland (at 21.2% passing) saw an increase in math WASL pass rate in 2009. All other comprehensive high schools saw declining WASL math passing-rates as did Nova -4.0, Center -17.5, and Summit -22.2.

There is neither accountability nor transparency when it comes to math education in Seattle. I hope that you begin to address this ongoing failure. If I may be of assistance please contact me. The PSAT results from fall 2008 would be a great starting place for increased transparency.


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.


Anonymous said...


What is the latest on lawsuits you filed?


michaeledlavitch said...

I am a Middle School Math Teacher and I created a new free online math games site called

dan dempsey said...


Going to court Oct 9, 2009.


Anonymous said...

I have concerns about what’s going on at Salmon Bay. The 8th grade is using the 9th grade math curriculum, with the thought that, the kids who don’t do well will just get to do it again the next year and the other kids will have a head start for high school. This sounds like tracking and a VERY bad idea. The struggling kids will waste a year and be set up for failure. I can’t find any research that supports that idea, can you?

Anonymous said...

Which textbook is your eighth grade using?

dan dempsey said...

At many high schools in the SPS the lowest level math course offered is Discovering Algebra because no materials for high school below that were adopted.

This is the book for any 8th graders taking Algebra. The fact that around 25% of 8th graders cannot score above level 1 does not concern the SPS administrators in the least for these kids are forced into "Discovering Algebra" at most high schools..

By extension I guess the fact that Salmon Bay offers nothing below Discovering Algebra for grade 8 does not concern them either.

This would be an excellent topic for a School Board testimony.

Anonymous said...

That's right - middle school lacks a good series of textbooks. So the teachers have to mesh various materials together. Its hit and miss. The problem continues in 9th grade because kids that have a C or less have to repeat the class. One problem with implementing is middle schools don't procure graphing calculators - and its hard with this age group especially if english is their second language. I have seen it. Secondly most classrooms don't have the overhead calculator or one connected to a television even. So DA is a poor choice for middle school. They'd be better off with something traditional that focuses on basic algorithms. Most students this age group have trouble visualizing fractions or converting to decimal and vice versa - its not taught in elementary school anymore.

Joan said...

Mr. Dempsey,

My 6th grader is being introduced to "Connect Math" I have seen your "you tube" video. How much trouble are we in? I am very concerned about how prepared my child will be for college boards and SAT.
Can you give me more advice??? Where can I find more long term statistics?
Thank you!
A concerned parent

Anonymous said...

You bring up an interesting point in the math wars - it has to do branding products.

Do you know how many math products are out there using the words "connect" and "math"?

Connected Math
Connect Math
Connect Math Project
Math Connections
Connect Mathematics Group
Camp Connect Math

The public is completely confused and for good reason.

I am presuming you mean CMP2 published by Pearson Prentice Hall that is listed on the DOE's list of exemplary programs.

Yes, it is seriously flawed. The most serious problem with the textbook is that it assumes students are already familiar with traditional mathematics algorthims.

By Thanksgiving, most teachers have thrown the book away and started radical supplementation. You'd do better with math with pizzazz!

Here's Pearson's pov (Hah!)

"Connected Mathematics 2 (CMP2) is here! The next generation of your favorite NSF-funded middle school program provides students with an investigative approach to learning mathematics. This complete mathematics curriculum for grades 6–8 helps students utilize engaging interactive problems and motivating everyday situations to learn math concepts."

You might remember there was an attempt by publishers (marketeers) to brand Singapore. It failed because too many teachers saw through their deceit.

Marketing 101 - You can't brand quality products with cheap imitations.

Anonymous said...

The DOE's list of approved math programs is another way of branding products, by making them appear to be all of the same high standards of excellence.

Everyone knows by now this is total Cretan foppery. Anything with the DOE stamp of approval means made to make money. No experience necessary, just pay a congressman.

Anonymous said...

Its a bitter moment when parents watch their kids go through a program as stale and rancid as Connected Math and finally realize three important years of learning mathematics are lost on a program that never produces what it promises.

Anonymous said...


Any update on the lawsuits you filed?


Anonymous said...

Sparks certainly put his foot in his mouth - talk about falling on one's sword. Connected Math? Is he crazy or what? It must be the acid rain dissolving brain cells. I've never heard so much nonsense coming from your neck of the woods.

Anonymous said...

Even by using a traditional math sequence after going through something so ludicrous as Everyday Yuck - I am finding my far below ninth graders are woefully ignorant (illiterate). I am using Marcy Cook materials and everyday it is an uphill battle. These kids are so brainwashed into thinking that they're stupid.

Thank you textbook publishers for being so condescending, authoritarian, and just plain jerks. Math education in America is a cheap lie and a billion dollar hoax. Not that a billion will be worth anything in a few more years.