Sunday, February 7, 2010

Three Things to learn and More

February 7, 2010
Dear Seattle School Directors,

Apart from math, the public gained three victories that should produce changes in the school board’s approach to making decisions. The three can be found in the February 4, 2010 ruling of Judge Spector’s that:

#1… Seattle School Board decisions must be based on evidence, all the evidence, not just some of the evidence.

#2… The rights granted in the preamble of article IX of the state constitution must not be violated.

#3… Results matter it is not all about process.

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

Better math materials were and are available, it was shown that Seattle’s quest for more reform math through the Strategic Plan’s k-12 vertical alignment of instructional materials was not a reasonable decision. Using the Discovering materials in high school would violate the state constitution. The use of the “Discovering” program inquiry math texts at the high school level would be likely to continue damaging members of educationally disadvantaged sub-groups.

The School Board is responsible for certifying the complete transcript of all the evidence it used to make its decision (RCW 28A.645.020).

It was extremely informative to find out that information that I submitted was not used in making this school board math adoption decision, at least it was not in the transcript provided to the court.
The same was likely true in the Everyday Math Adoption in May 2007, when Director Brita Butler-Wall wrote me that the board chose to trust their hired professionals.

Before the board’s recent NTN vote, I wrote the board a guide to making decisions that stressed the need for evidence and the need for citing the evidence used when making decisions. I saw nothing that showed any consideration of the evidence that I submitted to the board by the four directors that voted to approve the $800,000 NTN contract. Nor did I see any consideration of the information that Ms. Meg Diaz provided to the board. This decision appears to be like the “Discovering high school math adoption” in May of 2009, in that public submissions in the form of testimonies and letters are not used in decision making. If improved academic performance was the goal, then the four directors voting for the proposal used very little relevant material.

I’ve been particularly appreciative of Director Martin-Morris’ blog. Unfortunately his last post was on Dec. 1, 2009 titled Math Adoption. The NTN contract proposal was never blog-posted. I realize that the Student Assignment Plan has likely occupied an enormous amount of every director’s time.

On Feb. 3, I was also pleased that Director Martin-Morris made an attempt to respond to my criticism of NTN schools. He at least provided some evidence for his positive vote. When fully examined his evidence only further confirms that he should have voted against the NTN proposal, but he felt the need to do something. This may have been a bold move but it was not a correct move.

#1… Director Martin-Morris said: There has been criticism of Project Based Learning when used for math instruction. Thornton Creek is a Project Based Learning school and they had 65% of students at level 4 on the 2009 grade 5 Math WASL. All this is true.

What was neglected is that Thornton Creek started as a PBL school, using it for all subjects. PBL did not work well for math and TC eventually stopped PBL use in Math. Thornton Creek does not use PBL for math and has not for sometime. Also Thornton Creek is 8% Low Income, while Cleveland is 70%. Thornton Creek is 81% white, Cleveland is 5%. Whatever is happening at Thornton Creek is irrelevant to making a decision about math because the data is not relevant.

#2… I cited extremely poor performance of several NTN schools. Director Martin-Morris talked about Hillside New Tech High School, in Durham, NC. He talked about how many students were going to enter into Calculus next year and said all seniors will be in Calculus and some juniors. He mentioned that the school was 91% African American. Likely all those statements are true.

Unfortunately when the statistics are examined from the State of North Carolina this school looks similar to other New Tech Schools, as it ranks in the bottom 20% of North Carolina schools. It now appears that our school directors were led into a corner by the Student Assignment Plan and four of them voted for a poorly planned Cleveland transformation because the Superintendent led them into this corner with few other options.

In regard to the school that Director Martin-Morris found impressive, Hillsdale NT did not make adequate yearly progress and was classified as a priority school placing it in the bottom 20% of North Carolina schools. It has 44% Low-income students. Interestingly the Regular Hillsdale High School is in the same situation did not make AYP and is classified as a priority school. It has 56% Low-income students.

Here is some relevant data from School year 2008-2009 from the North Carolina End of Course tests. Percent of students at or above grade level.

.....................Algebra I Geometry Algebra II Low Income

Hillsdale NewT. . 19.7% ..... 58.1% .... 40.0% .... 43.9%

Hillsdale Reg. HS . 35.5% ..... 47.2% .... 43.4% .... 56.3%
Durham District ... 46.8% ..... 51.6% .... 49.0%
State of NC ....... 67.7% ..... 73.3% .... 72.9%

Ms. Meg Diaz pointed out that this Cleveland NTN proposal would reduce funding at 31 schools with an average of 56% low-income students. This does not sound like how the district was going to make every school a quality school, which is supposedly going to happen because these quality schools are the cornerstone of the Student Assignment Plan.

Instead the Student Assignment Plan seems to have produced a situation where four directors decided that the $800,000 NTN contract was the only way out of this mess. The board has a short memory, when staff could not produce the deliverables the Cleveland STEM option was not to be approved.

Instead SAP and this STEM proposal combine to produce increasingly “Separate and Unequal” schools by diverting funds away from many schools to Cleveland. This has been my worry for some time. Do the Superintendent and those four directors have my concern? If not they need to explain the mechanism of how every school will become a quality school.

Please use evidence when you make decisions. To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. Two directors were able to see that but as always when there is math involved the majority of Seattle’s school directors just don’t get it.

I fail to see how voting for the $800,000 NTN contract could possibly pass the test of reasonableness when all the evidence is examined. Please explain.


Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

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