A brief was filed Monday, Nov. 23, in King County Superior Court appealing a May 6, 2009 Seattle School Board vote to adopt the Discovering Mathematics high school textbook series. The brief contends that the school district acted arbitrarily and capriciously in voting 4 to 3 to adopt a type of textbook associated with a widening achievement gap between minority students and white students, and between low-income students and other students.
Seeking to prevent the school district from adopting this series are plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools; Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fourth grader; and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.
According to the brief filed Monday, Seattle Public Schools began eliminating "traditional" math texts in the 1990s, moving toward an approach called "reform," "discovery learning," or "constructivism," among other names. Reform texts rely heavily on written language, presenting complicated, "real-life" problems. Memorization and skills practice is de-emphasized, and calculator work is encouraged from kindergarten on. Students generally work in small groups to devise their own approaches and solutions. With traditional "explicit" texts, however, students are given the opportunity to master key topics through examples, practice and extensive teacher feedback.
The brief claims the district committee chosen to review mathematics textbooks was biased toward reform, and that the textbook criteria were similarly biased, so that the resulting recommendation would be a reform textbook. The brief also states that the board voted to adopt the Discovering textbook series in contradiction of information presented prior to the vote.
The plaintiffs contend that the district superintendent and school board had access to data and research, including WASL scores, indicating that math skills of minority students have continually declined for all grades since reform textbooks were introduced. The plaintiffs also claim the school board was informed that the Discovering series was not a good candidate program to reverse this negative trend.
Citizens testifying to the board prior to the May 6 vote emphasized that the Discovering textbook series had been rated "unsound" in a review conducted by the Washington State Board of Education, and that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had passed over the Discovering program, instead recommending Holt Mathematics, a balanced textbook series featuring increased explicit instruction.
In Seattle, the movement toward reform texts has culminated in the adoption of the Everyday Math K-5 texts, Connected Mathematics Project (CMP2) texts for grades 6 - 8, and now the Discovering texts for high school. At Cleveland High School, which has 95% ethnic minority and 70% free and reduced lunch students, a similar "Discovery/Inquiry" text was piloted from September 2006 to June 2009. In those three years, the WASL pass rates for Cleveland's Black 10th graders averaged around 10%, while the district average for Black 10th graders was about 22%; scores for limited English students declined dramatically, from 15.4% to 0% of students passing the exam.
The appeal of the School Board's May 6, 2009 vote was filed June 5 by attorney Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann, LLP. A hearing on the appeal is set for Jan. 11, 2010, in the court of Judge Julie Spector.
If you can donate to give much-needed help with legal expenses, please make checks out to Seattle Math Group; send to:
7020 18th Ave. SW, J22
Seattle, WA 98106.
You can also email donations through Paypal (they do generally charge a fee) to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Donations are moved directly into the Seattle Math Group account at Washington Federal Savings).