Math curriculum concerns

As we all know, the keystone of the strategic plan, "Excellence for All", is to align the math and science curricula across all schools. We are assured that this doesn't mean that every third grade teacher gives the same lesson on the same day, but it does mean that they all teach the same body of knowledge and skills to their students during the year.

As we all know, within the last couple years Seattle Public Schools adopted new math curricula for K-5 and 6-8.

As the Board considers the adoption of a new textbook for high school math, the head of the Math Department told the Board that the curriculum is set by the state through their standards and GLEs and that the teachers pick and choose elements from the textbooks to support that curriculum, but that the textbooks dictate neither the curriculum nor the lessons. She was really strong about this. She assured the Board that "reform" style textbooks could be used to support traditional style teaching and vice versa. Board Director Martin-Morris questioned her on it and she made the statement repeatedly - the state sets the curriculum, the teacher sets the lesson, the textbook is just supporting material and dictates neither the content of the class nor the style of teaching.

As we all know, the state of Washington adopted new state standards and grade level expectations for math for grades K-8 about a year ago and new standards and grade level expectations for high school earlier this year.

Seattle Public Schools has not altered their K-8 math curricula to reflect changes in the State Standards and GLEs. There is no movement on the Board or in the Math Department on this work. It is regarded, somehow, as unnecessary.

So as the K-8 math programs align their curricula, what are they aligning to? Not the State standards and GLEs. Not any Board adopted curriculum. The answer appears to be that schools are aligning to a "fidelity of implementation" based on the textbooks. In other words, the textbooks dictate both the curriculum (not the state or the Board) and the lesson (not the teacher), and the alignment DOES in fact mean that every third grade teacher delivers the same lesson on the same day.

Does anyone else find this confusing and contradictory? Does anyone else find this troubling? Can anyone provide some clarity?


Jet City mom said…
I am very confused- with the approach in SPS & concerned- particularly as while my D took physics, chem and pre-calc in high school, she recently took the placement test at the community college- where she failed to place into college level math.

I really don't know if it is the fault of the way the test was designed ( it is on a computer and you can't go back to check your work), or her understanding- but to realize we have been fussing with math instruction for decades is mind boggling.

^^^ what Edmonds school district is doing
anonymous said…
I find the whole approach confusing myself. My 5th grader was doing his homework (long division) a few days ago and said the teacher gave the class the choice choice to do it the way she taught them, which was long and cumbersome (ridiculous actually) or the traditional way. He said he wanted to try traditional way, however, he said the teacher had not shown them the "traditional" way, but they could ask their parents to show them how. Of course, we showed our son how to do it, and he laughed because it was so easy, and made sense. Why are we avoiding teaching basic, standard, old school math in school? I really don't understand.

My 8th grade sons teacher gives him worksheets of traditional math which he prints out from the website to supplement CMP. He says they need the repetition and practice.

It sounds to me like teachers are fully aware that what they the curriculum that they are mandated to teach is not working. They are asking parents to teach kids old math, and supplementing with non approved materials like (thank goodness).

It really is frustrating.
dan dempsey said…
It is most apparent that from the outset the CAO has decided that the SPS will have a "fidelity of Implementation" to Everyday Math.

It did not matter that EDM was a poor program and there was more than sufficient research to indicate this prior to the EDM adoption. Now the state math standards are ignored in favor of the EDM pacing plan.

Clearly supplementation is not nearly as important as Stopping the teaching of far too many topics in an incoherent way. Until leadership in math arises and uses the state math standards to focus the curriculum and provide interventions for the attainment of needed skills as necessary, SPS math will be a continuing chaotic mess.

Check Harium's blog here.
ParentofThree said…
I personally feel like the board and the district are in way over their heads right now with all that is on their plates. Capacity, assignment, closures, budget, math.

Decisions are being made in a panic mode.

We all knew there were new standards coming for math, we asked why are you adopting K-5 math now when new standards are on the way? Community input ignored, the board adopted EDM and now here we are in "crisis mode" with math standards not aligned to the new state standards, dated report cards, and still trying to figure out how to use Singapore math with EDM.

And of course, there is no money to fix the K-5 math cirriculum as we blew the wad on EDM, which of course is not a state recommended cirriculum.

And I won't even go into CMP2, makes me too ill to think about having to handle that again with my second student.

I would like to see somebody held accountable for this mess. But that is probably asking a bit too much.
Sadly, your situation in Seattle is a mirror of what is happening in Spokane.

I have asked the Spokane school board to implement a more traditional curriculum, and the board's written reply to me indicates that the district doesn't plan to make any changes in the reform math curricula until it's told to do it. I believe it won't matter who talks to them, what is said, which gaps in knowledge are proved to be widespread, or which problems are proved to be a direct result of the reform curricula. Like a flock of sheep that huddle next to a burning barn, they will not leave until someone with authority leads them away.

Parents are on their own.

For more in the situation in Spokane, I invite you to see
Charlie Mas said…
In the end, it comes down to this. My daughter, who is in APP, who is getting A's in math, and who has always gotten A's (4's in elementary school) on her math, cannot tell me the factors of 72.

So I try to help her. I point out that 72 is an even number and therefore divisible by...

"2" she says. "Right! So two times what is seventy-two?" "Huh?" "What is seventy-two divided by two?" "I don't know." "Can you figure it out?" "Can't I just use a calculator?" "No. You don't need one. Just quickly do the long division." I will spare you the rest in which she demonstrates that she doesn't know how to do long division, or later in the evening when she is unsure of the product of six times four.

Computational fluency is the foundation of every other math skill. If you don't just KNOW that 7 x 4 = 28, and, in fact, can't fail to think of it every time you see the number 28, then you have little hope of progressing even to algebra, no matter how good you are at discovering concepts.

Seattle Public Schools has abandoned computational fluency and therefore has no hope of teaching any math skills at all. The only students who are learning math are those who are getting lessons outside of school - or at least outside of the approved pedagogy.
TechyMom said…
I wonder if our new State Superintendant-Elect would be interested in helping to enforce the state math standards on districts? Does anyone know his position on fuzzy math?
dan dempsey said…

The rest of the world (outside the USA) believes that Arithmetic Skills lead to Algebra Skills and those Algebra skills open the gateway to most of the rest of mathematics. You understand that and so did the National Math Advisory Panel.

Why is the SPS employing a Chief Academic Officer, a Math Program manager, and a large number of math coaches with most of these folks continuing to disregard the obvious?

"Without arithmetic fluency there is no real math progress - the SPS is just spinning the BS"

The new State math Standards for k-8 were finished in April. It is quite apparent that the SPS math leadership had no intention of using these to guide classroom direction for the 2008-2009 academic year.
The fact that Ms. de la Fuente did not become math program manager until Sept 1 can hardly excuse the SPS administration from their continuing failure to perform.

Let us not just hear about holding people accountable ... how about we actually see it happen. Where is administration and the board?

Next fall the seats of Directors DeBell, Chow, and Bass are up for election ( as if that would bring improvement ).
anonymous said…
I agree with Charlie. My 8th grade son has the same issues and lack of competency that his daughter has.

We have resorted to a math tutor two times a week, for an hour. It's a financial burden, that we really shouldn't have to bear as my child is very bright and in advanced math. We have seen some progress, and improvement. The tutor, an older gentlemen, is appalled at the lack of basic knowledge that my son has. He struggles with long division, can't remember how to simplify a fraction, the list is long. The worst part is he doesn't even know how to find the answers.

Besides the tutor, when he does his math homework we allow him to do his first math problem on the website. On this site you can enter any equation and it will give you the step by step formula to figure it out, and the answer. I don't know if they use a particular "curriculum" on this site, but it's pretty cut and dry. Enter the problem, they show you the formula and the answer. The very thing his teacher should be doing.

My 5th grader has no concept of fractions. He doesn't know that 1/2 is half. Or that 2/2 is a whole. He doesn't know that 2/4 is a half and the same as 1/2. He doesn't know that half is .50 or 50%. He doesn't know long division, and has not memorized his times table. He is at Bryant, a "good" school, with a lousy curriculum.
dan dempsey said…
Dear Techymom,

The State Math Standards are advisory. School districts have local control. The new state math standards will be the basis for student assessment beginning in Spring 2010. Spring 2009 will still be the lame WASL.

Our difficulty is that Seattle has no local control. The locals who in this instance know far more than the administration are continually ignored. When the administration ignores the relevant data, the national math panel recommendations, and the state math standards it is really easy to ignore the locals as well.

The State Board of Education does not have a single member with a math technical degree or training.. no computer scientists, no engineers, no mathematicians, no chemists, no physicists. We are the victims of leadership by "Club Ed".

The organization Where's the Math? has had significant impact because many of its core group have technical degrees and a great understanding of what is required to actually learn mathematics. This group also knows how to read research.

The SPS math leadership has been inept for over a decade and clearly remains so.

Local control is a great idea but it appears that the SPS is out of control.
Ironically, right after I posted my bitter comment, a board member called me to discuss my letter and the situation in Spokane. After speaking at length with this board member, I feel that perhaps there is hope.

If you live in the Spokane area and are interested in improving the math situation here, please contact me at I would like to open the conversation to parents and teachers - who heretofore have been practically shut out of the process. Your support and participation will be helpful to making positive changes in any timely fashion.

Folks, times might at last be on the precipice of changing. Let's get the party started!
Sudhakar Kudva said…
Class of 75 said - "I am very confused- with the approach in SPS & concerned- particularly as while my D took physics, chem and pre-calc in high school, she recently took the placement test at the community college- where she failed to place into college level math."

Comments similar to this one have probably been repeated by millions of parents nationwide, but we have not seen change. I am in another district, but following Seattle very closely. After having kids in California public schools in the 90's, Oregon and Washington in the 2000's, I have come to the conclusion that change is very, very slow to come by. The college level math placement tests, similar to the Compass tests they use in the local CC, are very simple, if you are proficient in basic arithmetic and algebra. Precisely the skills that are NOT taught as part of the "reform" curricula. Each district's situation is unique, and Harium in Seattle appears to be at least open to listen. Most board members I have met were "pass through", which meant they forwarded any question or concern I had to the district administration. This is a surefire way to keep the status quo going.

One instance of how the math issue was used to change the board of directors to an activist board happened in Beaverton, OR, a couple of years ago. The state's third largest district, right in the middle of high tech silicon forest, decided to go with TERC (Investigations) and CMP with fidelity of implementation. Those parents who complained were quarantined (all communications were cut off) by the district. This caused a voter revolt, and in the next board election, three activist members were elected. Now, in a board with seven members, they are still not in majority. Two years have gone by, and change still has not hit the class rooms. They are still "evaluating" the curricula for the next adoption cycle.

So, a word of caution. It is encouraging to see individual board members listening. That is a necessary first step. But one needs to understand how decisions get made and why in each district. This is far from being a transparent process. Just imagine, the National Math Panel has recommended change, the State Standards point to change, and the districts for some reason can rationalize NOT changing. Boy, if someone in Finland, Korea, Taiwan of Singapore were reading this blog, they will either shake their heads with disbelief, or will have belly laughs at our expense.
dan dempsey said…

It appears the question is why are school board members ignorant of the situation? or unwilling to do anything about it? or both?

State Standards, National Math Advisory Panel, piles of data and still same-o same-o
Sudhakar Kudva said…

You said - "State Standards, National Math Advisory Panel, piles of data and still same-o same-o"

I am not very familiar with the SPS governance structure, but assuming it is similar to the large districts I have had to deal with (20,000+ students) I am assuming it has a superintendent and staff that manages things like curriculum selection and implementation. In my case at least, the staff put in charge of selecting the curricula, training the staff, coaching at schools etc. were pre disposed to a certain way of thinking about math - you call it "Club Ed". It is an outsider's view of math and those who are proficient at it. They had no clue about how it was used in a high tech environment, and why it was important. Most went through school with minimal exposure to rigorous math. They appeared to soak in all the psychology of how different groups learn, but could not appreciate how kids learn basic math skills.

I have always advised parents to take matters into their own hands first, and follow these simple steps:

1. If you are serious about your child's math future, make sure your child gets taken out of the harmful math environment (if possible), and into something readily available on line or in the tutoring places. If you feel up to it, do it yourself. Kumon, Brainchild, Sylvan, Singapore, Indiamathonline, heymath, the list goes on and on. There is an option that fits every budget. But no one can make the decision other than the parents to spend the time, effort and money.

2. Get actively involved. Does your elementary of middle school have a math competition? If not, try and start one that emphasizes basic skills. Large companies donate money to schools if you volunteer. Most schools I have dealt with have been only too happy to receive extra dough, and let parents run competitions.

3. Make your voice heard when key decisions are made. The school board reps are public servants, and they got elected to the post. It is their job to hire and fire the superintendent. If your school board rep has no clue when it comes to math education, time to campaign for one who does.

This appears to be the year where the public is finally realizing that they need to take power back from our incompetent leaders and bureaucrats at every level. I would think schools districts are no exception.
h2o girl said…
Ok, I just had to take Charlie's question and ask my 6th grader. Hooray - she rattled off almost every factor of 72 immediately, then figured out what she was missing soon after. I did notice that both her 4th and 5th grade teachers used Everyday Math but supplemented with old-time drills and worksheets, especially her 5th grade teacher. Yay for old school. In her CMP 6th grade math they're doing a lot of fractions, and basically the same stuff she was doing the 2nd half of 5th grade. Thanks for the reminder that I should be supplementing at home.
Sudhakar Kudva said…
Here is my experience with CMP/CMP2. Two of my kids were in danger of being exposed to these brain cell destroying curricula. The first one escaped because he tested into a gifted program, which in turn used traditional text books. The second was forced to go through it in 6th grade. When I heard our district was going to adopt it, I recalled that Jim Milgram in Stanford was involved in evaluating for California. I sent him a note asking for his take, and he immediately replied back saying he considers it good for only remedial math, that too with heavy supplementation. Now I hear that about 80% of the state's public middle schools are teaching CMP/CMP2. Does this mean they are all remedial students? This simply does not compute. I had enrolled my daughter in Kumon (she still does it), and pulled her out in 7th grade to home school. In a year and a half, she is up 3 grade levels in math, by all objective measurements.

One of the parents in Harium's blog repeated what has been said countless times by other parents and math advocates. Curricula such as TERC/EDM in elementary school, and CMP/CMP2 in middle schools simply cover the lowest common denominator. Those who see through the deception and have the money get help outside the school environment. The biggest losers are the disadvantaged minorities, who cannot afford outside help.

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