High School Math Text Adoption Court Challenge

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:
Marty McLaren
7020 18th Ave. SW, J22
Seattle, WA 98106.

You can also email donations through Paypal (they do generally charge a fee) to mmcl@pugetridge.net. (Donations are moved directly into the Seattle Math Group account at Washington Federal Savings).


MoneyPenny said…
Or you can stop wasting everyone's time and money and get over it.
Stu said…
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Stu said…

Thanks for your in depth analysis and careful exploration into the details of this debate. It's nice to see someone with such a balanced understanding of the issues and how they affect our children. Here I was worrying that my son would have to take years of college remedial math, or that I would have to pay for additional out-of-school classes to make up for the severe lacking in our schools, in order to compete in this society and you come along, like a breath of fresh air, and really explain how great the new system is and how we should all genuflect before the board.

Please continue to post; this blog is nothing without you.

wsnorth said…
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Anonymous said…
"The brief contends that the school district acted arbitrarily and capriciously..."

Isn't that their normal mode of operation? I feel the same way about the New Student Assignment Plan.
Anyone know why they took on only the high school math, and did not include Everyday Math?
ArchStanton said…
Anyone know why they took on only the high school math, and did not include Everyday Math?

I don't know, but I can guess;

IIRC, The high school math was just voted on this year (and maybe hasn't been completely invested in), while EDM has been in use for three years.

Also, I'm guessing that it would need to be a separate brief, with whatever that entails.

/love the nick, by the way
KSG said…
I've taken some time to look at this math book and it does look pretty bad. I agree with the general idea of focusing on actual thinking skills, rather than memorization, but this text seems unnecessarily confusing.

For example, I saw a problem with three vehicles traveling on a highway and the question is to figure out when they all crossed. The thing that I found odd was that they named the highway, HW 75. Why throw another number in the mix when you already have three vehicles to deal with. And then they had a minivan and sportscar as two of the three vehicles. The minivan was moving the fastest and the sportscar moving the slowest. While teaching basic math concepts, why defy common/expected behaviors?
Charlie Mas said…
State law allows people to appeal school board decisions to Superior Court within 30 days of the decision. After 30 days the right to appeal expires.
Patrick said…
KSG, isn't part of solving real-life problems sorting out the relevant information from the irrelevant? That seems like a worth-while exercise, assuming they've taught the basic concepts already.
jd said…
In an amazing bit of synchonicity, I recently was on a jury panel in Judge Specter's courtroom. She was all kinds of awesome.
Jet City mom said…
As someone with learning differences and as a mom of children who are twice gifted ( highly intelligent- but unevenly), I can tell you that this style of instruction is very difficult to transfer to real life applications- or further studies- O chem for instance.

I need to be able to identify what type of math I need to solve a problem, then I can apply it- but this mish mosh of strategies, ( which leave some out BTW), is ineffective and can be very inaccurate.

I expect that this lack of clarity in curriculum influences students who may not have a solid foundation in lower math skills to begin with.

It is too late for my kid, she is having to study with a tutor before she can take math in college despite graduating with honors from Garfield, but I have hope that this problem won't be ongoing for yet another generation of Seattle kids
WenD said…
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WenD said…
@MoneyPenny: This is great advice for the board and Sup. Data-driven decisions really do exist. In the face of data that screams, "Do X," they continually insist on doing everything but X.

Why do you think that happens?
rugles said…

Here is the verbiage being referred to...

A green minivan starts at the Mackinac Bridge and heads south for Flint on Highway 75. At the same time, a red sports car leaves Saginaw and a blue pickup truck
leaves Flint. The car and the pickup are heading for the
bridge. The minivan travels 72 mi/h. The pickup travels
66 mi/h. The sports car travels 48 mi/h.
When and where will they pass each other on the highway? In this investigation you will learn how to use recursive sequences to answer questions like these.

Step 1 Find each vehicle’s average speed in miles per minute (mi/min).
Step 2 Write recursive routines to find each vehicle’s distance from Flint at each minute.
What are the real-world meanings of the starting value and the rule in each routine? Use calculator lists.

(a map is included, Flint to Saginaw is 35 miles, to the Bridge is 220)

Reads awkwardly, in a Who's on First sort of way, gives me a headache. Also confusing in your real world sense, the fastest car, the sports car, is going the slowest, in fact dangerously slow, averaging 48 mph. I bet the blue pickup truck rear ends the sports car about two hours out of Flint.

Seems to instill a complacency with respect to averages. Also leaves out acceleration, if they didn't want to introduce the topic they should have the vehicles leaving the towns already at their "average" speed.
brown206 said…
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brown206 said…
ust wondering about the use of the Cleveland data here, since Cleveland's math WASL scores were far lower in most of the years that traditional math was being taught there. What do the low math scores in 2007 and 2008 really prove? What does the near-doubling of the scores in the 3rd year of reform math instruction demonstrate, if anything? What data would you present to demonstrate the efficacy of traditional math instruction in eliminating the gap in scores between students with low family income and students of color and richer, white students? I think it's rare to get data that's so clear cut that people who come to it with different beliefs and theories will agree about what it means, and I think Cleveland's data is an example of complex and, sometimes, contradictory information.
Anonymous said…
Patrick said: "SG, isn't part of solving real-life problems sorting out the relevant information from the irrelevant? That seems like a worth-while exercise, assuming they've taught the basic concepts already."

This is exactly right, and the problem is that they HAVEN'T (generally) already taught the basic concepts!

The Discovery series would be pretty decent if used as a supplement to a traditional book. There are interesting concepts and investigations. But only once you have a solid understanding of the underlying material! So for the kids who are already very skilled in math, it's not going to be that bad. They either already know the basics, or they can digest them very quickly. But more typical kids, or kids who have a tough time with math are in deep trouble. A lot of the ELL kids are just going to be left in the ditch to fend for themselves. :-( That seems to be what this lawsuit is trying to point out.

The worst part of it is that the high school material (Discovering) is better than elementary (EDM), which might even be considered better than the trash they use in middle school (CMP). The one that needs to be fixed most desperately is EDM, because without a solid foundation in elementary, the kids are growing up disadvantaged (and discouraged) for the balance of their math education. The effects of EDM over the past couple years are starting to show up now, and it ain't pretty. Talk to enough teachers and you'll hear some sad tales.
Central Mom said…
I talked at length recently to a 1st grade teacher about EDM and he wrinkled his nose. He said that he led a peer task force after a year of teaching EDM to basically rewrite the lesson plans. They put things into sequences that were a better fit for the kids. De-emphasized some work. Added lessons where there were gaps. So yes, EDM is the curriculum, but thankfully a good teacher is going over, under and around to get 1st grade basics into kids. Oh, and the same teacher is working OT to get his ESL kids into the groove. It starts at 1st grade...EDM does a huge disservice to those who come from families that don't have strong English skills at home.

So, EDM is fine for this teacher's kids, but this approach is not exactly replicable. The "unofficial" peer group has to stay that way, lest the District "fix" the fix. And most teachers won't have interest or access to the revised lesson plans.
Patrick said…
I agree the information is not presented in as easy to use format as it could be. I think that's deliberate. Real life problems rarely give you exactly what you need to know in exactly the order you need to know it. Sometimes the data are surprising, like maybe the sports car driver has already gotten five tickets this year and is overcompensating. Putting in acceleration would also be an interesting problem, but it would make it much harder and probably for a later year's class. I think this is the sort of problem high school math students should be able to solve.

The books do need to teach the arithmetic and algebra behind the problems, though. I am concerned about reports that the chosen books don't present standard algorithms, don't have reference material students can refer to while they're doing homework, and depend too heavily on calculators.
dan dempsey said…

About Cleveland math WASL scores

All students pass rate
10th Grade Math
Year School District State
2004-05 23.20% 40.80% 47.50%
2005-06 21.10% 55.70% 51.00%
2006-07 17.90% 50.20% 50.40%
2007-08 12.20% 50.40% 49.60%
2008-09 21.20% 48.90% 45.40%

Black students pass rate
10th Grade Math
Year School District State
2004-05 16.50% 12.90% 20.40%
2005-06 8.50% 21.70% 23.20%
2006-07 11.10% 19.60% 22.50%
2007-08 6.30% 16.00% 22.20%
2008-09 12.70% 16.30% 20.90%

Percent of all Cleveland students at level 1 or no score
2004-05 59.00%
2005-06 46.70%
2006-07 67.00%
2007-08 65.40%
2008-09 59%

Percent of Black Cleveland students at level 1 or no score
2004-05 67.00%
2005-06 59.50%
2006-07 74.60%
2007-08 83.40%
2008-09 74.70%

The IMP program began in 2006-2007 and ran through 2008-2009. It entailed a lot of expensive alterations that were not available without NSF funding.

Look at the increase in Level 1 + No scores .... This was a disaster.

Slightly more than 50% of Cleveland students were classified as Black.
This district has goals but has no plans based on anything proven to achieve those goals.
brown206 said…
Dan, here are the pass rates I find at the following URL:


2003 Math
Cleveland: 9%
2004 Math
Cleveland 5%
(both of these years math is taught mainly "traditionally")
2005 Math
Cleveland 23%
(this is the year that Cleveland had a pretty big spike in all areas of the WASL)
2006 Math
Cleveland 21%

Yes, there was a downturn in math for the next two years, then this past year, the scores were back up to 21%. So I don't think this data makes a great case for reform math, but I also don't think it makes a great case for traditional math. I just think it's a complex set of data that needs more analysis than what I've seen in this thread so far.
KSG said…
@Patrick, I agree that we should teach real world problems, but you start with the basics when learning a new concept.

For example, as a computer scientist, if I'm going to teach you how to do sorting, I'm going to start with sorting integers. I'm not going to start with sorting strings in Arabic with localization rules that run counter to most students experience in the US. Sure, it's something you have to do in the real world, but they'll get lost dealing with the Unicode and then complain that sorting is too hard.

Just MHO.
dan dempsey said…
Dear Brown206,

In 2005-2006 the SPS started requiring students to have 10th grade standing to take the WASL. Previously the district tested those who were in their second year of high school. Thus scores went from 40% passing to 55% in one year district-wide.

I certainly would not argue that this district has ever made an attempt to have an internationally competitive math curriculum. I certainly will argue that when the UW pours large NSF resources in the PD^3 math project into Cleveland and produces (keep in mind that these kids needed sophomore standing to test):

Percent of Black Cleveland students at level 1 or no score
2004-05 67.00%
2005-06 59.50%
2006-07 74.60%
2007-08 83.40%
2008-09 74.70%

This is a complete disaster and totally unacceptable. Keep in mind the MGJ was all for having IMP be the High School math adoption spring 2008.

We also need to consider the other factors ... Cleveland spent time at Boren (fall 2005-spring 2007) I believe. This could have effected who went to Cleveland. New building opened for 2007-2008.

A math teacher at RBHS told me in 2007 that the biggest two difficulties effecting math performance at RBHS were:
1.) Lack of Parents
2.) Connected Math at middle school.

The high school math adoption decision as DeBell, Martin-Morris, & Bass framed it ....
was a referendum on SPS math direction. {EDM, CMP2, Discovering}

Maier, Carr, Sundquist, and Chow voted to continue more nonsense.

Project Follow Through
Hattie's "Visible Learning"
& NMAP's "Foundations for Success"
provide successful proven data based direction and the SPS chooses something totally different. The results are pathetic.
Two years of EDM and every disadvantaged group's math achievement gaps increased.

When does the board ever plan on fixing this disaster? {So far the SPS board just compounds problems}

It will probably require a Federal Lawsuit victory to even begin to make progress.

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