Danny Westneat on the Discovery Math case

Danny Westneat wrote a column about the appeal of the high school math textbook adoption now in King County Superior Court. He is dismissive of it.

The comments following the story are more thoughtful than we usually see in the Times.


I think people miss a little of his argument (but it's his fault).

"But the race angle? Seems to me if the textbooks are lousy then the textbooks are lousy."

I think he's saying if it's bad math, then make that the argument. Unfortunately, that's probably harder to prove in court.

In describing what is happening at his child's school,he doesn't realize he has it good and others don't:

"It's part exploratory new math and part old-school drilling — a nice mix, as far as I'm concerned."

Great, Danny, but you are aware this is probably by your teacher's choice and not what is generally directed by the district? The district seems to be sending mixed messages to teachers on what they have to teach and what they can teach.
SPS mom said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bruce Taylor said…
As one Times commenter noted, if Danny's child is receiving traditional instruction, then he/she is getting "gray-market" math which the district, now informed, will probably smack down.

Prior to this school year, I asked the math department head at my son's middle school to place my son with a teacher who leaned toward the traditional approach, and away from the the discovery approach. She wrote back:

I understand your preference for an instructor who has a focus on the traditional methods of "drill and kill." I have talked with my 6th grade teachers, and because of the CMP curriculum and our district trainings, we have all moved towards this "less traditional" instructional technique. While, we are able to supplement on the side with other curricula to build skills, we focus on inquiry-based learning.

She went on to suggest that I place my son in Kumon. And guess how much they "supplement on the side with other curricula to build skills"?
dan dempsey said…
Dear Bruce Taylor,

Sorry to hear about your experience with a middle school principal who actually wrote "Drill & Kill" in a letter. She seems a bit biased toward non-discovery methods. Here is the letter that she should be writing today:

Mr. Taylor,

I understand your preference for an instructor who has a focus on the development of mathematical skill. I need to talk with my 6th grade teachers as the district has them using materials that the January 2010 WWC report finds have no discernible effects on math achievement. Unfortunately the Seattle Central Administration is focused on inquiry-based learning, which has a small effect size of 0.31 and irrationally believes that the children working in small groups on problems, which has an even smaller effect size of 0.15, is the correct path to math skill and achievement.

The fact that Graham Nuthall in his book "The Secret Lives of Learners" reports that 80% of peer to peer feedback is incorrect, this is in fact the preferred way the Central Administration wants the children to learn math.

In this district the path to professional success is bowing to the dictates of Central Administration, as a principal I am essentially bound to abandon choosing better paths to student academic achievement than the irrational dictates of central administration, if I wish to keep my job.

I hope you are clear that academic achievement while a laudable goal is hardly “priority one” of this central administration. Even though I, as principal, am a skilled professional and very close to the children I have little control over most of my budget and even less over instructional materials.

Sorry your children and family are trapped in the dictates of the Goodloe-Johnson regime. You have my sincere condolences.
Dorothy Neville said…
Bruce, coo1papa is Charlie, fwiw.

I am appalled and surprised at the frank and unprofessional letter you got from the principal. Have you forwarded it on to the school board? And perhaps even submitted a complaint through the formal complaint process? At the very least, this should be documented in the principal's file, for her supervisor to consider in future employment decisions.

Have you also shared it with the chair of the math department in your child's school?
dan dempsey said…
More about district math decision making....

Remember that the actual instructional materials recommendation in Spring 2007 was for TERC/Investigations before Ms. Santorno dropped in the certainly as defective Everyday Math. Her action of substituting EDM did not follow the required protocol for an adoption under state law.

Anyway here is the latest from WWC:

This study examined the relative effectiveness of four widely-used early elementary school math curricula:
(1) TERC/Investigations in Number, Data and Space (Investigations), (2) Math Expressions (ME),
(3) Saxon Math (Saxon),
and (4) Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics (SFAW).

The study included about 1,300 first graders from 39 schools in four school districts in Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, and Nevada.

The authors report that math achievement of ME and Saxon students was 0.30 standard deviations higher than Investigations students, equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to 62nd percentile. Math achievement of ME and Saxon students was 0.24 standard deviations higher than SFAW students, equivalent to moving a student from the 50th to the 59th percentile.

So TERC/Investigations finished a solid #4 out of 4.

The folks on these math adoption committees are pre-screened to favor discovery. They never look for proven success and ignore relevant data (SPS Math Central writes the protocol, they prefer data ignorance in selections). This is why we are 0 for 3 on math adoption selections.

This WWC study will be very long term as these students will be followed as they advance up the grades for several years.

Yikes if my kid was in the TERC/Investigations group I would be jerking the kid out.

Interestingly Everyday math had the opportunity to participate but apparently chose not to play.

As the most widely used elementray text series in the USA, WWC most certainly would have invited them but they always have the option to decline participation.

Looking at the SPS data and elsewhere those EDM folks are no dummies ... they are not going near any rigorous scientifically controlled study of the effectiveness of their materials.
A reading of the NMAP study clearly indicates that much of EDM is based on ineffective practices.

So the district goes for a k-12 vertical alignment of math materials based on really lousy k-8 materials and puts $1.2 million into High School materials and professional development to continue their follies.
Patrick said…
Melissa said "I think he's saying if it's bad math, then make that the argument. Unfortunately, that's probably harder to prove in court."

Even if you could prove it's bad math, as I understand it it's not illegal for the schools to choose a bad math book, but it is illegal to choose a math book that hurts one racial group more than another. Hence the race angle.
dan dempsey said…

You are absolutely correct the race angle and using article IX of the state constitution is an entirely new approach. It has simply never been used. There is no legal president. Is the State Constitution taken any more seriously than the US Constitution?
That is another question.

Is is unacceptable for the board or likely a board member to make an arbitrary and capricious decision.

Example; I picked to vote for this adoption because it works great for my kid. While ignoring the needs of all other high school children in the district. That would clearly be arbitrary and capricious.

I really think that Sundquist's failure to actually read the NMAP report while claiming to do so, was arbitrary and capricious. The only NMAP quotations that he read were from the 12 pages of the adoption action sheet. He missed the entire focus of the NMAP report.

When a vote is 4-3 for..... if one for vote is arbitrary and capricious then so is the decision.

The hope is to start this process all over again. If there is a next time, I believe the board will give the committee some general guide lines.

What is this district going to do about k-8 math especially k-5 where the problem is particularly acute?

Is has been said that access to an adequate education in math & science will be the Civil Rights issue of the next decade.... perhaps Seattle needs to defend k-12 math in Federal Court next.

This needs to be fixed not ignored.
Instead Goodloe-Johnson is all ahead full with $800,000 for NTN despite pathetic results.
hschinske said…
Almost any poor educational decision, such as choosing a bad textbook, will hurt those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged more than those who are not. That's what being disadvantaged *means*. I think the question is whether the particular drawbacks of this textbook series are widening the achievement gap *more* than an equally bad series with completely different faults would, which I think is quite likely, but very hard to prove.

I've said it many times -- a policy doesn't *have* to be openly racist in order to have disproportionately bad consequences for disadvantaged groups. It just has to make life unnecessarily difficult for everyone, so that only those who are at the top of the heap already have enough power to get through.

Helen Schinske
Bruce Taylor said…
All, I need to clarify a couple of things.

First of all, the correspondence came not from the principal, but from the math department chair.

Second, her use of the term "drill and kill" was a follow-up to my usage of the term.

I've had follow-up discussions with Danny Westneat today that have left me even more disappointed in him.
wsnorth said…
One word: SINGAPORE MATH! Oops, there go my every day math skills showing through again. :-]
Yes, Danny was the one who told me last levy season, "Melissa, we don't care what they do with the money; we just want the money." This in front of other people. What is really troubling to me is how many people agree with that short-term view.

I was getting some pushback on this levy stuff like "why don't you organize and do something?" I thought I was.
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