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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Impact of Court Decisions on School Board Decisions

There was a story in the Times on February 13, 2010 about how the Court decision on Seattle School Board's selection of high school math textbooks is having an impact on similar decisions being made by other local school boards.

It's pretty clear that most people are completely misunderstanding just about everything here. They are misunderstanding the roles of the School Board, the OSPI, the State Board of Education, the teachers, the District staffs, and, most of all, the Courts.

No one seems to misunderstand things worse than the Times. The Times either misunderstood the two recent decisions or they are trying to intentionally muddy the water on them. I see the two decisions and I see that they both went against the Discovering Math series very hard. One said that Seattle's choice to adopt the books was arbitraty, the other said that the OSPI's decision to drop the books from the recommended list was well-considered. Two different Courts spoke against these books in two days, yet the Times missed that theme.

10 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

From the article:

Last fall, more than 2,000 students and 30 teachers participated in a project that had some classes using lessons from one series of books and some classes using lessons from the other to learn specific math topics.

The district is now examining "a ton of data," said Kathee Terry, director of curriculum for the district. But a first look shows that neither textbook came out the clear winner, she said.

In some classes, students did better with Holt; in others, with Discovering. Even when classes were evenly matched — similar demographics, similar scores on standardized tests — there was "a lot of variability," she said.

What does that tell us? That one way to teach math doesn't reach all students. I have a hard time understanding why we can't do a combo kind of method if this is the case.

seattle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle said...

I hated Terk, and EDM was only slightly better. They were both terrible materials in my opinion. They caused endless frustration (for my kids and me) and they caused one of my kids to think he was BAD at math - which he wasn't.

In MS, CMP would not have been my choice of materials, but it was, in my opinion, a huge improvement over EDM/Terk. I know it's a constructivist approach too, but it felt much more solid. Or maybe my kids were developementally better able to graps it in MS? Who knows? But both of my kids did very well using it.

Now in HS, Discovering seems to be going well too. Not much to complain about so far. My son seems to be doing very well and LOVES math now! Not sure if it's the Discovering materials, or his fantastic teacher, or a combination of both, but something is definately working for him. I talked to his teacher about Discovering, and he said he really likes it. Says it's far superior (and he also said it was much more traditional) than the last materials they used (IMP??)

We're not math guru's though so who knows, maybe when he gets to college we will realize that Discovering did not prepare him well?? We'll have to wait and see. He'll take pre-calc and calc in 11th and 12th grade and that's not Discovering, so I am hopeing that after 3 years of discovering, pre-calc and calc, he will do just fine in college.

As far as HS math goes, he is far ahead of where I was as a freshman and as I said he likes math - both good things.

dan dempsey said...

Melissa,

I have a different take on this. It tells us that:

a. When you use a small sample size there is lots of variability (duh??)

b. When using a text series for a short period of time it is hard to learn much (duh??)

c. An effective combination of strategies is normally best designed by the teacher teaching students and a sound well organized textbook is always the foundation for this. One with sufficient examples, practice, and clear definitions & formulas. Teacher needs sufficient bag of tricks which may well involve some "inquiry" and even a small-group upon occasion.

d. I maintain that you will see a vast difference between populations of two large matched groups over three years when the cohort is followed over three years. Group "A" using "an inquiry text series" which uses Problem Based Learning will be out scored by Group "B" using a non-inquiry based text series with Direct Instruction, clear easy to find formulas and definitions, lots of clear examples, and a sufficient supply of well chosen problems for the teacher to choose from. When these kids go to College it is too late to correct the Damage inflicted upon many in Group "A".

Over three years the Algebra II students coming out of group "B" will have embarrassingly superior performance over group "A". Not only that but more group "B" students will be taking Algebra II and learning something.

The reform lobby needs only to look at Cleveland data from the PD^3 school based IMP program run by UW College of Education and UW Math (Dr. James King) with the assistance of SPS math coach Art Mabbott to see what a well financed, well supported, professionally guided, implementation of "inquiry math" can do. (Total Disaster)

It seems that Kathee Terry, director of curriculum for the district, is weak in Statistical Analytic skills. As she has failed to realize she has "a ton of data", that is non-relevant. No matter how she slices and dices it, it will not suddenly become relevant allowing her to intelligently apply it.

Judge Spector an expert in looking at evidence found "inquiry math" harmful to English Language Learners and others, she believed the publishers and Attorney Scully that "Discovering Series" is an investigative approach to teaching mathematics, which places it squarely in the small group heavy, inquiry heavy camp.

The data Kathee Terry, director of curriculum for the district, should be looking at is the years of inquiry math, in her district, using TERC/Investigations at the elementary level, that expanded achievement gaps greatly for Black and/or Low income students.

That is relevant data and explains why Bellevue prefers "Discovering" over "Holt". Because a k-8 program using "inquiry-based" CMP at middle school does not prepare students to be successful in an "Authentic Algebra program". That is another reason she saw mixed results. Poorly prepared kids have a hard time with High School math... no matter what flavor.

Can Kathy Terry work problems from an inquiry-based "Pre-Calc" book?

If not why does her opinion matter in this issue?

dan dempsey said...

Like Seattle this is likely a case of Clueless directors guiding "selected" reform zealots to pick an "inquiry" textbook.... this allows some CYA for more than a decade of nonsense. Get ready for end of course testing of math skills and content, there will be no Begerson Math WASL Mumbo-Jumbo to hide behind.

Hopefully the Bellevue and Issaquah boards will look at all the relevant evidence in making a decision. It is likely that the Staff will not be presenting all the relevant evidence as they rarely look for it.

(See Seattle math adoptions and NTN contract vote for examples) If you want to win a decision be sure and submit the relevant evidence yourself. Don't forget to have a legal action if they screw it up. I'll send Ms. Taylor and the School Board some relevant data this next week so they will have some.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Anna B,

Glad to hear your son has a great interest in Math now. I hope the SPS math delivered will enable him to pursue future opportunities upon Graduation. This is not really about WASL but preparing students for life beyond high school. What high school does you son attend?

Best Wishes,

Dan

wseadawg said...

Melissa, you're right on point. Discovery/Inquiry based math originated as an alternative way to teach math to kids who for whatever reasons didn't do well in math and many people thought, as has always been the case, that a large part of the problem was that like with history, kids can't always see how it's relevant to their lives. Hence, all the real-life/see how it's relevant story problems.

Given the variety of personalities and learning types, maybe alternative forms of instruction are good if they are used as alternative paths to reach kids who don't thrive in the mainstream, tradional world of math. I think we'd all support that. If one thing doesn't work, try another.

But we live in a group-think, standardization world within education, where it is perceived as inequitable when one group is doing something different than other groups. This is liberalism and equality measures taken to the extreme, and over the cliff.

That's where we are right now. One approach probably will never work, so we need viable alternatives. What we don't need, is one type of dominant, force-fed techniques to the exclusion of all others. I'm just rambling at this point, but you all know what I'm saying. But this is the issue.

It isn't, like the false constructs and dichotomies the Board wrestles with, one being right and one being wrong. Nor is it about "textbooks falling apart," so we just can't wait any longer to drop 25 mil on shiny new books (S. Carr).

Content matters. The community clearly prefers Singapore/Saxon, or heck, anything but Inquiry based math, by a wide, overwhelming margin.

Like you say, MW, why isn't anyone willing to give the community what it wants, and offer inquiry based instruction as an alternative to those groups who want it, or might do better with it? How hard can it really be?

Anonymous said...

If journalists understood anything, they would by now have told the nation that the government is truly bankrupt. Good bye schools and all that ...

Chris S. said...

btw at Peter Maier's meeting he mused one expanding the use of "supplemental" Singapore materials. I suggested there was the opportunity for randomized controlled trial. He thought I was kidding. I wasn't. You'd have to be careful about the design, of course. Politics would get in the way, of course. Still, if we're going to experiment on our kids, we might as well do experiments that might give us insights.

Charlie Mas said...

Of course, both decisions also turned on the definition of "arbitrary and capricious".

Seattle School Board made a decision that was found to be arbitrary and capricious. The OSPI made a decision that was found NOT to be so. The lesson here should be how to make a decision based on data, facts, and logic instead of based on... well, anything else.

Take the NTN decision, for example. Was it based on data, facts and logic? The argument in support of that decision was that spending $800,000 for guidance from NTN was the only way for STEM to be completely committed to Project-Based Learning across all disciplines by the fall of 2010.

That may be true, but where is the argument that STEM has to be completely committed to PBL? Nowhere. There's no reason that some of STEM's classes could be PBL and some use another instructional strategy. And, even if it did have to be completely PBL, where is the argument that STEM has to be completely PBL by fall of 2010? Nowhere. The school could start with some classes PBL and convert the instructional strategies of the other classes over time.

The decision that STEM has to be completely PBL was arbitrary and capricious.

The decision that STEM had to be completely PBL when it opened in the fall of 2010 was also arbitrary and capricious.

Oddly, neither of these decisions was even discussed. They arrived complete and unquestionable.

They were, however, reasons that were used to eliminate other candidates for the contract, such as Project Lead the Way.