Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Mercer Makes List of "High-Progress 'Reward Schools'"

From SPS Communications: 

Asa Mercer Middle School has been classified as a “high progress” Reward School – making the prestigious list of the top-performing, most-improved Title 1 schools in the state. 

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on Aug. 27 named Mercer as one of 58 schools around the state with the Reward School designation. 

“Congratulations to the students, staff and parents of Mercer Middle School and the community members who supported the school,” said José Banda, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. “We are proud that Mercer Middle School is part of this distinguished group of Reward Schools and has been acknowledged for all its efforts and hard work.”

As a high-progress Reward School, Mercer scored in the top 10 percent of Title I schools in reading and math (combined) on state assessments for its “all students” group. This designation acknowledges a school’s performance and improvement in reading and math during a three-year school period (2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11).  (bold mine)

Mercer has also been named a School of Excellence school in 2009, 2010 and 2011 – for placing in the top 5 percent of schools in the state for improvement in scores.  

As I keep saying as I go around talking to groups about I-1240, Washington State and SPS are not static.  Major change is happening, progress is being made and public education in Washington State IS getting better for ALL students.  This is evidence of that and it happened...without charter law. 


Anonymous said...

Isn't this the school that got a waiver to use a different math program?


Anonymous said...

No, they went rogue and just used another math program.

Whoops! Discovery Math Wasn't Key to Mercer Middle Schools Success

a reader

Anonymous said...

Comments from the original Seattle Times article:

My oldest daughter's 8th grade teacher used Saxon (but kept it very quiet) and told the parents during curriculum night that his students currently had math skills equivalent to chopping down a tree with an axe and by the end of the year their skills would be equivalent to chopping down a tree with a chainsaw. He was correct! [Olympia]

This is a very strong proof of the problems with discovery math--in this case the connected math series--and how switching to good books/materials with a more traditional approach (and which cover the essential materials!) can result in rapid gains in math skills. The results at Mercer were kept under wraps (a school board member told us, but asked that we keep quiet about it so the District didn't come in and force them to quit!). The teachers at Mercer have been using materials from the excellent Saxon math series. I should note that the current superintendent and her staff have fought for the Discovery approach that is failing us---and recently turned down the requests of three schools to switch to a more traditional approach. At a recent meeting Susan Enfield was asked about the current district math policy (Discovery at all three levels) and she replied that is was working fine and the district was improving. Her policies are actively working to keep bad Discovery math at all schools, and I note she was a major proponent of the Discovering Math series in high schools. There are other experiments in the school district where traditional approaches have resulted in huge gains (e.g., Schmitz elementary) and the district is trying to ignore it. Folks...time for a new superintendent. [CliffMass3]

Po3 said...

Major change is being made by schools going off script, which is a great argument FOR charter schools.

Anonymous said...

No, this is a good argument for a sound math curriculum. We do not need charter schools to implement better math in Seattle public schools. We do need to let Superintendent Banda know how much parents want to switch from Discovery math to a better math curriculum.

Mercer Middle School did many things right to achieve these results. But do not discount the impact of better math textbooks and instruction.

UW professor Cliff Mass and Dan Dempsey have been urging change for years on math. It is time they were listened to, along with many parents who have written to their school board members. The time is right to make a change.

S parent

Po3 said...

Not saying that I support charter schools, I don't and won't be voting for them

However, pro-charter people can capitalize on their ability to offer your student a traditional, proven math that is not inquiry based because they are not bound by the mandates of the public school system.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Major change is being made by schools going off script, which is a great argument FOR charter schools."

You miss the point. It can be done AND is being done without charter legislation. More and more districts are realizing this.

Po3 said...

I am not missing the point Melissa. Two or three schools in SPS have gone rogue with math and are getting great results - SPS then does NOTHING about the rest of the schools getting poor math results due to a lousy math adoption.

Charter advocates can come along and say, hey there parents we can offer you solid math, no need to wait for YEARS while the hurt egos of a failed math adoption are placated. Even our new super, isn't in any rush to fix the problem, district-wide.

Heck, they could even use Mercer as an example of what a charter school would like - from day one.

suep. said...

This highlights one of the basic flaws of promoting charter schools as a "solution."

To allow solid curricula only in charter schools (or only in schools that apply for "Creative Approach" status) would create an even more inequitable system.

Why should only some kids be allowed solid math instruction and others stuck with crappy math?

The best and only way to ensure that every school can offer all kids solid math is to simply mandate better math textbooks district-wide.

Aren't EDM and CMP up for renewal or reassessment? If so, Supt. Banda has the perfect opportunity here to make a huge improvement in academic opportunity for all SPS kids across the board by changing to better math texts.

So I agree with those who say the district should dump EDM, CMP and Discovering and bring in Saxon, Singapore, Glencoe or Holt -- for everyone.

Po3 said...

"Why should only some kids be allowed solid math instruction and others stuck with crappy math?"

Good question?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, the charter proponents can "say" a lot of things and make a lot of promises. It doesn't make it true. That's my real point.

I truly pressed the point with Banda and I think he heard it but really, he should be hearing this loud and often.

Anonymous said...

As Ted Nutting (Ballard HS) says, Fix Your Math Problem, Seattle!

tired parent

Anonymous said...

I understand the frustration of Po3. I have written several superintendents about the math, spoken out at board meetings and emailed Michael DeBell too many times to keep track of. I also volunteered for Marty McLaren’s campaign because I felt she would bring change to Seattle schools on math. I do think she and Sharon Peesley can make a difference.

If the public schools do not improve they are at risk of getting run over by unproven fads like charter schools. No more excuses about how expensive it is to change the curriculum. It is expensive for parents to keep tutoring and provide remedial math for their kids. Businesses need people with math skills and it is stupid to keep delaying a sound curriculum.

In my opinion, Seattle schools can gain students from private schools or other districts if they change the math curriculum. It is time for them to do this but it may take more requests from more parents. My kids are out of college now so it falls to the younger parents.

S parent

Po3 said...

"If the public schools do not improve they are at risk of getting run over by unproven fads like charter schools."


Jan said...

Good points, Po3. I really don't want charter schools (as they currently exist) here. But public schools are going to need to be nimble, flexible, and responsive to parents and taxpayers. This is not their strong suit -- and they are going to have to step it up!

Anonymous said...

Mercer is also a special ed "kick the can" school. My guess is that this has more to do with test score improvements than anything else. You can always get better results - if you pick your students. So long as schools do this, we'll never know what sorts curriculum makes a difference.

-sped Parent

Anonymous said...

Well, I'd still like a more comprehensive look at how Mercer did it. I don't think it is just a curriculum

At math workshops I took this summer, I was told "budget, budget, budget" is the holdback for new curriculum. EDM isn't that old. It will cost millions to replace. I kept my TERC stuff which is more aligned to common core which stresses "depth" and focuses on fewer topics.

Some people don't like TERC. I'm talking elementary here. I think what works at primary is different than what can work at intermediate, middle and high school.

I don't know how we ended up with EDM but most of us knew it wasn't the program we should have had for our young ones.

Whatever we choose, there's no magic wand. Kids learn differently and teachers will have to use various strategies to make it work. More time on math might be a start - at least at elementary where we are trying to do too much, IMO.


Anonymous said...

Mercer's been run exactly like a KIPP school since Lutz was there, right down to the alma mater banners in the hallways and the big score tracking chart inside the front door. She broke district rules about hiring, about curriculum, and she broke tradition in regards to course offerings and the "we can't do pull out, it will hurt a kid's self esteem" tradition.
All of that makes me think we're being blind if we cheer on Mercer but continue to allow SPS to run its course.
We need to demand that the district invest in excellent building leadership, then we need to support that the leadership can do what is necessary.
That said, I wouldn't want my kid to go to Mercer. They left creativity and critical thinking by the road when they went full speed ahead towards hitting "at standard." Maybe Carter's experience with an "above standard" population will help that school take it to the next level.
Look At What You Can Do With Tons Of Money!

suep. said...

Jan, I disagree with your focus here. I don't think most "flexibility," and by extension, "inflexibility" problems in SPS, are caused by the schools themselves.

Given the freedom to be creative and make better curricular and instructional choices, I believe most SPS schools (teachers, principals, parents) would.

The problem with Seattle Public Schools is with the decision-makers at the district HQ and the various unaccountable outside influences. That's where the rot is.

I believe what needs reform is how our district is run at the top and management level. And we need to put an end to the influence of a small but connected clique of 'superintendent-whisperers' and so-called philanthropist sugardaddies who often have zero education expertise but endless, often political, agendas, which are wreaking havoc on our kids' schools. (Their names can be found throughout SPSLeaks docs and on a certain fortress at the bottom of Queen Anne Hill.)

The district's crappy math and excessive and costly MAP test (to cite just two examples) are the result of croynism and "committees" that did not make objective decisions based on unbiased facts, but came to the table with an agenda that has not served our kids well.

We need a district with decision-makers whose only agenda is to choose the very best materials, curricula and practices to serve the students of SPS -- and not kowtow to political or self-serving interests.

Charters would not fix that problem. They would likely add to it.

Anonymous said...

That is a mixed review. Where did the "tons of money" come from?

"They left creativity and creative thinking by the road" in order to reach standard?

Wow! I don't know what to think. How do we do it all?


Jan said...

Oops. You are totally right, SueP. I used the word "schools" when what I meant to aim at was the downtown folks. Given reasonable school leadership, I think that most schools have more than sufficient abilities to be flexible, creative, and dynamic -- in fact, some manage incredible amounts of those things even under the felt blanket of District administration. Thanks for pointing out what my post left unclear!

Jan said...

LookWhatYouCanDo and n: aagh! What I wouldn't give for a town with real investigative reporting at the city newspaper level (Melissa et. al do what they can; but with no budget and no staff -- it is hard to do more than just keep up with the information flow/documents and the actual meetings, and track down the most egregious of the problems.

I would love it if someone, some entity, could actually drill down into the entire Mercer phenomenon, and comprehensively report on what is going on. What is really working? What was the "cost" (in terms of curriculum choices, SPED displacement, etc. Of the school community, who is happy; who is not? I don't think that big comprehensive schools can be all things to all people -- so not every criticism (even if true) means there is a problem that should be fixed. Some tradeoffs are legit. But -- some (for example -- discrimination against SPED kids, abuse/denigration of teachers, unfair hiring practices, cults of personality, etc.) ARE big problems.

Wish I knew more!

dan dempsey said...

OK folks ...

Here is what I know.

(1) Auburn School District has de-centralized its elementary schools. These schools have great autonomy.

(2) Seattle has not.

Now check this list of A reward schools
and B reward schools for Auburn and Seattle


Auburn has 2 reward A elementary schools
Seattle 0

Auburn has 6 reward B elementary schools
Seattle 0

Seattle has exactly one school on the list
Mercer a reward B school

Note Mercer was off script (as in not following the dictates of Central Administration) which Susan Enfield carefully tried to hide as long as possible.

What KSB said about Mercer on Feb 10, 2011

What Susan Enfield said about Mercer on Dec 7, 2011 is HERE

Charlie Mas said...

There was no single thing that changed at Mercer to change the course of that school.

There were dozens of stories told from dozens of perspectives. While some say that they went off-script there are others who might say that they actually followed the script, that they actually did all of the things that the District is constantly claiming to do.

That's a pretty funny idea, that anyone who actually does what the District promises to do stands in stark contrast to everyone else.

Anonymous said...

What's interesting is that in the new system of Michigan schools, of which Goodloe-Johnson is part, they are giving individual schools autonomy, students have individualized learning plans, and students are grouped by skill level, not grade.

Michigan's new Educational Achievement Authority

a reader

LLS said...

Makes my blood boil when there are proven results (math) that are blatantly and ideologically disregarded. I need insight. I need for someone in the know to paint a picture of what drives the person who makes such an illogical, dare I say, criminal decision to pursue solutions that don't have any evidence that they work. Worse, why do these people pursue solutions for which there is evidence that they DON'T work??? Are these people delusional? Incompetent?

Anonymous said...

Does everyone remember how the Seattle Public Schools math textbook adoption fiasco played out?

First, Washington state Department of Public Instruction hired actual math professors and experts to review and recommend math textbooks. The panel recommended Holt textbooks and rejected the Discovering series for our high schools. Here is a link to their 2009 report:

Next, Seattle Public Schools wasted a huge amount of time and money to have their own "adoption" process! They formed a committee of all-non-math experts which rejected OSPI recommendations and adopted Discovery math. (I remember one of the criteria the SPS committee used to evaluate math textbooks was to count the number of "minority-looking" kids' photographs and "ethnic-sounding" names in the story problems! I am not kidding... I was there!)

Lesson learned? Let's adopt OSPI's recommendations in Seattle Public Schools! Don't allow SPS to waste precious time and money on any more "math textbook adoption committees" to reinvent the wheel!

-math mom

Anonymous said...

Yes, and there's more: Greta Bornemann (OSPI) spoke in support of the Discovering adoption at a SPS Board meeting. Also, the head of the SPS math department at the time didn't have a math background.


dan dempsey said...

Here is the link to Greta B's 10+ minute speech to SPS Directors just before the Board voted 4-3 to Approve Goodloe-Johnson's recommendation to adopt "Discovering" for high schools.

Essentially Greta B tells the Board anything might bring good results.

WOW .. all the time and resources that went into this OSPI / State Board of Education process..... Looks like the process is just a big waste of time and resources ... because anything might work.

Anonymous said...

The Discovery approach to math wastes a lot of time exploring problems and makes them harder to solve than necessary. Many kids simply are left confused and never catch up. It is a particularly bad approach for non English speakers, since these books are so text heavy. Also, the books do not include examples, so parents cannot work with their children easily.

The educators and administrators at top levels were enchanted by Discovery math and sold it to parents by saying it would help children solve real world problems. What they did not tell you is that students would not get enough practice to become proficient at any level of math. Many of these people are gone but their bad decisions on textbook adoption stay with us.

In my opinion, it is the most urgent issue that Banda and the School Board need to address.

S parent

Anonymous said...

Technically, Great B did not directly state support for the Discovering texts. Her presentation, however, omitted information about the Discovering text being found "mathematically unsound." Very deceptive. She doesn't state why Dorn's final recommentation is only Holt, and the Board members show a lack of curiosity when given the opportunity to ask questions. She stresses the "alignment" to state standards, meaning topics are covered, but the question is just how well?

Then there's the "traditional" vs "integrated" designation. Discovering is shown as a traditional sequence, which it is, in terms of having Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II as distinct courses. Given the debate over traditional vs discovery pedagogy, however, it does lead to some confusion. The books are not traditional in the way math topics are covered, only the yearly sequencing/grouping of topics.


Anonymous said...

Everyday Math is also particularly bad for English speakers in language immersion programs--just one more reason to add to the very long list of why the district should scrap it.


fix the math said...

While Greta B's final slide seems to downplay the importance of the textbook, the SBE review has this to say:

Just as there is no perfect set of standards, there is no perfect set of instructional materials. And less is known than should be about the effectiveness of particular

That said, textbooks do matter. A recent study reveals that students enrolled in either Math Expressions or the Saxon Math Program score 9 to 12 percentile points higher on one of the federal government exams than their counterparts in classrooms using Investigations in Number, Data, and Space or Scott ForesmanAddisonWesley
Mathematics.1 Washington should feel good about its recent
recommendation of Math Expressions.

The OSPI review and this ST review of high school mathematics texts give the SBE and the OSPI valuable information, but no clear path to recommending more than
one program.

On the same page is a table summarizing the OSPI final score for each text (ranked in order from highest to lowest), along with the Mathematical Soundness Rating. Greta's presentation has only the OSPI score (which places Discovering 2nd) and omits the column showing Discovering as "unacceptable" when evaluated for mathematical soundness.

Text - OSPI Final Composite Score (ST Mathematical Soundness Rating)

Holt - 0.838 (Meets minimum standard)

Discovering - 0.835 (Unacceptable)

Glencoe - 0.826 (Approaches minimum

Prentice Hall - 0.820 (Unknown)

McDougal Littell - 0.783 (Unknown)

CorePlus - 0.780 (Approaches minimum standard)

*Composite score is comprised of 1) content/standards alignment, 2) program organization, 3) student learning, 4) assessment, 5) instructional/professional support, and 5) equity/access and is calculated for the series as a whole.

fix the math said...

More math ranting-

From "everydaymathsucks.com":

Everyday Math Removed - A Success Story, 5/15/2012 [bold added]

Here’s the success story of Jill Gladstone, a parent in Bridgewater, NJ whose children were being instructed using Everyday Math — the constructivist ’step-sister’ to Investigations….

After 12 years of the Everyday Math program being implemented in my school district, I am happy to say that we abandoned it and adopted HSP Math 2009 (Harcourt School Publishing) last year. It wasn’t easy getting Everyday Math removed. In 2006, I started a Yahoo Group for parents in my town who were very concerned about the program and wanted to discuss the issue with others. I rallied parents to attend Board of Education (BOE) meetings with me and speak at the podium. I connected myself with national math content experts- mathematicians – who educated me on the flaws of the program. I then decided to run for a seat on the BOE myself. One of my main campaign platforms was to remove Everyday Math from the district because I saw how this “one size fits all” reform math program was not meeting the needs of so many students for a variety of reasons. After I won a seat on the school board, we had a few changes in the top administration. The new folks eventually were willing to set up committees to evaluate our K-6 math program. (It had never been formally reviewed or evaluated in all that time!) The new administration did a fabulous job.

This whole process took a lot of pressure and patience.

Finally last year, the K-6 Math Evaluation Committee (consisting of 35 K-12 teachers and 4 administrators) and the 9-member school board were unanimous in their desire to replace Everyday Math with a balanced, more traditional math textbook, HSP Math 2009 (Harcourt). HSP Math started in September 2009 and has been very well-received. I still get e-mails from parents thanking me for my efforts and telling me how thrilled they are with the new program. It is a wonderful program. It teaches to mastery without “spiraling” and has plenty of practice opportunities to make kids feel confident.

I hear that Houghton Mifflin Math is good balanced program. Stay away from Connected Math 2 at the Middle School as it is worse than TERC and Everyday Math in the lower grades. Good Middle School textbooks are Holt-McDougal Mathematics or Glencoe Math Course 1, 2, and 3. Their Pre-Algebra and Algebra books, as well as Prentice-Hall books, are fine. I’d suggest the same publishers for High School. Do not have your district ever use the “Discovering” series (like Discovering Algebra or Discovering Geometry).

Good luck and don’t give up!

Jill Gladstone
Bridgewater, NJ

Jan said...

Wow, fix the math: it is like the SSD stepped ahead in time, read Ms. Gladstone's letter, and then went back and did the exact opposite, selected every program they possibly could to make sure that math was as poorly taught by teachers, and as poorly learned by kids, as was humanly possible.