It's Time to Turn the Page on Math in Seattle Schools

Guest Post by Rick Burke

Days are getting longer, the weather is warmer.  The smell of spring is in the air.  But if you inhale deeply down by JSCEE, there’s another smell.  It’s the smell of math.  After years of sideways movement, the stars are aligned for systemic changes to math instruction in Seattle Public Schools.

When you look at Seattle kids’ math achievement against other urban districts, Seattle might seem to be doing OK.  As a district-level statistic, we’re not too bad.  But closer inspection of disaggregated data and the view from inside the system prompt a cry for help.  Seattle still has a large number of struggling students and a persistent achievement gap which we can’t shake.  Outside tutoring has become commonplace, with math as the most frequent remediation subject.  However, recent national and state developments have identified common ground and outcome-proven methods which can serve as a model for Seattle.

This brings us around to a community support initiative for math education.  Seattle has a math-focused School Board, and Seattle’s new superintendent, Jose Banda, came to Seattle from proven math success with a diverse student population in Anaheim.  Recent news reports are that staff at JSCEE are planning a K-8 math instructional materials adoption soon.  Examples of success are scattered through Seattle classrooms and it's time for those successes to take root across the district. 

A passionate and dedicated group of Seattle citizens has formed the Seattle Math Coalition (SeaMaCo) to advocate for action, proven policies, and no excuses.  If you are a parent, teacher, tutor, school administrator, or proponent of sound math education, please join our effort by coming to one of our Welcome Meetings and the kickoff of our 2013 initiatives. 
MARK YOUR CALENDAR - The community meetings will feature an informative presentation followed by a Q+A opportunity.   

North End Morning Session:
March 23, 10am – 11:30 pm  Greenwood Branch Library
8016 Greenwood Ave N

South End Afternoon Session:
March 23, 4:30pm - 5:45pm Douglas Truth Branch Library
2300 Yesler Way
SeaMaCo has developed three platforms, which are reinforced by common sense, research studies, and Seattle’s own experience in recent years:
1)      Put effective instructional materials in the classrooms
Textbooks ARE important.  Period.  Anybody who tells you otherwise is trying to maintain the status quo.  What is the single common resource used by teachers, students, parents, tutors, etc?  What shapes district-wide classroom content delivery more than any other document?  Yes, that’s the textbook.  The lowest-hanging fruit to systemic improvement in math is to put good books in the hands of the kids and teachers.
2)     Reinforce math content expertise for K-8 teachers
It’s undeniable that you can’t teach what you don’t know.  Every math teacher needs to know, at minimum, the subject matter for their grade, the grade above, and all the grades below.  That means to really know it - to recognize how the concepts build, why the algorithms work, and how to apply the math to complex problem situations.
3)     Focus on appropriate student placement and interventions
What’s the advantage to any student to put them in an environment where the subject matter is significantly mismatched to their knowledge level?  Math topics develop sequentially.  If a student is missing part of the sequence, it doesn’t just grow back – these topics need to be explicitly presented to students, and they need to learn and practice them to mastery.
Acting on these focus areas doesn’t need a lot of money.  It just requires good decision-making and prioritization by JSCEE leadership.  Help make that a reality.  Share your thoughts here on the blog, come to one of the meetings on Saturday and discuss in more detail.  We’re at a turning point, and just need to be sure the ship turns in the right direction.


G. Krom said…
I am totally in agreement with this direction in math. The discovery math textbooks, so popular with past leaders like Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, have failed our students. There is simply not enough practice within the current approach for students to become proficient. Kids think they are just bad at math, but it is the curricula that is failing them.

Tutoring alone will not solve the problem. It is not a substitute for a fundamentally sound math curricula. The text heavy approach in discovery textbooks is very confusing for students who are ADHD or have English as their second language. Even students who get good grades in math can test into remedial math in college.

I felt so strongly about this issue that I volunteered for Marty McLaren to get onto the school board. When I met Superintendent Banda at a recent fundraiser for SchoolsFirst I asked him to improve math. He said it was on the list of areas they would be looking into.

I urge parents to keep asking for better math. It is an area of weakness that could certainly be improved with better instructional materials.

Georgi Krom

word said…
I agree. It is time for parents to begin lobbying Sup. Banda for some progress on improving the math curriculum.
Anonymous said…
My kids are in elementary and we hear lots about "just right" books. The idea is that kids reading books that are too easy for them are bored and don't learn, and kids reading books that are too difficult become frustrated and discouraged, and don't learn.

Why does this not apply to math? Why do we age-level group kids and teach to the middle, causing kids to give up on themselves because they "just aren't good a t math", or to become bored and learn to hate math? Is there any such thing as a leveled math curriculum?

Don't tell me the answer is differentiation; I don't believe in flying ponies either.
TechyMom said…
my daughter's school recently switched to the Envisions math series. She is excited about math at school for the first time ever. She has been excited about Robinson Center Saturday math classes and my husband's graduate statistics homework in the past, but NEVER about math at school. Last week she was writing fractions on a whiteboard at home and having fun with it. There are still more word problems than she'd like, but now they actually make sense. The EDM ones were so poorly written, I often didn't know what they were trying to get at, and I'm good at both math and second-guessing test questions. She's also been enjoying the online practice games that come with the series. Thurgood Marshall has been using these for a year or so, with good results. As a plus for the taxpayers, the books are not consumable. Students answer the questions on - gasp - paper. For this class, she is consuming a 79 cent comp book.
Zebra (or Zulu) said…
Elementary School Singapore Math - There are currently three schools with a Singapore Math Waiver in Seattle.

Try these 5th Grade problems:

1. There are 350 Pigeon eggs in Mr. Eggy’s stall. There are 100 fewer pigeon eggs than duck eggs. There are 500 more chicken eggs than duck eggs. Find the ratio of the number of duck eggs to the number of chicken eggs in its simplest form.

2. A tank has 20 gallons of water in it. A tap is turned on and more water is added to the tank. After 20 minutes, there will be 520 gallons of water in the tank. What is the rate at which the water is flowing from the tap?

3. After Jason spent 7/10 of his money and Marcus spent 5/6 of his money, they each had $15 left. How much money did they spend altogether?

Post your answers below. Show your work! Oh, no algebra permitted and no inefficient guess and check strategies! Extra points for completing your work using a single mathematical expression.
Snippety said…
Zulu, I think those are fantastic questions for a 5th grader to work on. That is what I WANT from a math curriculum- multistep word problems so that a student actually has to understand what an operation can do, with plenty of more rote practice beforehand so they can get to that level of understanding. They are clear and easy to do, especially if you have been doing a unit on the topics (which I think you would have been), but you can't do them if you don't actually comprehend what rate is or what the parts of a ratio are.

- Snippety
Allen jeley said…
Wonderful post its tell us how to start new chapter practice on note-book after complete a chapter exercise thanks for share it statistical analysis of financial data .

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