Monday, May 10, 2010

Educational Disaster In Issaquah

Normally, I talk about weather disasters, but this time I have an educational disaster: Math Education in Issaquah, Washington

Issaquah, Washington is a wealthy, upscale area, with many employed at the high-tech industries of the East Side, like Microsoft and hundreds of biotech and software firms. Y ou would expect that the local school district would provide an education that would allow its students to be prepared for the technological society of the future. But the reality is that Issaquah has adopted very poor math textbooks and curriculum at all levels.
Consider the recent vote by the Issaquah School Board to adopt the Discovering Math series by Key Curriculum Press for its high schools. These books were found mathematically unsound by the Washington State Board of Education review team comprised of nationally known mathematicians. The Discovering Math series follows the failed discovery approach to learning in which students are supposed to discover principles on their own, group learning is pushed, direct instruction is not stressed, and students do not practice what they learn to mastery. Discovery math is in vogue in education schools and among their graduates in administration and the class room. (Some day I need to blog about the failures of American education schools, but I will leave that for now). The Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction's recommendation for high school math was Holt, based on the inferior rankings of Discovering.
But it gets worse than that. Bellevue Schools tested Discovering Math and Holt and found that the performance of classes using Discovering was inferior (similar demographics too!). Bellevue has wisely adopted Holt. Issaquah gave parents no voice in the selection process, with only teachers, and mainly young ones at that, having a place on the adoption committee. Strangely, the adoption committee originally voted 8 to 6 for Holt but then mysteriously switched to 14-0 for Discovering, with no information in their minutes of why the shift occurred. At a School Board meeting it was revealed that the rubric created to evaluate the two curricula was not even filled in. The whole business smells bad.

A major issue during this adoption was the activism for Discovering of the local Superintendent of the Issaquah School District, Steve Rasmussen, who clearly had an agenda to push Discovering--see his letter to the community before the vote- This letter is full of incorrect information.
So you had a school administration that was pushing discovery math, parents that were marginalized and pushed to the side, and a process that was like an unstoppable express train. And the kids are the ones that will pay for this--another generation of Issaquah students will be lost to an inferior education. Issaquah parents should be furious with this adoption--perhaps if enough complain the ordered books can be returned. A group of parents considered filing a lawsuit, but felt so intimidated that they held off (which says something in itself).
And if you think things couldn't be worse in Issaquah consider the math curriculum used in middle and elementary schools:
Everyday Math for elementary, one of the worst discovering math curriculum for K-5, and CMP2, a very weak discovering math curriculum for middle school.
There is an extensive literature on the failures of the above curricula. Check out for a large collection dealing with Everyday Math.

Math tutoring is a major growth industry in Issaquah, take a look at the many private tutoring offices near downtown Issaquah alone!
Math tutoring is a major growth industry in Issaquah
(locations near downtown Issaquah shown above)

Anyway, it is hard to believe that such an educational disaster can occur in such a well-heeled district with highly educated parents, but that is the unfortunate situation. There is a reason that foreign engineers and scientists are filling the ranks of American high-tech companies and universities: districts like Issaquah are insuring that their children will be unprepared for the future.

Other districts, like Bellevue, Shoreline, and Lake Washington, have or will make the switch to quality math programs, making the stance of Issaquah schools perplexing and disturbing. If you are an Issaquah parent, please complain to your school board members and the administration. Contact the media. Only if the parents put enormous pressure will the district reconsider. And, of course, there is the legal route.


mainstreeter said...

I guess upscale, suburban communities just aren't with it these days. I would implore Kiro TV to suspend Pinpoint forecasts for Issaquah until they get their act together. Straight away!

Josh said...

The constraint is not about math books,class sizes,money spent or other suspects. It's about attitude. We have a lack of persistence in this country on learning math.You need to equip with the right mindset to capitalize on the brain that wants to drink in the formulas.

Chris said...

Calculators count their money now. But calculators are being outsourced... weird.

Eye of the Raven said...

Check the money trail. My experience says there is an administrator with the district who is a consultant with the chosen publisher. Also there are few and fewer competently trained math teachers who have a much easier time laying out the fluff on a daily basis. Better get used to well trained and hard working foreign engineers in Issaquah who may, themselves, eventually swing the attitude toward higher quality instruction. In the meantime better get on the tudor waiting list. For what it's worth I was a teacher, principal and superintendent so I know the territory.

Bill Kuhn said...

Thanks, Cliff -

For fighting the good fight on this apparently losing cause. I'm 55, and got a top-notch public school education in Connecticut back in the 60s/early 70s. It put me in a great position to have a successful career in technology.

Most importantly, I learned enough about learning so I could continue to learn as an adult (does that make sense?).

Regardless, I believe the current vogue is tantamount to child abuse. Give these kids a chance to experience the rich world of education, don't dumb them out at an early age. Who's going to produce the iPads of the future?

Guess I know, they're not from around here. What a shame given the area's history with Boeing and Microsoft.

John Franklin said...

Upscale suburban communities have never been "with it" and this action by the school board demonstrates what is behind the upper middle class facade. But of course the injustice being done to Issaquah students is trivial compared to what is happening to lower income students in the Seattle school system on a daily basis.

But thanks for your efforts, Cliff. Not to be too pedantic but those of us as concerned with the public's language skills (as you are with their math) will take issue with your use of the word "disaster". A "sudden calamitous event bringing great damage, loss, or destruction" is not what happened in this situation with "sudden" being the pivotal word.

bob said...

Raven has got it! Follow the money. I'll bet that the Discovery publishers are providing compliant school board members with generous perks. Of course, any flow of money will be carefully hidden! For what other reason would allegedly intelligent board members choose to dump such garbage on their students? Bob Dylan said it best, "Money doesn't talk, it swears!".

Drewskers said...

"In the meantime better get on the tudor waiting list. For what it's worth I was a teacher, principal and superintendent so I know the territory. "

We can only hope the poster meant TUTOR.

YES, it makes a difference.

Bob said...


Do you have a matrix put together listing the school district and the math curriculum/books that they are using or are proposing to use? Does one exist out there. My kids are in the Renton SD, and I can't even tell what system they are using to learn math. Mostly, my wife & I (both engineers) have to teach them in the evenings. I'd appreciate any info that you have.

Michael Raveneye said...

Yes Eye of the Raven meant tutor and not tudor but if I had Tudor it would have worked since the heads will fall one way or another:either the kids will be empty headed or administrators will loose theirs when the test results come out. I know it's a stretch but if we are jumping on typos here then be ready for the less than serious response! Maybe Drewsker will have some to contribute next time. Try typing with arthritis sometime.

JewelyaZ said...

Michael Raveneye said... Yes Eye of the Raven meant tutor and not tudor but if I had Tudor it would have worked since the heads will fall one way or another: either the kids will be empty headed or administrators will loose theirs when the test results come out.

I had no idea that administrators had strings or some other device that they could use to immediately remove their own heads! I believe the word you meant to use is "lose".

I worked hard to get Bellevue School District administrators to adopt the better math books (Holt) and I'm thrilled that we were successful. Even with the superior materials and reasonably good teachers, we still spend time adding to our kids' math education every day. To have a successful career in STEM, kids have to exceed the standards for any of the public-school math and science programs.

Emm said...

I'm still not sure the blame lies entirely with the textbooks - rather, a different (note I did not say, "new") form of teaching may be required. This guy is on to something:

Eye of the Raven said...

Thank you for the correction and for your hard work.