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-http://www.issaquah.wednet.edu/documents/math/HSmath/communitymath.pdf). 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 http://nychold.com/em.html 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!
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.
Posted by Cliff Mass at 8:08 PM