For the past several years, Seattle Schools has used one of the worst math curricula imaginable, Everyday Math. These texts, based on "discovery principles", ensure that students don't gain competency in basic mathematics but spend a lot of time in group discussions, calculator use, and learning arcane and inefficient approaches to mathematics. Districts across the country have dropped it, including most districts here in the Northwest. A complete disaster for students with objective scores showing that it ill-prepares students for middle or high school math.
So after such failure, you would think that the Seattle School district and its curriculum administrators would want to get it right this time. I have a story to tell here and will outline some options that the School Board might consider to salvage the math education of Seattle's children, with most important being dual adoption of Math in Focus and enVision math.
To understand what has happened here in Seattle, a key problem has been the Seattle district bureaucrats that oversee curriculum development. They have repeatedly attempted to push the curriculum choice towards discovery math and have evinced a highly anti-democratic stance, suppressing the influence of community input. But we are also fortunate that a majority of the school board (Peaslee, McLaren, Peters, and Patu) have interceded time and again to ensure our students have a chance for a better math education. Without them we would be lost.
Last year, the district established an Elementary Mathematics Adoption Committee (MAC) and announced it would be open to applications from the community. After the district administrators repeatedly found excuses to reject candidates that were known to support direct instruction (explaining a concept, demonstrating it, and then doing exercises to ensure mastery), the School Board stepped in and asked Superintendent Banda to make sure there was some balance on the MAC. A few reasonable folks were added (but still a minority).
An initial screening of the available curricula identified 8 programs:
Math in Focus
Ready Common Core
Connecting Math Concepts
Origo Stepping Stones
As I have described in some of my previous blogs, it was clear that the best curriculum was JUMP math, with Math in Focus (the American version of the justly well-known and effective Singapore Math) a clear second. EnVision was third, based on its excessive verbiage and attempts to satisfy discovery math proponents. JUMP math uses an incremental approach that explicitly takes the reader through every step in the thought process. The content is rich, deep, and contains considerably more mathematical insight than the other programs. JUMP math is also inexpensive, without the excessive color graphics U.S. publishers use to hike the costs.
The MAC committee allowed online and limited community walk-in feedback. The community online feedback was overwhelmingly supportive of Math in Focus and Jump Math . The walk-ins went strongly for Math in Focus, with JUMP Math and Go Math as close seconds.
The MAC committee was supposed to select three finalists..instead it picked four, including My Math, a poor choice for a number of reasons (including being an Everyday Math clone). Even though JUMP math was a clear favorite by the community, the MAC committee did not select it because it did not "align well" with Common Core.
(Common Core is a national math standard devised by the National Governor's Association with funding from the Gates Foundation and others. It is the latest education fad and there is little evidence that t promotes better understanding of or facility with mathematics. A careful review of Common Core math revealed that it is inferior to the current Washington State math standards)
However, the local representative for My Math went against district policy in contacting schools throughout the district and was forced to withdraw.
So we were down to three curricula as finalists.
Math in Focus
and the superior and inexpensive JUMP math was removed. Go Math is a very poor book, heavy on color graphics and very light on math. Two weeks ago, the MAC committee released their final rankings:
2. Go Math!
3. Math in Focus (MiF)
4. No Recommendation
You would not believe one reason given to downgrade MIF: that it advanced students too quickly and thus was not well aligned with Common Core. You have to shake your head at such nonsense. The MAC committee was stacked by Seattle curriculum administrators that were not sympathetic to the straightforward, skills-based Math in Focus or Jump Math. The bureaucrats did all they could to to accentuate negatives about MIF and Jump Math, made community input difficult, and downplayed community input when it was given. They were not interested in the preferences of the community and of parents.
By the way, you remember the front page article in the Seattle Times talking about the miracle math achievement of a low-income elementary school in Auburn? You want to know what textbook they used? Math in Focus.
So should the district accept a mediocre text (enVision) or should the Seattle School Board do something different? Many have suggested that the Board would be well within its legal rights to vote for dual adoption: allowing Seattle public Schools to to have the choice of enVision or Math in Focus.
If legal, the board should push for triple adoption adding Jump Math as an option. If not, Seattle parents are well advised to pick up some JUMP Math books for their children to practice at home.
So if you are a parent or a concerned Seattle residents, please let your school board member know how you feel, particularly if they are not one of the enlightened four noted above.
- Sharon Peaslee: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sherry Carr: email@example.com
- Harium Martin-Morris: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Betty Patu: email@example.com
- Stephan Blanford: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Marty McLaren: email@example.com
- Sue Peters: firstname.lastname@example.org
Charles Wright, Deputy Superintendent - email@example.com