Sunday, May 3, 2009

Seattle's Big Math Decision

Many of you know that I feel strongly about math education and work closely with a group called As a UW professor I have seen declined math abilities of incoming students, and some students can't follow their dreams of a meteorological career because of poor high school math backgrounds. And my own children have suffered from poor textbooks and math curricula.

The Seattle School District will be making a landmark decision on Wednesday for the selection of high school math texts. Their review panel (which didn't have a single mathematician or technical professional from the community) is favoring a terrible textbook series (Discovering Algebra and Geometry), which fosters the same "discovery" or "reform" approach that has done so much damage during the past several years. Their second choice (Prentice Hall Algebra and Geometry) is quite good. The Seattle School Board should reject the Discovering Math series if it is to insure Seattle students will get a decent math education. The School Board was split in the last meeting, and they need to hear from concerned citizens before the Wednesday gathering.

I have prepared a youtube video on the subject ( and more information is available at Please let them know how you feel (emails of school board members below). And those of you outside of Seattle will also be affected if the largest school district in the state goes the wrong way. Thanks for listening...cliff

School Board Directors:
Michael DeBell -
Sherry Carr -
Harium Martin-Morris -
Peter Maier -
Cheryl Chow -
Steve Sundquist -
Mary Bass -


GlennRoberts said...

My grandson has been using the discovery series and I find it absolutely inane.
So now they want to extend that ignorance to the high school level so that the under educated elementary and middle schools kids will be in familiar territory and possibly pass the waste of time WASL. Preposterous.

timeslid said...

Don't let Discovery Math be the Connected Math continuation we have been living with in elementary and middle school. Kids don't even learn the algorithm for long division as it doesn't let the student feel the answer or see it in a "greater context" (from the teacher's manual connected math - blue book).

Here is a list of Board members, please send them a note!

School Board Directors:
Michael DeBell -
Sherry Carr -
Harium Martin-Morris -
Peter Maier -
Cheryl Chow -
Steve Sundquist -
Mary Bass -

Math Underground Blog:

State Board of Education report:

Mathematician Reviews of Mathematics Curricula (scroll to bottom of page)

National Math Panel Final Report

garyLambda said...

Remember all of the math taught in high school was known by 1690 by Newton & Leibniz. There is no reason that we can't use the same techniques that have worked for nearly the last 400 years instead of this new math insanity. I think it's designed by book publishers to generate revenue for a subject that otherwise wouldn't.

Alicia and Tom said...

Math is painful to my brain and has been known to make me cry, in class and in front of my peers, on numerous occasions. However, words and all their permutations come easily to me. You should have said "ensure" not "insure", as no one is taking out a policy.

Mark said...

My daughter's junior year math book was so bad, I complained to the head of the math department at her high school.

I took one of my daughter's homework problems along with the useless textbook and handed it to the department head and told her to solve the problem. It was NOT a trick question: The problem was to figure out the formula for a sine wave given a graph, so the student had to figure out frequency, amplitude, and phase shift angle.

First she tried to deflect me onto other subjects, but I insisted she do it. I had to tell her about 4 times to solve the problem. She finally admitted she couldn't do it and the book was no help. So I asked her how she felt. I asked her if she felt embarassed, stupid, and angry. Then I told her that now she knows how my daughter feels.

Dennis said...

Good campaign. I sent mail to all the board members.

Keeping one's head above water said...

chehalis uses the prentice hall series and it is incredible. I have used the advanced algebra my daughter used when I took adv algebra in college (math 099) when I needed more step by step instruction.

JS said...

I hope everyone realizes that there is another side to this argument. Smart intelligent people who want the best for students can also be found on the other side of the issue. If you research the issue -- you will see they have valid concerns and points as well. They may not be the most vocal group, but they are out there and are extremely misrepresented by Where'stheMath. Students who are enjoying their math classes aren't going to get online and make sure everyone knows it. I really don't see how Mr. Mass would know how many students enjoy their classes and are very successful in their future mathematical endeavors. Do they have to struggle in his and his allies’ classes at UW to make it on his radar? This is his blog, and the man knows his weather indeed, but the fact that he cannot even comprehend the other side to this math issue proves that it has moved from reasoned debate into blurry high concentrations of emotion. No one documents the positive anecdotes with close to the same diligence Mr. Mass uses to scrape together the negative. WASL scores are pretty good at some schools using Reformed math programs. How can this be? And back in the 1960's, of course people seemed to do okay learning math because everyone just got weeded out until the only people left were those who had always found it pretty easy. There are so many more people trying to take more math in this current generation. Let's not be elite and say, "If you can't do it the old way, then something is wrong with you." And if these new programs are so empty and "fluffy" and the big complaint is "Where's the Math?!" -- then why is everyone complaining about how difficult they are and how their kids need extra help? What, precisely, do they need help doing if the books have no math?

novemberjuliet said...

Thank you, JS. Well said. I've taught using both Investigations and Every Day math. I can't speak to Discovery Math but the reformed programs really do take the stress out of the students and they DO get it much better.

Jason said...

They may "get it" much more easily, but what they're getting is not going to prepare them for collegiate level math courses for technical disciplines. As a hiring manager over the IT department of a major Seattle non-profit previously and now doing interview loops for candidates at one of the largest technology companies in the area, I see every day how far behind students of the "new math" are compared to others. This puts them at a great disadvantage when it comes to technical careers and is one of the major reasons that we have to import technical talent from other countries.

The simple fact is that technology companies can not find enough truly qualified candidates to fill their positions, and the current economic climate has only slightly improved that problem. People often complain about sending jobs overseas due to lower wages, but the higher-skill and higher-wage technical jobs either go overseas or workers are hired from there and moved here purely due to lack of Americans who are qualified.

I have looked through one of these Discovery math books and was amazed at how awful it was. My nieces are in high school now and my own children are not far from it. With how amazingly important a solid foundation in math is for nearly any technical career, or even everyday life, I would probably pull my child out of a school that used the Discovery series of math books.

garyLambda said...

Re: Discovery Math @ Tahoma
Both of my kids were taught math this way and both had a miserable time of it, one of whom, who is otherwise extremely bright, got stuck in basically 8th grade math for 4 years. Then off to Green River College where they both had to retake the high school math that they missed in High school, where they both passed with flying colors.

It wasn't the students who were the problem, it was the way that Math was taught. By trying to reach the lowest common denominator of learning we are missing the average and the bright and doing no one any good at all.

But seriously, this hasn't been "new Math" since 1690 when Newton and Leibniz added Calculus. Remember it's the Greek's who gave us Geometry for gods sake. And somehow we still can't teach it?!?

-p said...

What troubles me about the current debate is how terrifically unscholarly and unscientific it has become. Well-trained, intelligent scientists and educators are now routinely making unsubstantiated claims, using weasel words, launching ad hominem attacks, hiding subjective opinion behind a veneer of expertise, cherry-picking evidence, and generally engaging in arrogant ideological posturing. The discussion is so riddled with salesmanship and crimes against logic that it has come to represent for many concerned citizens a dirty political campaign. And it is often mean-spirited to boot.

Every time a representative from one side or the other uses words like "awful", "preposterous", "damaging", "unsalvageable", "dangerous", "backwards", or "disastrous", I wince. Whenever these words are accompanied by apparently sincere expressions of concern about "the children", whose dreams are now dashed because of the horrors of our current math education system, I roll my eyes. And whenever the stakes are ratcheted so high that the very well-being of the nation is claimed to rest upon choosing the "right" approach to math education, I ask: "Where's the bridge?", because I know that someone is trying to sell me something.

I don't want us to "just get along". I'm not asking that a "truce" be declared between the warring factions. I'm asking that we utilize the very methods, attitudes, and scientific practices that we claim we are fighting to protect.

MagnoliaBill said...

Looking through the Discovering Algebra book, it is stunningly bad. It rambles on and on and on and on with textual content but few actual algebra problems.

To offer just one analogy, which I've shared with the board, an algebra text taking nearly 100 pages to introduce the concept of a variable is akin to a Civil War history taking 100 pages before mentioning Abraham Lincoln. It’s fundamental.

One poster chides us to be open to "the other side of the argument", but then provides no facts or sources. I'm quite open to another side, if someone will argue it. Meanwhile, review boards including Washington's have nixed the Discovering series as "unsuitable" (including WA State) and school districts including San Diego have dropped it after bad experiences. Those are facts. Refute them with facts.

Joe said...

What I want to know is -- where was everyone when the Seattle Schools Math Adoption Committee was doing its work? Why do we have to wait until the day of the School Board vote to get this discussion out there?

I emailed Mr. Mass about the high school math adoption months ago -- but no response. It's soooo unproductive to address this at the last minute. Mr. Mass says he's interested, but his strategy for actually accomplishing something is poor.

I think the odds are very good that Discovery will be adopted tonight. So, then, what do we do about it?

My wish is that someone would come up with a supplementary curriculum that could shore up some of the defecits in Discovery. Parents would love to know how to prepare our kids properly for University math. I would pay $$$ if anyone could come up with such a program.

Euphoria Gibbons said...

I wrote a letter to the school board yesterday. Thank you for posting their emails!

I have extensive high-level math skills and still never found a good job with all my higher degrees, but I do feel strongly that we need a rigorous high school math program. Thanks for your clear opinion since I was not familiar with the quality of the curricula under consideration.

Jay said...

With respect and all apologies to the previous posters, it's impossible for me to escape the fact that so many of your posts have grammatical, punctuation, and syntax errors. We need to consider how every subject is being taught in schools, as it seems that people's language skills are just as lacking as their math.