December 05, 2011

Seattle's Math Secret Revealed (Revised)

A few weeks ago I was sworn to secrecy by a Seattle School Board member after he/she revealed a stunning fact:  one of Seattle's middle schools has had an extraordinary, if not meteoric, rise in student math performance.  A middle school with very high levels of underprivileged kids--Mercer Middle School--had student math scores equal to the best in the city.  And he/she had found out why:  without permission from the district, the school's teachers had ditched the district's official curricula (Connected Math), a very poor "discovery" program, for the excellent, and far more traditional Saxon Math series.  That school board member asked me and others to keep quiet about it, because if it got out the District administration (headed by Superintendent Susan Enfield) might well end the experiment.

(For those not familiar with discovery math, it is approach in which "direct instruction" is phased out in favor of having students "discover" math principles on their own.  Lots of talking about the process of discovery, group work is stressed as is calculator usage.  Exercises to encourage competency in basic algorithms are frowned on--they call it "drill and kill.")

Well, today the secret was revealed thanks to a front page Seattle Times article by Brian Rosenthal. As noted by Seattle School Director Kay Smith Blum: "They did it sort of undercover."

 How good are the results at Mercer?  How many ways can you say spectacular?  To start, here is a graphic from the Seattle Times for the percentage of 7th Grade students passing the state math exam.  In 2005, with the WASL, only 33% of the students passed the exam, compared to 47.3% of the students from the entire district.  Mercer Middle School students were lagging behind.  In 2011 on the state MSP exam, students at Mercer WERE DOING BETTER than the district average. (NOTE:  you can't compare the two years directly--different exams!!, but you can compare differences within the district)

But let me show you some graphics based on this year's State MSP math exam (thanks to Paul Dunham for providing the data). These plots show you the performance of several middle schools, with the schools in order of percentage of students on free and reduced lunch.  The ones on the left are schools with rich demographics and on the right, schools with poorer students. Mercer is the second from the right in all of them. In general you would expect the richer, more privileged students to do better for the obvious reasons.

First lets compare the performance of the various schools for blacks, hispanics, and asians.  Mercer is the best for blacks and hispanics, and a close second for asians.

Or how about low income and limited-English kids in 6th grade?  Mercer is the best!
 Seventh Grade?  Mercer is the best for low income and second best for limited English.
The district has had a huge problem of minority and underprivileged kids doing much worse in math than the rest of the district.  Mercer has essentially solved the problem by going against the district's chosen curriculum.

Here is more proof it is the changed math curriculum that has made the difference.  Take a look at the 8th grade math performance at Mercer compared to other Seattle middle schools:
Mercer's performance has worsened compared to the others.  There is a reason.  According to a teacher from Mercer who left a comment on this blog, Mercer does not use Saxon in the 8th grade..only 6th and 7th, and only for struggling students.  Thus, student performance starts to decline relative to other schools in 8th grade.  This really is unfortunate.  It is like finding someone that is drowning.   You throw them a life preserver and they think they are saved.  Then you take the life preserver away and let them flail in the water again.  Just not right.

This underground experiment is not the only in the city.  Two schools in the city: Schmitz Park and North Beach Elementary (see PS below) have gotten permission for limited periods to use non-discovery, more traditional math books.   The result:  HUGE increases in learning and performance of their students.    For example, Schmitz Park Elementary got permission to try Singapore Math textbooks in 2007 (traditional direct instruction).  Its students’ math scores soared: in 2010 the 5th graders had the third highest passing rate in the state on the state test, even though the school has no gifted magnet program.

In some of my previous blogs, I have also described what has happened in other districts when Discovery Math has been replaced by excellent curricula such as Saxon or Singapore.  Scores have jumped substantially in math.

Now the district administration knows about this.  In fact, Superintendent Susan Enfield was asked by the Seattle Times whether she knew about the phenomenal results at Schmitz Park and North Beach (you can watch it below).  She did and her basic answer was that they have a core (Discovery) curriculum and the district is going to stick to it.  Just amazing.  Stunning results do not matter to her at all.  In fact, Dr. Enfield is a proponent of Discovery math and pushed the Discovering Math high school series when she was curriculum head.

Click to see Enfield Interview by Seattle Times
The bottom line of all thisIt is now absolutely clear from a huge amount of evidence that discovery math programs don't work and that they particularly hurt minorities, the disadvantaged, and those with weaker English skills.  They also hurt the top demographics as well.  Seattle has extraordinarily poor discovery math at all levels (Everyday Math-elementary, Connected Math-middle schools, Discovering Math-high schools). Suburban districts like Shoreline and Bellevue have dropped discovery math after seeing it undermine student performance.  Enfield, is clearly not interested in replacing the current curricula and it is up to parents and the school board to force this issue. (As noted in my earlier blogs, discovery math is like a religion to many in the educational community, particularly schools of education.  The latest fad in a long line of failed fads).  The current curricula are crippling the futures of Seattle's kids.  You would think the district would be designing experiments in many of its schools to see which method of instruction works best and then to move to the superior method... it is not.  Imagine, testing various curricula with classes of similar demographics and learning what works and doesn't.  Use this approach to steadily improve instruction and student performance.   You would think that any rational and concerned district would try such a scientific approach.  Not Seattle Public Schools.

If you are a Seattle parent let school board members know what you think, if you are a business, tell the district administration that policies must change.  Susan Enfield is now only interim and the school board will vote in the next few weeks whether to give her a permanent contract--which would be a disaster for our kids.  It is time for a change from her failed policies (and disasters like the firing a popular Ingraham HS principal), and hopefully with the assistance of two new school board members, the district can finally follow logic and the evidence of student performance, and the not the ideological leanings of several in the school district administration.  Superintendent Enfield is so confident of her position she has told the board that if they dared to open the selection processes to consider others, she would remove herself from consideration.  There is a word for such an attitude, but it doesn't belong in a family oriented blog like this one.

PS:   Here is a comment I received that is so relevant and important, I am posting it here:

I was fortunate to be the principal who brought Saxon Math (after the teachers voted for its use)to Seattle’s North Beach Elementary in 2001. I had used it as a teacher and principal on the Spokane Indian Reservation in the early 1990s and we saw great success with Saxon’s traditional material. The Seattle district staff were stressed by my choice of Saxon because it is used, they declared, primarily with lower performing (high risk) students and North Beach was 80% upper middle class. But the supt at the time stressed site-based decision making, so we took advantage of that policy. Saxon Publishers allowed us to be a pilot site with free materials for K-2 the first year.
The next year, our parents and teachers were so supportive of Saxon’s effects on our students, the PTA raised money to buy materials for grades K-5. Saxon Publishers also gave us some special rates. Within 4 years, these “white” kids with their 66% math passing rate in 2000, had achieved 91% passing (for 4th graders at the time). We had proved that curriculum makes a HUGE difference for every economic group of students.
After I left North Beach in 2004, there were concerted efforts by district staff to get rid of Saxon Math. You see, results for the children are rarely the issue in math curriculum choices by urban districts’ decision makers. It’s about being a “team player” with the adults in charge, who follow a particular ideological path of reform materials for creating equity in classrooms, not excellence in mathematics.
The North Beach math scores have dropped precipitously as some assigned principals have fought the parents’ and teachers’ use of Saxon.
By the way, even if Saxon were for only the lower performing kids, that means it should be used by 50% of the nation’s students and 70% of those in urban districts.


  1. This is a very good post... it's good to see some improvement in Mercer. Hopefully they will eventually ditch Discovery math... I can't believe they use it in the face of all this evidence

  2. I suspect payola. I cannot understand why so many districts are so committed to "Discovery" math programs. We're not in Washington, but we are in a district that uses Everyday Math in elementary, and I've got to say any program that causes a first grader of somewhat above-average intelligence to cry and declare that she is "no good at math" needs to be dumped without ceremony.

  3. There are rigid personality types, afraid of failure if they try something unfamiliar, even if it works. Others have drunk the KoolAide of the next new thing. Those types of people should not be school district superintentents or a principals.

  4. In May of 2007, Seattle adopted Everyday Math. I had submitted a large volume of evidence to the Board showing the likelihood of EDM producing success was near zero. Brita Butler-Wall wrote to me shortly before the Board adopted EDM that the Board chooses to trust its hired professionals.

    My question is how long is it advisable to trust individuals with a completely pathetic track record?

    Look at the "Discovering Math" series adopted by Seattle for the 2009-2010 school year at a cost of $1.2 million. At that time the program was not performing well in Bethel. Bethel and Everett have used Discovering longer than Seattle. Key Curriculum Press recently sold "Discovering" to Kendall-Hunt.

    Here are results for students who took an Algebra I class in 2010-2011 school year on the OSPI End of Course assessment for Algebra.

    Pass rate percentages:

    These are the EoC results for students that took algebra in 2010-2011 school year

    WA State all students taking Algebra I class in 2010-2011
    All ……...9th grade … 9th grade low Income
    pass rate 60.7% .. 53.7% … 43.8%
    level 4 28% ………17.5% …… 11.7%
    level 3 32% ……… 36% …….. 31.8%
    level 2 19% ……….23% …….. 25.3%
    level 1 20% ……….23% …….. 30.8%
    43.7% of WA students are low income.

    Seattle all students taking Algebra I class in 2010-2011
    All ……………...9th grade …. 9th grade low Income
    pass rate 59.4% …. 48.8% .. 38.5%
    level 4 31.5% …… 17.9% …… 12.9%
    level 3 26.7% …… 30.1% …… 24.9%
    level 2 15.6% …… 21.4% …… 24.8%
    level 1 24.6% …… 29.8% …… 36.7%
    43.3% of Seattle students are low income.

    Everett all students taking Algebra I class in 2010-2011
    All ……………...9th grade …. 9th grade low Income
    pass rate 57.1% …. 36.2% …33.1%
    level 4 28.0% …… 6.2% …… 7.1%
    level 3 29.1% …… 30.0% …… 26.0%
    level 2 19.1% …… 28.2% …… 26.3%
    level 1 23.3% …… 35.6% …… 40.6%
    35.3% of Everett students are low income.

    Bethel all students taking Algebra I class in 2010-2011
    All ……………...9th grade …. 9th grade low Income
    pass rate 41.9% …. 36.6% …… 29.6%
    level 4 8.9% …… 5.0% …… 2.8%
    level 3 32.5% …… 31.6% …… 26.8%
    level 2 26.2% …… 30.2% …… 32.0%
    level 1 31.3% …… 33.2% …… 38.4%
    33% of Bethel students are low income.


    Notice that Seattle, Everett, and Bethel all underperform the State average.

    It is time to improve the system through the intelligent application of relevant data....

    This trust system is too expensive and unproductive ... Will the Board stop this nonsense?

  5. Does Issaquah use this math course? I am a UW grad and had classes under Cliff & have a great respect for his opinion. My son will be in Issaquah schools soon and I would like to do what I can. Thanks, Justin.

  6. justin...unfortunately, Issaquah uses Discovering Math....another superintendent problem!...cliff

  7. Cliff, for a scientist you seem to have trouble with the scientific method. How does it prove that the math curriculum made the difference when reading, writing, and science scores also went up (and science scores went up even more than math scores)? For that matter, are the test scores measuring the right thing? The article mentions many plausible explanations for the rise in test scores. I'm not defending this math curriculum, but it seems like you are letting your ideology drive your interpretation of data, which is a big no-no for a scientist.

  8. How do the new Commcon Core Standards fit into all this?

  9. Is there a good review and comparison of the various math programs out there? Google is failing me here.

  10. It would appear Shoreline has narrowed its middle school choice down to bad, bad, and worse, if I understand my math programs correctly.

    "Digits, CMP2 and Math Connects" appear to be the current choices

  11. We did way better at math when we withdrew from the traditional school and went to homeschooling, precisely because we returned to basics. No "exposing" a 2nd grader to trig concepts (why does a kid need to know the difference between the different triangles, anyway?). We went back to traditional-traditional, which included rote memorization, using objects to illustrate concepts, and lots of practice.
    I suspect that there is nothing "sexy" about the same ol'stuff, and there may be some really sexy sales reps in the mix to push these insane concepts (or graft, or both!). It's shocking the way that text books, history, and even math get perverted by so-called experts.

  12. ISD does indeed use Discovering Math. It is a complete joke.

  13. I went to Fife School District in the Fife/Miltion area a little north of Tacoma. Our middle school used Saxon math. This was a while ago now but the straight forwradness of the books seems more intuitive for a math class then ones that require a lot of reading.

  14. Cliff,
    Before this idea runs rampant it is important to note that Saxon is only used by students who fall in the lowest third of sixth graders (based on state standardized and norm-referenced tests as well as the schools evaluation). At seventh grade the percent of students using Saxon is smaller and in eighth grade is nonexistent. There are many other tools in the tool box. The biggest asset (not the only) that Saxon brings to the table is that it is a "canned" curriculum that allows the non specialist to teach math in a practical way - and in this way remedial instruction become more widely available.

  15. I thought this was a weather blog. Love your weather info, but this post belongs in another forum.

  16. It's called the Hawthorne Effect (see Any time you conduct a study to revamp a curriculum, and involve the students, teachers, and parents in the effort, you can expect an improvement in performance. When our kids were in elementary school, we dumped Saxon Math, which we thought was awful, and adopted a McGraw-Hill math program. Performance soared. It was great.

    But in hindsight it wasn't because Saxon was great or awful. It was because we got the buy-in of students, parents, and teachers, so they were doubly committed to making the new program work.

    Having watched others repeat this experience with other curricula and subjects, I'm convinced that there's value in changing the curriculum periodically. Unfortunately, it costs a lot of money to do this. What we really need to find out is whether the public is willing to spend what it really costs to make our educational system competitive again.

  17. I think a problem with your data, is the assessment tool being used. If your assessment tool promotes rote memorization and computational skills, math programs that support that will obviously do better in those assessments.

    I personally do not like EDM, though I find it way more traditional than Investigations. I believe that most districts use it because you don't need teachers highly trained in the use, or even in the content, to be "successful" at it. It's a "plug and play" curriculum model. Most others require highly trained teachers that know where they are taking their kids for the programs to work. Unfortunately, many elementary teachers are literacy specialists (by nature and vocation) and don't understand many of the underlying math concepts themselves.

    I see many kids leave traditional math programs, EDM, etc. that can compute but have NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING OR WHY. What's the point of being able to use a tool if you don't truly understand its purpose besides filling out a worksheet or a scantron sheet?

  18. 3.1459
    Are you a teacher in Mercer? If what you say is true, then the impact of the math curriculum is even more compelling, because Mercers score advantage starts to fade in 8th grade..cliff

  19. A personal observation from our family when my daught was at a small elementary school...When my daughter, now at the UW, was in elementary school, she was a very good math student. In 7th grade she tested into an advanced program, and was placed into it. It was was really just 4-5 kids grouped together at a table to one side of teh class room and given a more advanced book. The advanced kids were expected to "work through the book and figure it out together". The teacher had her hands full with the regular students and told the advanced group they would not get alot of personal attention.

    My daughters grade dropped to a B after being good enough as a 3-4th grader to go to math meets, and more tragically, she began to despise math class! In high school she got into an advanced class with a great, hands on teacher, and she went right back up to an A.

    It seems to me that some subjects require a more socratic approach, and would be killed by structure, but math is most certainly not one of them.

  20. When I was taking a glance at the Hurricane Ridge Webcam I saw a fun effect of the inversion. You can see the clouds in the valley with bright blue sky above and a temperature reading of 59.9 degrees. It is downright balmy up there.

    Great post about the Seattle school district. Not much they can hide from now, unless they don't believe in facts, which is quite possible.

  21. Bruce,
    That is a bit insulting! I think my conclusions follow the scientific method quite well. We have done a NUMBER of experiments in which discovery math is replaced by more traditional, direct-teaching approaches. This is just not one school. In each of them dropping discovery caused a large increase in student performance. Lots of experiments in which only one variable is consistently altered. These are robust results..if I was an educational scientist I would put it all together and publish it...cliff

  22. The data is important, but the story also points out that foundation of any good school relies on the following: "It involves a strong principal, a collaborative group of hardworking teachers and a heavy use of data to constantly tweak instruction."

    As the daughter of two public school teachers with two school-age kids who has worked in higher education for more than a decade, these cannot be overlooked.

  23. Great post, Cliff! On a related note - there are now DEFINITIVE studies that demonstrate a DIRECT correlation between drilling (math, spelling, even cursive handwriting) and REDUCTION of attention deficicit disorder. Go figure! (Literally........ pun intended....)

  24. so from 3.14.159 we have that:

    Saxon is only used by students who fall in the lowest third of sixth graders (based on state standardized and norm-referenced tests as well as the schools evaluation). At seventh grade the percent of students using Saxon is smaller and in eighth grade is nonexistent.

    Now look at this graph =>

    Notice that the Mercer Math improvement is most pronounced at grade 6, less at grade 7, and much less at grade 8.


  25. I think John makes a good point; it is quite possible that the Saxon approach is better suited to the tests, but don't really improve math understanding. In the case of math, though, it really doesn't matter. I'm a big time math nerd (I make my living writing computer code) but I know it took me a long time to figure out why long division works. The thing is, I can do it, and have been able to do it from way back when. Without it, many things become difficult. You can depend on calculators, but that seems a lot worse. Plus, at some point, a kid (or adult) may think about what they've been doing for a long time, and then have that "aha" moment.

    It seems to me that the big problem with discovery math is that it is used to much. 90% traditional and 10% discovery (for want of better terms) would be really good. A good teacher (of traditional math) has always done that. After teaching the kids the basics (and practicing it) the teacher might talk about an unusual subject (say, math in the news, or puzzle time). This gets the kids interested, and stretches their brains more. We have to make sure that teachers aren't so focused on the tests that they eliminate this important time. But without the basics, the kids get frustrated and fall behind.

  26. Very interesting, but I don't think I need to remind you, correlation is not causation.

    In this case, the improved performance has another clear correlate: Teachers and administrators at the schools in question who had the motivation and determination to break from the standard curriculum.

    I wouldn't underestimate the importance of those factors.

    (and a note to whoever prepared those graphs, "3d" bar graphs are bad data visualization. They make it difficult to compare any of the displayed data points with one another.

  27. I find it amazing that we are teaching math which was known to the Greeks, prior to Euclid, and still are arguing how to impart this knowledge. Geometry doesn't kick in until 8th or 9th grade, but even if we include Calculus it was known in the late 1700's which gives us over 200 years to experiment with teaching methods.

    My own kids had the Discovery Math program through high school and did poorly. Then they went to community college and took remedial math and did quite well which didn't use the discovery method.

  28. I think it can only be explained a malicious determination to implement constructivist curricula. Most likely motivated by political and philosophical views. In Tacoma, Saxon math was put in to play by the unpopular Art Jarvis. Whatever his personality flaws, Jarvis was right. And Saxon math was effective. So of course the social meddlers were right back in the game after Jarvis left. There have been several different curricula in 5 years. This is difficult for teachers and students and ultimately ineffective. I've resorted to simply tutoring my kids as an adjunct to poor schools leadership. The longer we keep merit and results oriented curricula out of schools and leave unions in control, the dumber our kids are going to get.

  29. It is amazing that in the face of terrible results that "Educators" continue to support a program that doesn't work. It is a pathetic state of affairs when following "the money", however subtle the graft or corruption is,results in the rational explanation.

  30. if I was an educational scientist I would put it all together and publish it

    If you were an educational scientist, you would be working on some new curriculum you could sell, not proving that the old methods still work. I think that's what's behind a lot of this, simple ambition.

    Not sure what it will take to make the board insist that proven methods work and call an end to educational experimentation.

  31. The longer we keep merit and results oriented curricula out of schools and leave unions in control, the dumber our kids are going to get.

    I don't see unions agitating for new math curricula: it's superintendents/reformers like the various foundations and their acolytes who think they have the answer to a question no one asked.

    Blaming the unions and teachers gets us nowhere: school boards and those they allegedly supervise are the ones we need to turn up the heat on.

    What methods did we use to train the scientists in the Space Program, prior to calculators and computers? Let's use that.

  32. John Dewey offers the following about aims in education:

    The vice of externally imposed ends has deep roots. Teachers receive them from superior authorities; these authorities accept them from what is current in the community. The teachers impose them upon children. As a first consequence, the intelligence of the teacher is not free; it is confined to receiving the aims laid down from above. Too rarely is the individual teacher so free from the dictation of authoritative supervisor, textbook on methods, prescribed course of study, etc., that he can let his mind come to close quarters with the pupil's mind and the subject matter.

    from Democracy in Education, Chapter 8.

    Not only does it seem relevant, it seems farther and farther from many current educational practices that force teachers to accept this edict or that edict, as if they will not do a good job without somebody to tell them what to do, and as if they are not masters of their craft. The irony seems to be that the students are offered, in whatever poor form, collaborative opportunities for learning while teachers are bossed around and ignored from above. If students can come up with good ideas together, why are teachers not allowed the same benefit?

    I believe that teachers, administrators, and students should be participating members in their own educative experience; resources, training, and knowledge are all there in the members of the school community, who are themselves intelligent and educated. Perhaps the least expensive and possibly most effective resource would be those resources already present in the teachers and administrators themselves, but that cannot come out without mutual support, communication, and collaboration.

    Find Democracy and Education free online here:

  33. Direct Instruction WORKS.

    If you have any doubt, look at the results of a 30 year study called Project Follow Through.

    The reason Saxon works well isn't just because it is designed to be used in direct instruction, but because it is fairly fool-proof. In other words, the myriad of elementary and middle school teachers out there who are afraid of math and who would rather be teaching reading can actually teach something from Saxon and it makes sense. If a non-math person tries to teach using the "discovery" method, the results are catastrophic.

    I've taught middle school math for 25 years. I used to use Saxon, but in the last 10 years the preferred text has been CMP dreck. I avoided it at all costs. We are finally out of that phase in my district (SW WA), and are using Holt and other things ( that help our kids learn the state standards. Our scores are starting to go up, and I attribute that to better resources and better teachers.

    NO TEXT CAN FIX A BAD TEACHER. But a mediocre teacher can be helped by a stellar text like Saxon or Singapore.
    (Most districts would rather blame the text than admit that they hired someone who can't do the math.)

  34. Correction for JeffB:

    Saxon in Tacoma came from Charles Milligan.... Art Jarvis came later.

    Tacoma has had Carla Santorno around for quite a while now ... she stuck Seattle with Everyday Math.

  35. My son's third grade teacher recently said to me "Teaching math used to be fun." Sad.

    The successful math curriculum was selected by the teachers. The teachers in our school and I know in other districts get so frustrated with having these experimental programs thrust upon them and then are punished and demoralized if their students are not successful. The teachers know what works and programs like Discovery math just don't. The teachers I know hate these new curriculums and they obviously aren't benefiting our children. Curriculum chosen by administrators has also been an arguing point in collective bargaining in several districts. Lets listen to our teachers!

  36. I'm with those who'd prefer a so-called weather blog discuss weather, but I grant that each of us has a right to discuss whatever we'd like on our own page. And for what's it worth, I'm a proponent of Singapore Math, having used it with my own boys since 1999.

    I wouldn't inflict "Discovery" Math/Everyday Math on my worst enemy, and am frustrated that some schools still labor under the impression that such programs are worthwhile. Saxon is a fine, albeit duller-than-nails and not-particularly challenging option.

  37. What methods did we use to train the scientists in the Space Program, prior to calculators and computers? Let's use that.

    To be fair, just because those methods produced a few thousand top scientists and engineers out of the whole country doesn't mean the teaching methods used when they were in K-12 are necessarily the best for the general population. What I have heard about 1930s and 1940s math instruction in K-12 is that it was very heavy on memorization and very weak on why formulas and algorithms worked. Theory was put off until college, for the few who could go.

  38. Does the Seattle School board ever take their own tests? I'm curious about this based on this article, where school administrators in Florida failed their own standardized tests:

  39. "What I have heard about 1930s and 1940s math instruction in K-12 is that it was very heavy on memorization and very weak on why formulas and algorithms worked. Theory was put off until college, for the few who could go."

    But now with the internet if you want to learn the theory, you can watch youtube videos by professors. You don't have to wait, if you want.

    But for most people who don't go to college do not need to know the theory, they only need to know how to get the right answer. A carpenter only needs to know how long to cut the lumber for roof trusses, not the theory of why the sum of the angles is 180. Same for someone balancing a checkbook.

    What we should teach is "practical" math. What the total cost of a car is when you borrow money at N%. The investment return when it's X% less Y annual fees. Whether a monthly payment is better than a biweekly one. And how % loan where the principle is not paid, ALWAYS ends up with growth you can never pay back. Something we as a nation are about to learn as we try to cover all the SSS, Medicare, and Medicaid debt.

  40. I was Rated a Genius in 2nd Grade and My Impression of High School Math was that it was just Plain Wrong! It doesn't Matter What Methods are used to teach it, though Brute Force MIGHT be the Best Way to Go!!! Math is not as Self Explanatory as those Neat Formulas Portray, I think.

  41. Tacoma adopted Saxon around 2006, for elementary. The district never really fully embraced it and concocted some kind of hodgepodge of Saxon and Investigations. (The latter being the old curriculum, and one that was just nonsensical and did not appear to have ever been edited by a human being.)

    This combination was just awful. Saxoon was fine as far as it went but at least at the elementary level, the degree of repetition and appearance that it never progresses is truly mind numbing. I broke the MSP/WASL passage rates out into cohorts and was really concerned to see a year over year decline since adoption. Last Fall we switched to Math Expressions and so far I think it is working better, at least for my kids.

    We've only had one round of testing since the switch but math scores are up for elementary students.

    Those numbers, have you tried breaking them out into cohorts? Looking not at 7th graders one year and a different set of 7th graders the next year, but the same cohort from 6th, 7th, to 8th grade? Sometimes that produces a different picture of what is going on. The boost could actually be coming from kids who start out at a higher level.

  42. One commenter suggested that a follow the money" approach would be the obvious one to root out what is behind Susan Enfield's obsession with Discovery Math, despite compelling evidence to that it's bad news.

    OTOH never attribute to conspiracy that which is adequately explained by incompetence.

    In any case it's up to the parents who's children are being disadvantaged to take up torches and pitchforks and storm the Bastion of Education.

  43. People with advanced degrees in education suffer from "physics envy." They want education to embrace theory and become so invested in particular theories that no amount of empirical data can sway them. The battle over math teaching almost exactly mirrors the battle over teaching reading; phonics vs. whole language. I won't try to argue the reading issue here, but the fact that the battle remains unresolved within the educational establishment after many decades of research speaks for itself. All the while, reading comprehension declines even at the university level.

  44. Paul talked about the positive bump up when there is a change in instructional materials..... Sorry but in the first two years of Everyday Math use in Seattle achievement gaps for every ethnic subset of educationally disadvantaged learners increased as well as for Low Income students.

    The Discovering adoption for Seattle high schools was likely even worse in its first two years than what happened with EDM.

    I certainly do like the Singapore math Primary texts for grades 1 thru 6 more than Saxon.

  45. To coldsponger: I have been homeschooling for 9 years and have looked at many math programs. The advantage of homeschooling comes from being able to ditch programs that fail our kids.

    If you want to know what homeschoolers think about math, google homeschool math reviews. My favorite is Singapore Math because it begins to teach kids math algebraically from 1st grade. (I have an engineering degree.)

    I do not know of a single homeschool family that uses a discovery math program. Singapore and Saxon are very popular. Both can be purchased for home use.

  46. All the school board has to remember is that they are responsible for educating the people who will take care of them in their old age--without knowing in advance which of those kids it will be.

    Knowing that, wouldn't you get the best curriculum available?

  47. "The longer we keep merit and results oriented curricula out of schools and leave unions in control..."

    Dear sir,

    The changes at Mercer were initiated by TEACHERS, and the unions are made of TEACHERS. Curriculum adoptions are made by SCHOOL BOARDS and DISTRICT ADMINISTRATORS, often with little teacher input.

    Often teachers are directed to do things that they know will not work, and are required to either use ineffective but mandated practices or find a new job. In this case, the unions' membership (AKA teachers) stood up and quietly defied their bosses and did what they thought would be best for kids. MERCER'S SUCCESS CAME FROM UNION MEMBERS - THE TEACHERS.

    Teachers, and the unions we belong to, care deeply about children and their futures. Teachers don't make a lot of money - our reward lies in watching our students succeed. We want to do what is best for the children.

    Please don't bash teachers and their unions for decisions beyond the scope of their authority or influence - including districts' curriculum selections.

    Thank you kindly,
    A Caring Teacher

  48. When I was growing up, teachers at the grade school level tended to be a lot like those at higher levels. Math teachers were people who actually had some proficiency in math, likewise with science, history, english, etc. Nowadays, the preferred hire is someone who is essentially a professional indoctrinator. Steeped in lots of NEA and Constructivist gobbledegook and usually with a teaching credential with some kind of woozy name like Proficiency Studies.

    These folks, and their supporting union and tenure infrastructures limit competition of good ideas and younger and more willing teachers with real talent. We should scrap the entire educational establishment in favor of a merit based system like that of Microsoft or Starbucks.

  49. CSMP

    A couple of comments- “discovery” is certainly inefficient in terms of covering material, but it can enliven learning and be one of the items in educators’ tool kit, particularly for the higher aptitude bunch. Trouble is like a lot educational fads there’s a tendency to carry approach too far. Along with the writing component when utilized in excess it will turn off most of a math class including the high ability ones.

    When considering the significance of test score results, the ultimate goals must be specified. Do they concern the acquisition of a skill set or is the understandings underlying the processes to be evaluated? You cannot draw conclusions from a comparison between those two different measures.

    For many years there has been available an absolutely outstanding program designed to produce understanding of mathematical concepts: the program is CSMP. It has two problems: it’s expensive and requires teachers with aptitude for math and sufficient grounding in mathematics concepts. You can type CSMP into your search engine- there’s a Wikipedia article and much else, including especially the UCLA math eduation program at

    John Garing


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

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