June 03, 2014

The Future of Seattle Elementary Math Education Will Be Decided on Wednesday

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council voted to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15.00 per hour.

But I would suggest an even more important vote will occur on Wednesday, one that will decide the future of tens or hundreds of thousands of Seattle students over the next decade:  the Seattle School Board's vote on the future elementary math curriculum.

As I have noted in previous blogs, Seattle Public Schools is now using a grossly inferior math curriculum, Everyday Math.   Most school districts in the area (and around the country) have dropped it because it fails to provide basic competency in elementary-level mathematics, crippling students' ability to learn algebra and higher mathematics later in their career.  Everyday Math is a prime example of "fuzzy math," with students spending much their their time inventing their own algorithms, writing long essays, using calculators, and doing group projects.  Everyday Math is a wonderful example of the tendency to jump on the latest fad, which may sound good, but fails in the classroom.

So you would think the district would be doubly sure not to make a serious mistake again.

Last month, a committee established by the district provided their recommendation of a possible new curriculum. Their rankings were:

1.  EnVision Math
2. Go Math!
3.  Math in Focus (MIF), which is a U.S. version of Singapore Math.

As I explained in my last blog of the subject, their evaluation was a great disappointment.  Math in Focus, based on the extraordinarily successful Singapore Math approach, was downgraded because it advanced student's too rapidly (compared to the latest fad, the Common Core standards).  Go Math! is glossy and weak.  EnVision, their top choice, is glossy and full of excessive reading and writing, making it a poor choice for students who do not have strong English skills.  But better than Everyday Math for sure.

Let me illustrate the differences between EnVision and Math in Focus..  Here is a page from EnVision. You write letter to families, work on your new math words, and there are suggested books to read.

In contrast, here is Math in Focus that talks about real math and has clear visuals that aid students that are not as good with language.

Several schools in Seattle have used Singapore Math with exceptional results.  Highline Schools adopted Math in Focus a few years ago, with substantial improvements in standardized math tests.  A NY Times story on Singapore Math, including its MIF version, is very positive, with parents suggesting it to be far superior to Everyday Math.

The district bureaucrats are pushing for adopting Envision only, even though public feedback was overwhelmingly in support of Math in Focus.  And Seattle schools that are currently using Singapore Math are very worried about EnVision.  One is Schmitz Park Elementary.  Consider the message sent to the district by the Schmitz Park PTA:

On behalf of the Schmitz Park PTA, we write this letter in opposition to the Math Adoption Committee’s recommendation to implement the enVision Math Program as the new math curriculum for all elementary schools in September 2014. Schmitz Park is in an advanced, and deliberate, position as one of six schools across the district currently using a Singapore Math-based curriculum to teach math and a transition to enVision will be a step backwards for our students.

A Singapore Math-based curriculum is structured to introduce, practice and master mathematics. This structure is what drew Schmitz Park to the curriculum. It was the best way to teach math. During the development of the new STEM School, the Design Team for Math was tasked with evaluating math curriculum to identify the best way to teach mastery of math. Again, the Team was drawn to Singapore Math. Public Input from the Adoption Process was in favor of Math in Focus as a curriculum desired by the community. Repeatedly, when it is the quality of math being examined we come to the same conclusion – Singapore Math.

 enVision Math will not maintain the rigor and momentum Singapore Math has created for Schmitz Park students. Since 2008, we have been building this program for our children to master math. A review of Madison Middle School placement tests will show that a Singapore Math-based curriculum has Schmitz Park students testing above grade level for 6th grade and 8th grade math placement year over year. 

The School Board should vote to adopt Math in Focus, the clearly superior choice.

A weaker alternative is to allow dual adoption:  Math in Focus or EnVision

They should NOT allow EnVision to the the sole adoption.  That is what the district curriculum bureaucrats are pushing, the same folks that have been holding on to Everyday Math while student's performance sank.

If you are a current or future parent in the Seattle School District you have a lot to lose if the wrong choice is made, so please contact your school board members and ask them to vote for Math in Focus.

Jose´ Banda, Superintendent - jlbanda@seattleschools.org
Charles Wright, Deputy Superintendent - cewright1@seattleschools.org


  1. Why is the School Board choosing the curriculum rather than the Principals and Teachers?

    1. The Board is not choosing the curriculum. They are voting based on input from staff, the Math Adoption Committee and parents/teachers/community.

  2. Edmonds School District uses Houghton Mifflin Math Expressions, which is from the same publishers as Go Math and Math in Focus. I've analyzed it a lot, and I believe it compares quite favorably to Singapore Math. Singapore math is more compacted than Math Expressions, meaning less actual page work, but it's still pretty good.

    I wonder why Seattle didn't consider Math Expressions? Of course, anything would be better than Everyday Math.

  3. Our district is fortunate to have gone down the Jump math path. I had been piloting it in my classroom this year and now we have a 3rd- 5th grade adoption. Clear, concise direct math that allows students to grasp mathematical concepts and build a foundation is critical in any math program. Qualified teachers can always add practice and adopt supplements needed for individual students, i.e. Khan Academy, IXL, etc. Though not a glossy and colorful program, and being a non profit organization, Jump is by far the best math program available to meet Common Core Standards and help students become mathematicians.

    1. Yes...Jump Math is also fun to teach and students become excited about learning!

  4. Envision is owned by Pearson. Pearson Education is the leading scorer of standardized tests, scoring over 40 million tests per year. They are profiting on both ends of the equation and monopolizing the teaching and assessment of mathematics.

  5. How does SAXON MATH compare with these choices. It seems to have less clutter and more drill. It also reinforces concepts but not so glossy and distracting from the main concept.

  6. Seattle Schools ParentJune 4, 2014 at 10:43 AM

    Thank you for provide the informative posts on the math selection.

  7. Congrats Cliff. And thanks for all you've done on this.

    The Seattle Board voted 4-3 for Math In Focus, i.e., Singapore Math. Let the recovery from Discovery Math begin!


  8. The School Board has adopted Math in Focus! This is a big moment, the Board saw through and called District staff on obfuscating techniques. Thank you to Board members McLaren, Peters, Peaslee, and Patu.

    GPACharlie, Saxon Math is a middle school textbook; today's adoption is for elementary. That battle will be fought another day.

  9. Maybe it's now for Seattle to adopt Singapore Math. If the in competencies are getting worst, it should be re evaluated.


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