Thursday, February 26, 2009

Students Need Parents & Teachers To Speak Up

On Feb. 25, 2009, Spokane’s school board hosted a “Coffee and Conversation” before its regular school board meeting. The public was invited to offer comment on topics of its choosing. A few dozen people attended; they offered comment on math, the bond and levy, and various district policies. It was a great start, but we need more from parents and teachers. Many of them know things are wrong; they've got to stand up and say so.

I asked for six things, including these:

  1. Traditional mathematics curricula.
    Spokane’s K-12 math curricula must be replaced with more traditional curricula. This should happen now, not in 18 years when the next wad of taxpayer money floats by. There is money to do this now; it’s just being spent on other things. The district could lay off a couple of $100,000 administrators and use their salary to buy traditional curricula.
  2. Math tutoring.
    Our students desperately require tutoring that’s based on a traditional approach (direct teaching, traditional algorithms, no calculators, little or no group work, a logical progression of concepts, and regular practicing of skills) so they can catch up to where they should have been. There are many ways to access this tutoring. Some of it might even be free.
  3. Proper assessments.
    An assessment is required to determine which math skills are missing. This assessment can’t be the WASL or SASL because neither is based on the new standards.
    It won’t be pleasant to see the results of proper assessments, but the results will be truthful and accurate. With truth and accuracy, we’ll have some hope of filling in the gaps before the students try to graduate.

After the “Coffee and Conversation,” a cameraman asked me if I thought the district had been listening to its constituents. This is a tricky question. I’ve been researching public education since January 2007. I’ve interviewed dozens of people, including two school superintendents, a former curriculum director, a former board president and three curriculum coordinators. Despite the flood of evidence that ALL of our math curricula are seriously deficient, no central office employee has ever acknowledged it to me.

On the other hand, were administrators polite to me? Always. Did they accommodate requests for information and private meetings? Almost always. I presume they listened, but I think they didn’t agree with me, they wouldn’t say they agree with me, or they didn’t give a flip about what I said. I told the cameraman that administrators have always been polite and accommodating but didn’t appear to agree with me.

Spokane’s newest board member is Dr. Jeff Bierman, a physics professor at Gonzaga University. On Feb. 25, Dr. Bierman supported my comments, agreeing that the math curricula are weak and that changes need to be made. He said he chooses to supplement the instruction for his own children. That was the first time I heard anyone associated with the administration publicly acknowledge the curriculum problem.

The mistake would be to think this welcome support will change the math curricula. In January 2009, curriculum coordinators said they planned to recommend retaining two of our disastrous (reform) curricula for Grades 5 and 6. Although Dr. Bierman’s Feb. 25 comments were soon echoed by a parent, a high school math teacher and a college mathematician, he was the only board member or district employee at the meeting who spoke publicly in support of traditional mathematics.

What’s desperately needed is a firm push from parents and teachers. Supporters of reform math occupy the seats of power. Parents, students, teachers, college professors, tradespeople and businesspeople – we all have a vested interest in how well math is taught. This district has serious problems in mathematics that directly affect our families. It isn’t an exaggeration to call it a crisis.

Students are not learning the math they need to even begin college. They don’t have the math they need to get jobs that require arithmetic (much less algebra, geometry, trigonometry or calculus). Our high-school graduates will be competing against private-school students, homeschooled students, and students from places like Finland, Singapore, California and Massachusetts – most of whom will have enough mathematics for college. (More and more of those graduates are being accepted on Washington campuses, and there are only so many seats.) A solid math education will help students secure a future. This isn’t being extremist – this is being a realist. But it’s hard to get this message across.

I hear: “Well, I have to trust them.” (But trusting them put us here. Now, it’s time for scrutiny.)
I hear: “Life is short. There’s more to life than academics.” (True. But school isn’t “life.” School is supposed to be about academics.)
I hear: “The district is doing the best it can.” (If it were doing the best it could, things would be better than they are.)
I hear: “I don’t know anything about math, so I can’t comment.” (Most parents and teachers know when the children can’t multiply or divide. They can comment about that.)
I hear: “It will work itself out.” (It hasn’t “worked itself out” in 20 years. But if we participate, it might work itself out in time to benefit our children.)
I hear: “Not everyone will go to college. There are plenty of good jobs you can get without a college degree.” (True. Many of those jobs require math, however.)
Observing my efforts to improve mathematics instruction in Spokane, my daughter called me Horton, as in “Horton Hears a Who.” “No one else seems to hear what you hear,” she said. “Whoville is floating away, and the children are stuck on it. No one can hear them except you.” What we need, she said, is a YOPP – a Dr. Seuss sound that makes people stand up and take notice. If we have a huge, loud and fabulous YOPP, she said, everyone would hear it.

I told my daughter about the mathematicians and advocates who are YOPPING, who have worked hard for decades to try and rid the country of the scourge of reform math. I told her how they’ve done research, presented evidence, gone to meetings, testified in legislatures, built Web sites and blogs, and written Letters to the Editor. “I’m not alone,” I said. “Across this entire country, many Hortons have been fighting for Whoville.”

“Then why haven’t things changed?” she wondered.

Why indeed. What do I tell her? That it’s easier and more convenient to turn our backs while the monkeys toss Whoville around? That many teachers won’t speak up for Whoville because they’re afraid they’ll get into trouble? That many parents won’t speak up because they’re too busy and distracted to hear or believe the message? That many school administrators will believe in reform math – despite all contrary evidence – until they die? That lots of them would rather not hear from us at all?

Parents and teachers: The time is now. This is the children’s future we’re talking about. They live in Whoville, and they’re being miseducated – betrayed – by math curricula that fail them – from kindergarten all the way through Grade 12. Please call the school board. Write letters. Talk to the principal. Attend school board meetings. Tell the board what you see in the classroom. Talk to the PTA or PTG. Say no to counterproductive math curricula. Opt out of the math WASL. Demand better materials. Supplement at home and in the classroom with traditional curricula. Get this critical issue out in the open.

I don’t know if it takes a village to raise a child, but I believe it’s going to take a village to push reform math curricula out of our schools. Give a great and mighty YOPP. Make them hear you. Help open career doors for the students. Help save Spokane's Whoville.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (February, 2009). "Students need parents and teachers to speak up." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site:

This article was modified slightly and reprinted March 3, 2009, on, at

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