Friday, February 5, 2010

Decision favors plaintiffs in court challenge of Seattle math text adoption

Statement from Laurie Rogers:

Last year, Seattle Public Schools adopted the Discovering math series despite valiant opposition from parents and math professionals, despite poor assessments of the Discovering series' rigor and quality of presentation, and despite the fact that OSPI did NOT ultimately recommend the Discovering math series.
In response, three people filed a lawsuit, saying that Seattle didn't have sufficient supporting evidence for its adoption, and also that the Discovering series was associated with an INCREASE in achievement gaps.

Recently, a judge agreed with the plaintiffs and - while stopping short of telling Seattle administrators to cease and desist in their adoption - told them to revisit it. The district can continue to use the Discovering series, and Seattle administrators have stated their clear intention to do so.
Nevertheless, the court decision is momentous. It sets a precedent for districts across the country. When board members can't justify their adoption decisions, the people now have legal recourse.

What sheer arrogance and hubris Seattle administrators must have to persist in pursuing reform/discovery math instruction -- despite the statistics, despite the resistance, despite the remediation rates, dropout rates, achievement gaps, lack of skills, opposition from math professionals, concerns from parents, and low pass rates on standardized tests. Even with a court decision that basically says the school board's adoption of the Discovering series was rooted in ignorance ... Seattle administrators STILL persist.

Please express appreciation to Martha McLaren and her fellow plaintiffs for their courage and dedication. If you would like to assist Martha in her substantial court costs, please let me know and I can pass on your message.
Meanwhile, a toast to you, Martha. Other advocates will follow in your footsteps.


Press release from Martha McLaren, plaintiff. Reprinted here with permission:

Decision Favors Plaintiffs in Court Challenge of Seattle High School Math Text Adoption

Seattle, Washington – February 4, 2010 – Judge Julie Spector today announced her finding of “arbitrary and capricious” in the Seattle School Board's May 6 vote to adopt the Discovering Math series of high school texts despite insufficient evidence of the series' effectiveness.

Judge Spector's decision states, “The court finds, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable Board member to approve the selection of the Discovering series.”

Plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools, Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fifth grader, and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington, had filed their appeal of the Board's controversial decision on June 5th, 2009. The hearing was held on Tuesday, January 26th, 2010.

Declared plaintiff Martha McLaren, “This is a sweet victory for the parents and students of Seattle Public Schools. It announces to Seattle that in this instance, the School District's practice of ignoring evidence, in favor of preconceived decisions, is arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to law. The judge's finding may, hopefully, be a step towards improving high school math education through replacing confusing textbooks with coherent ones. However, students at all levels, not just in high school, badly need clear, understandable materials. In addition, it is essential that teachers, especially elementary teachers, understand fundamental math much more deeply than is now the norm. There is much work to be done to bring improvement; this decision is an encouraging development.

We are hopeful that the District will move forward responsibly, putting the students first, and will decline to appeal Judge Spector's decision. If the Board revisits its vote, as ordered by the court, and this time refuses to adopt Discovering, it seems possible that the textbook rated 2nd by the adoption committee, a series by Prentice Hall publishers which is well-regarded by critics of reform texts, might instead be recommended by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. The Seattle Public Schools could then begin undoing the long-term decline in math education that has been extended by this disastrous mistake.”

According to the plaintiffs' initial brief, Seattle Public Schools began eliminating "traditional" math texts in the 1990s, moving toward an approach called "reform," "discovery learning," or "constructivism," among other names. Reform texts rely heavily on written language, presenting complicated, “real-life” problems. Memorization and skills practice is de-emphasized, and calculator work is encouraged from kindergarten on. Students generally work in small groups to devise their own approaches and solutions. With traditional "explicit" texts, however, students are given the opportunity to master key topics through examples, practice and extensive teacher feedback.

The initial brief had stated that the district committee chosen to review mathematics textbooks was biased toward reform, and that the textbook criteria were similarly biased, so that the resulting recommendation would be a reform textbook. The plaintiffs also asserted that the board voted to adopt the Discovering textbook series in contradiction of information presented from community members prior to the vote.

Citizens testifying to the board prior to the May 6 vote emphasized that the Discovering textbook series had been rated “unsound” in a review conducted by the Washington State Board of Education, and that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had passed over the Discovering program, instead recommending Holt Mathematics, a balanced textbook series featuring increased explicit instruction.

In Seattle, the movement toward reform texts has culminated in the adoption of the Everyday Math K-5 texts in 2007, Connected Mathematics Project (CMP2) texts for grades 6 – 8 in 2006, and the Discovering texts for high school in 2009 .

Attorney Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann, LLP, represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Even before the decision was announced, the plaintiffs voiced their unanimous admiration for his presentation of the appeal; his handling of the case was clearly crucial to the success of the project.


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