Tuesday, February 8, 2011

District tries to silence dissenting voices

By Laurie H. Rogers

Note from Laurie Rogers: Our public forums are designed to inform, to collect input, and to provide like-minded people with a path for improving math education in Spokane. The forums are public, with no expectation of privacy. We will make every effort to maintain privacy and to quote statements rather than specific people. However, district administration and board directors should expect to be directly and freely quoted.

Wow. WOW.

John Barber, retired engineer, Clint Thatcher, retired math instructor, and I are holding free community forums on K-12 math education. I am shocked at how school district employees treated members of the public at our Feb. 7 forum at Shadle Public Library.

The stated goals of our forums are to:
  1. inform the community about the math materials being used in our schools,
  2. listen to what parents and concerned community members had to say about the math program, and
  3. gather together like-minded individuals for future conversations.
Several Spokane administrators, instructional coaches and other supporters of the district’s approach to math instruction laughed at us, interrupted us, criticized us, mocked us, and shouted us down. Some refused to sit down when asked to do so; several refused to obey the rules we had set. Frequently, when we tried to return to a discussion of the math materials, or we tried to turn over the floor to parents and community members who had come to talk about the math materials, district employees accused us of being rude.

“You can’t do that,” we were told at our forum.

They sure tried hard to silence the public voice, but they didn't succeed. We’re asking members of the public to come to the next forum on Feb. 15 and exercise your right to speak about your concerns. Bring relatives; bring friends, and when we ask if you have something to say, please raise your hand and say it.

Many of the people obstructing our forums have the future of our children in their hands. If I were a caring district employee, I would be embarrassed to be associated with them. If they worked for me, they would be fired so fast, they would be a blur on the way out the door. Actually, some of them do work for me. I’m the taxpayer, and they are taxpayer-funded. But I have no way to fire them. In Spokane, administrator jobs are practically set in concrete.

Even I didn’t know our district is stocked with so many people who would go out of their way to sabotage our efforts to speak with the people about the math materials used in Spokane Public Schools.

It makes you wonder what they’re so worried about. Why stack our little community forum with avid supporters of reform math and constructivism? Why shout us down when we try to discuss the abysmal student outcomes? Why interrupt and speak over parents and grandparents who try to explain how things are for their families? If administrators honestly believe in their approach, if it actually works, why alienate so many people by defending a system that brought Spokane to a 38.9% pass rate on the 2010 math test (on which students needed just 56.9% to pass)? They must be feeling anxious.

Administrators Tammy Campbell, Karin Short, and Rick Biggerstaff again did not have an answer to offer for that 38.9% pass rate in Spokane. Campbell claimed that:
  1. things have improved over time. (But this is true only for a few groups, and only slightly), and
  2. Spokane is doing better than the state averages. (But this is not true for Spokane 8th or 10th graders. Additionally, the other, better results she mentioned are still awful.)
On Jan. 31, John, Clint and I held our first community forum at South Hill Public Library. That meeting also was packed with supporters of the district’s weak math materials and its “constructivist” (or “discovery”) approach to teaching math. We allowed people to talk at will, and administrators and instructional coaches defended their approach to math for much of the meeting.

We felt that parents and community members didn’t get enough time to speak on Jan. 31, so at our Feb. 7 forum, we asked the administration and instructional coaches to stay quiet so that we could hear first from the parents and community members who had come to express their concerns.

There was immediate rebellion from district staff in attendance, as if the meeting was theirs, as if they had set the agenda, as if we were the ones being rude. We were interrupted constantly, shouted down, told that we were interrupting and being rude. We kept trying to bring the conversation back to the math materials – the entire reason we had set the meeting. But district personnel and supporters of reform were having none of it.

Campbell interrupted a parent and a grandma. She interrupted me. Short interrupted me. Other district administrative types interrupted John, Clint and me and laughed at us. Whenever I tried to answer a question – and yes, I did occasionally try to clarify or stop someone from going on for too long – I was interrupted and accused of being rude. I tried repeatedly to get Campbell to answer how she would fix our low pass rates, and she sniffed that she hadn’t been allowed to talk, so she wasn’t going to answer.

What is she? Six years old?

They haven’t been good at running a math program that will get our children where they need to go in math, but they are very good at running things the way they want; at obstructing anyone who wants traditional instruction; at blaming things on teachers, parents and students; and at rudely interfering when the public wants to speak. I have always felt sympathy for our teachers, but sympathy has become empathy. Imagine living with that day after day after day. Who could stand to be bullied that way?

Clint, John and I did our best on Feb. 7 to seek civil discourse with district employees who refused to be civil, who openly mocked others, and who expected to control the discussion at our forum. I have no idea how it looked from the outside, but from the inside, it was shocking. And telling.

The message from last night’s forum was clear; administrators do not see the students’ low pass rates, high dropout rates, high remediation rates, or concerns from parents and community members as any reason to change course on math. They are so sure that they know and that we don’t, they don’t appear to think they have to listen or even be polite. They have a million excuses why the math problem isn’t their beloved reform math, and our children will continue to suffer for it.

If anything in math is to change for students in Spokane Public Schools, these people must be replaced with people who understand the math problem and who will show some respect for parents, teachers, and others in the community.

John, Clint and I are concerned volunteers. We care about the children and about the future of our community and our country. We’re trying to do a good thing – holding public forums so that the public can share concerns about the district’s math program. We tried our best to allow the public to talk at the Jan. 31 and Feb. 7 forums, but district administration, instructional coaches and other supporters of reform were unbelievably, shockingly rude – not just to us, but to all of the people who took time from their busy schedules to attend. What is a concerned community member to do?

Don’t let them get away with this bullying behavior. Please tell your friends, relatives and acquaintances to come to our forums. See how little your point of view matters to those in control of the math program. Our forums are free and community centered. They are intended to obtain feedback from parents and other members of the public who are concerned about the math program. They are not designed to listen to reform twaddle, to support district excuses, or to help defend the reformers' interests. All attendees will be expected to adhere to simple rules of conduct. If you live in a different district, you’re welcome to join us. The math problem is not exclusive to Spokane.

Our next forums:
Feb. 15, 6-8 p.m., Shadle Public Library
Feb. 26, noon-2 p.m., Hillyard Public Library
March 8, 6-8 p.m., Moran Prairie County Library

Let’s give this another try, shall we? John, Clint and I want to hear from people who have concerns about how math is being taught. Let’s have civility, respect, and an honest discussion about the math materials.

Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (February 2011). "District tries to silence dissenting voices." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com/


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