School board approves controversial math curriculum
March 30, 2010
By Chantelle Lusebrink
After a nearly two-year process, Issaquah School Board members voted 4-1 March 24 to adopt Key Curriculum Press’ Discovering Mathematics algebra and geometry books for high schoolers.
The books will replace the district’s aging College Prep Mathematics algebra and geometry books, which no longer align with state requirements for mathematics.
Teachers will begin intensive summer training sessions to learn how to work with the materials, which will be available for use this fall.
The only dissenting vote was Board Member Chad Magendanz, who said he felt the process used to select the materials by the district’s teacher-driven Math Adoption Committee could have been more thorough. He also questioned meeting minutes of the Math Adoption Committee vote taken more than a year ago, where several teachers were split between two texts, then all centered on one book with few notes entered into the minutes between the two votes.
With the decision, local math professionals and parents belonging to a group opposed to Discovering Mathematics, Save Math in Issaquah, said they are drafting a lawsuit against the district.
“The Save Math In Issaquah legal advisory team has decided that there are sufficient issues concerning the board’s decision to approve the adoption of Discovering Math to justify drafting an appeal,” Mark Van Horne, a parent, engineer and founder of the group, wrote in an e-mail.
“We are obviously very disappointed with what the school board decided to do, and we think it is a bad decision for thousands of students who will be exposed to a clearly inferior math curriculum,” he said in an interview after the vote. “We made, what we believe, is a compelling case against Discovering Mathematics and believe that a reasonable person would have looked at all the data and would have agreed more needed to be done.”
The potential threat of a lawsuit weighed heavily on board members’ minds, they said at the meeting. However, the four board members who voted in favor of the adoption offered reasons they believed district officials’ recommendation for Discovering Mathematics was the best. Those comments centered on determining that teachers knew what books would best reach all students and align with the district’s math curricula at the elementary and middle school levels, and that the process used to determine the book selection was thorough.
The recommendation had been two years in the making because of controversy at the state and local levels about what math curricula has been recommended by the state and supports student learning best.
District officials postponed the adoption in July, so they could gather more information from the community. In the past year, they have held meetings, taken surveys and done additional research on Discovering Mathematics.
The choice to move forward with the Discovering series remained the same after the additional research and in the midst of opposition from Save Math in Issaquah.
At the meeting, several parents, teachers and mathematics professionals spoke during a divisive public comment.
Members of the teacher adoption committee said the Discovering Mathematics series would best allow them to teach all students, because it provides a balanced approach to teaching mathematics. Teachers said that while it uses an inquiry-based approach that allows students to learn math using real-life applications and alternate ways to solve problems at times, it also has traditional mastery-based components, like examples and drills.
Many concerned parents from Save Math in Issaquah said they hoped district officials would reconsider the alternately considered textbook, Holt Mathematics, because they feel it took a more traditional approach.
In addition, they voiced opposition to the process of adopting materials, because the process doesn’t include community members on the adoption committee.
The reason community members haven’t served on the adoption committee rests with the teachers’ contract with the district. It stipulates that authority rests with the teachers to determine what texts should be used.
Van Horne said he would like that changed with this year’s teacher contract negotiations.
“We think the district and the board needs to reconsider whether it is good policy, or rather good contract language, to exclude parents and disenfranchise community members,” from conversations about curriculum adoptions, Van Horne said.
At the meeting, Patrick Murphy, executive director of secondary education, reiterated that district officials will solicit community input prior to beginning any future curriculum adoptions, which will enhance the process and use community experience. However, he also said district school teachers are still best equipped to make decisions on what texts are used in district classrooms.
April 21: Deadline for Save Math In Issaquah officials to file a lawsuit against the school district.
What it means
Mastery-based program: A traditional approach to learning mathematics techniques used almost exclusively before the mid-1990s. Students are introduced to a proof, rule or math concept, shown how to apply and solve it, and practice using the method until they master the skill.
Inquiry-based programs: A newer approach to teach mathematics that includes using real-world application, problem solving and inductive reasoning. Many times, students are presented a concept and asked what types of math they already know that could help to solve it. A teacher then reviews the core proof, rule or math concept they need to use to solve the problems.