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.

Learn more

Issaquah School District high school math curriculum adoption

Save Math In Issaquah

Key Curriculum Press

Next steps

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.

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3 Responses to “School board approves controversial math curriculum”

  1. Michael Miller on March 31st, 2010 1:01 pm

    This development makes me very sad for the students in the Issaquah School District. Once again, the Issaquah School District missed an opportunity to correct its course towards perpetual mediocrity. Ultimately the students, and by extension their parents will be the ones to bear the brunt of the long-term consequences of this misguided decision.

    No, this decision does not portend the end of the world. Thanks to favorable demographics, involved parents, a plethora of tutoring options, and yes, talented teachers in ISD, students in ISD will continue to achieve at levels comparable to surrounding districts despite being required to use “mathematically unsound,” inquiry-based mathematics texts. Unfortunately, the simplistic use of surrounding districts as a barometer for student achievement success is also problematic, as they too are way behind their international counterparts and the level of student achievement demanded by rigorous university curricula.

    This proposed adoption by the ISD administration and the subsequent affirmative vote by the ISD Board of Directors should not be viewed in isolation. Rather, it’s just the latest in a series of math text adoptions by ISD spanning more than a decade, all of which have been inquiry-based, discovery math, fuzzy math, new or new-new math… call them what you will. I’ve watched closely the adoptions of Everyday Math (EM) in ’07, and this adoption of the Discovering series of texts. During the adoption of EM in ’07, the ISD adoption workgroup, the district’s teachers (via survey), the district parents (via survey), the ISD administration, and the school board all expressed the desire for a “balanced approach” to math education in Issaquah. Likewise, this year’s adoption of the Discovering texts was accompanied by similar calls for and claims of “a balanced approach.” In attempts to advance this adoption last spring, the ISD adoption workgroup echoed claims by Discovering’s publisher that Discovering represents a balanced approach. Unfortunately, these claims were officially thwarted when a WA State court ruled that the Discovering texts were in fact “inquiry-based” texts. The Discovering texts are destined to replace the aging College Preparatory Mathematics texts (CPM), which are also inquiry-based texts. In 2007, Everyday Math was chosen to replace the Trailblazer texts, both of which are inquiry-based materials. So in the last 3+ years, ISD has replaced 2 inquiry-based texts with 2 more inquiry-based texts, all the while calling for a balanced approach. I ask you, Issaquah Schools administration and directors, Where’s The Balance?

  2. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. on March 31st, 2010 1:47 pm

    It seems that the adoption committee and four school directors are particularly ill equipped to make evidence based decisions. The Adoption committee stated that the textbook of greatest importance was Geometry … then Algebra II and finally Algebra I.

    The Discovering Geometry Book was rated so low in alignment that it was only reviewed by three independent Mathematicians two of which were from outside Washington state as recommended by NCTQ.

    All three found the “Discovering Geometry” book very poor.
    W. Stephen Wilson of John’s Hopkins found it unsound. Guershon Harel of UCSD found it unsound. Dr. John Lee of UW and a Geometry specialist did the most through review of Geometry texts and found Discovering Geometry vastly inferior.

    Dr Lee also found the Algebra Connections and Algebra II of College Prep Mathematics (Issaquah’s current high school texts) to be completely unsuitable for a high school algebra course.

    About the Discovering Algebra and Algebra II texts Dr. Lee stated:
    My first impression is that these books have far too much verbiage for students to read, and too little in the way of clearly stated mathematical principles. Definitions, computational algorithms, and formulas
    seem to be stated vaguely when they are stated at all. For example, a relation is defined as “any relationship
    between two variables.” Besides the fact that this is a circular definition
    it is maddeningly vague – how is a student supposed to distinguish something that is a relation from something that is NOT?

    Judge Spector found that the “Discovering Series” is Inquiry based mathematics. Almost every lesson begins with a time consuming investigation. Seattle made the same nonsense claim about balance as Issaquah staff are making.

    It looks like the good thing Issaquah has going for it is ISD may be able to send the books back unused for a refund when the Superior court finds their adoption decision arbitrary and capricious.

    Hard to believe that any group would not use the National Math Advisory Panel’s “Foundations for Success” document when making a math adoption decision both ISD and Seattle failed to do so.

    When Seattle was failing to meet the needs of all learners under article IX of the State constitution, why did Issaquah fail to look at other Discovering districts in WA State and note how poorly Discovering was serving low income students.

    Look here:

    Dr. John Lee’s Report:

    Wash. Constitution Article IX states:
    It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.

    ISD now has a k-12 math program completely out of synch with the Coming Common Core National Standards, the National Math Advisory Panel’s recommendation for struggling students and in complete contradiction of everything that America’s most successful public school math teacher Jaime Escalante put in place at Garfield high School in East LA… the “Stand and Deliver Man”

    in addition in 2011 Course ending Assessments for math courses will arrive.

    Chad Magendaz said it best:
    OSPI recommends HOLT, SBE finds Discovering mathematically unsound.
    That is a high bar to meet and “Discovering” given what was presented here tonight does not meet it.

    Now the other four directors can have what Director Magendaz found most evident pointed out to them by a King County Superior Court Judge.

    Is there anyone else who finds the blatant disregard for:
    #1 the 8.3% of ISD classified as low income students,
    #2 Students struggling to learn mathematics
    #3 evidence of inadequate performance in other districts
    #4 State board of education findings
    #5 coming National Common Core standards
    #6 End of Course assessments
    #7 lack of sufficient practice and defiance of Escalante’s recommendations

    A problem?

    Mr. Escalante emigrated from Bolivia and taught at Garfield High School. He is credited with inspiring students to excel at advanced math and science and as a result of his hard work Garfield High had more Advanced Placement calculus success than all other schools in the United States, except for three.

    Note: Issaquah was NOT one of the three.


    Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

    SBE Math Advisory Panelist.

  3. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. on March 31st, 2010 2:06 pm

    Here is the Full Escalante Plan by Jaime Escalante

    Note this works but is nothing like what Issaquah proposes.

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