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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

May 14, 2009 at 4:00 PM

School math controversy

Kids will suffer consequences of decision

Last night, for the first time all school year, my second-grader uttered the words, “I like math!” She surprised herself, I think.

For the first time all year, my husband and I –no math slouches ourselves — were thrilled to understand what her homework was asking for and be able to help as needed. This is why: Having completed the Everyday Math curriculum she is required to teach, my daughter’s teacher had sent home a math homework packet from another curriculum — what a difference!

Everyday Math is the elementary math curriculum adopted by Seattle Public Schools two years ago over the impassioned objections of teachers and parents. Now the district has done it again and selected Discovery Math for Seattle’s high schools.

I don’t know what the political machinations are behind the district’s decisions. There must be some, though, because why else would they opt for what is clearly the lesser curriculum in both cases over the strenuous objections of the community they are supposed to serve? The opinions of the teachers, who devote their lives to helping our kids learn, and the parents, whose primary concern is obviously their children’s well-being, carry no weight.

I feel so powerless and frustrated by the district’s lack of accountability to us. I feel terrible that all our kids will be suffering the consequences of the district’s misguided decision for years to come.

— Robin Kelson, Seattle

Concept-driven math leads to achievement

Real Math as been tossed around as the bad guy for years. Real Math is math for understanding. It is concept-driven. The math Bruce Ramsey speaks of is regressive memorization [“School Board fails math test,” Opinion, column, May 13].

Math watered down for parents to understand because they were not taught concepts when they went to school will not put our students on the road to high achievement. I have taught in an international school with many Asian students whose parents often have tutors for them. Perhaps that’s what parents need to do if they cannot help with homework.

Thanks to the School Board, which took the advice of the math committee.

I know many teachers and students will thank you, too. I am a retired teacher after 43 years in the classroom. I learned to teach math for understanding late in my career, and it was life-changing for my students.

— Patricia Martin, Issaquah

A misleading endorsement

Imagine if a real-estate agent were selling a house. If she listed all the features of the house but failed to point out that two independent contractors had declared the home to be unsound, she would be in huge trouble and liable.

Yet that is what the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) representative, Greta Borneman, did at the Seattle School Board meeting with respect to math curriculum. She touted the quantitative review, the results of curriculums mapping to our new math standards, but did not include the fact that Prentice-Hall and Glencoe were ranked third and fourth, respectively. She did show Core-Plus, which was ranked fifth, as though it were ranked third.

Borneman then downplayed the qualitative review, not mentioning the results: two mathematicians independent of OSPI and the publishers found Discovering AGA to be unsound. It was a dishonest presentation.

OSPI gave an implicit endorsement to the district to adopt Discovering AGA. Prentice-Hall was the district’s second-choice curriculum. OSPI withheld the information that would have allowed the board to make a truly informed decision.

Some 80 percent of the people who showed up to speak about math to the board begged them not to adopt Discovering AGA. Included in that group were at least four district teachers and one UW science professor.

How can we change course in this state to ensure our students learn real math if we are fighting OSPI?

— Laura Brandt, Sammamish

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