My column on math textbooks and the column of two weeks earlier on educational reform each make reference to my son’s teachers in the Seattle Public Schools. There were several fine ones, but the one that relates to his college major, applied mathematics, is his calculus teacher at Ballard High School, Ted Nutting.
Nutting is a former Coast Guard man. He uses no sugar-coated math books with pictures of sea horses, butterflies, and a cartoon character called Mr. Calculator. This is math: numerals, symbols, the hard stuff.
My son told me stories of kids goofing off in some high school classes—one in which a boy was insolently rolling blunts in the back row. Not in Nutting’s class. To say, “Oh, God,” in Nutting’s class was to earn a reprimand.
He did well in Nutting’s class, as did most of the calculus students.
“My students had by far the best scores in the district on the AP Calculus AB test for at least five years — 2008 through 2012,” Nutting writes. In 2011, 19 of his 29 students taking the test earned the top score, 5; in 2012, 21 out of 27 did.
Nutting doesn’t use the textbook the district provides, “Calculus – Concepts and Applications”by Foerster (2010). He uses a 1994 book called “Calculus – Graphical, Numerical, Algebraic” by Finney, Thomas, Demana, and Waits. “Calculus hasn’t changed that much in the last 300 years or so,” he writes.
During the 2011-12 year Nutting also taught Algebra 1. “I don’t like the textbook the district provides for Algebra 1, either, but I don’t have an alternate,” he writes. “So I didn’t use the textbook much, but I did my own instruction and used lots of worksheets that I made up. My students got the best scores in the district on that, too, and I have the data to prove it.”
He writes, “It’s not just me.” Other teachers, in the Seattle district and elsewhere, have ditched the the inquiry-math texts and are achieving good results with direct instruction. Some of those teachers are gun-shy about admitting what they are doing. Not Nutting; he is an activist in “Where’s the Math” and has testified for “real math” at school board meetings.
“I’m 70 years old; the worst they can do is fire me, and that’s not a catastrophe,” he writes.
Besides, he has a supporter on the School Board: Michael DeBell, whose kids had Nutting’s class at Ballard High.
“Ted Nutting’s a math rock star,” DeBell says.