Seattle School Board to vote on weakening math standard

May 21, 2014

The Seattle School Board is scheduled to vote tonight on providing a watered-down math curriculum for the city’s elementary schools, a change that would affect the 95 schools in the district and some 49,000 students and their families.  A District committee is recommending that School Board members adopt a program called EnVision Math.   A group of concerned math and science high school teachers and college professors calls EnVision Math the weakest choice available.  

The proposed change comes seven years after the School Board required school teachers to use another controversial program called Everyday Math, called by critics “Fuzzy Math.”  The program required students to learn confusing and inefficient approaches to multiplication and division, instead of letting teachers use traditional methods and direct instruction.  Most school districts in Washington have discarded Everyday Math as unworkable.

Seattle school leaders now appear to have thrown in the towel on Everyday Math too, tacitly admitting the forced seven-year effort was a mistake.  Its replacement, however, doesn’t look much better.

How did this happen? For over a year, a committee of District officials have been meeting to decide on a replacement for the failed Everyday Math program.  The committee sought input from parents.  Many parents recommended adoption of stronger programs like Math in Focus and JUMP Math.  The District committee ignored these recommendations, and proposed EnVision Math instead.  U.W. climate scientist Cliff Mass explains the problems with EnVision Math here.

All the confusion and weakened academic standard help explain why Seattle’s public schools are faring so poorly.  State officials recently rated 18 Seattle schools as failing.  A further 22 schools were placed in the next-to-lowest category, ranked as only “Fair.” Only five Seattle schools were rated Exemplary. See the State Board of Education's  Achievement Index.

Each year Seattle officials assign students to schools where they know kids will fail.  Seattle school officials report they have a large achievement gap, low test scores and a high drop-out rate, with minority families being the hardest hit.  In some Seattle schools half the students fail to graduate, a result that helps explain why many School District employees send their children to private schools.

The decision to adopt a weakened math program, along with Seattle’s top-down monopoly school model and its forced assignment policy, indicate that thousands of children will continue to be left behind. 

A positive alternative is to allow more family choice in education.  For example, every child that District officials assigned to one of Seattle's 18 failing public schools should be offered a scholarship to attend a better school.  The community is providing about $13,000 to educate one student in Seattle this year.  If families assigned to failing schools were offered half that, $6,500, many low-income parents could afford to send their child to a school where they would receive the quality education they were promised, just as many Seattle School District employees do with their taxpayer-funded salaries.


Completely misinformed

I can see why this article has no byline. No one would want their name associated with it. As has been noted, the article is chockablock with factual errors (the Board was not scheduled to vote that night, the math standards are not weakened, nor are the math standards set by the school district, the vote was on instructional materials, not curriculum, etc.)

Why does the Washington Policy Center find it necessary to publish such obvious and transparent lies? What could you hope to gain from it?

Cliff Mass points out

Cliff Mass helpfully points out that the EnVision Math curriculum is an improvement over Everyday Math, but still far, far short of what kids need. Math in Focus and Jump Math, which the School Board may reject, is far superior, and more like the kind of quality math instruction children deserve to receive in our public schools.

Getting it Wrong

First, the Seattle School Board did NOT vote on any math adoption last night. They voted on Introducing the adoption and will vote in two weeks. The Board still seems open to listening to community about this issue so I would not say that there is any done deal.

To note about those schools labeled "failing or fair." From the State Board of Education FAQs on these labels"

"A Continuing Priority school is placed into the Lowest 5% tier until a Turnaround Plan has been implemented for three years and the school meets the predetermined exit criteria. These Priority Schools could be showing blue and green cells for the current year and have a good index rating but are placed into the Lowest 5% tier regardless of other performance because the school did not meet exit criteria."

In short, a school can be steadily improving but won't come up on the list until there are three years of steady improvement. That's why some of these schools are on this list.

Ask any parent - even of a labeled "failing" charter school - they believe in their schools and believe they will get better. That may be the reason that Seattle Schools has grown by nearly 1,000 students a year...for the last three years (with no end in sight). Some of that growth might even be SPS employees' children.

Also, data please, on how the writer knows factually about where Seattle Schools' employees send their children to school. Because I have never seen this information and I'm wondering how to verify the claim that "many" employees send their children to private school. There are many reasons why people send their children to private schools.

As well, the writer is mistaken about the lack of choice in SPS. One, the "forced assignment" plan came very much from the wishes of parents who told the district they wanted to be sure they would be assigned to their neighborhood school. Most school districts have an assignment plan that favors neighborhood assignment. It helps save money on transportation, too. Two, Seattle Schools has many Option schools and parents are welcome to enroll in those if they do not wish to attend their neighborhood school. I can't speak for other districts but Seattle Schools does have choice (for example, a K-12 dual language/international school program and STEM schools).

Lastly, actually, under NCLB, parents at any school not meeting Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) are allowed to switch to a higher performing school in SPS. Parents in the lowest performing schools DO have a choice and interestingly, many of them choose to stay where they are.