The Discriminatory Math Plan to Nowhere
Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. - May 29, 2009
A Washington State Board of Education Math Advisory Panelis
Many Seattleites see their city as better than other places in regard to social issues. Aren’t we the “Bluest of the Blue”? None of that supposed Red State lack of involvement on social issues for us. Shockingly Seattle and Washington Schools are among the most ethnically discriminatory in regard to mathematics education in the USA.
The recent focus on ending the two trends of increasing numbers of students in need of math remediation and falling scores on collegiate math placement exams needs to be expanded. K-12 math practices that instructionally disable learners must end. School should be a place where math content and skills can be efficiently learned. Unfortunately many Seattle parents find home to be the place where that happens NOT school, but what happens to children with no such supportive home environment. They are termed educationally disadvantaged. For math in Seattle they would appropriately be identified as out of luck. Seattle, whether by ignorance or design, chooses instructional materials and practices that are known to be ineffective for disadvantaged learners. The result is student confusion and overt discrimination of disadvantaged learners.
District policies requiring mastery of grade level expectations are ignored. Instead of offering mandated effective interventions, the choice has been to socially promote children rather than educate them. The claim that “Differentiated Instruction” in mathematics will be successful with masses of marginally skilled math students if only the teachers receive enough professional development and coaching has no research basis. This district’s plans are a “Math Plan to Nowhere” because those plans are based on neither sound research nor appropriate recommendations. This expensive continuing experimental voyage through “Fantasyland” needs to end.
Over the last decade, Seattle Schools consistently narrowed the achievement gap in reading and just as consistently expanded the gap in math. Seattle’s WASL measured math gaps surpass reading gaps by wide margins, for Black students by: at grade 4 (+15.3), grade 7(+13.8), grade 10(+30.8); for Hispanic students by: at grade 4 (+13.2), grade 7(+12.6), grade 10(+11.6).
Some argue WASL testing is unreliable. The real math problems are the choice of instructional materials and devotion to failed ideology. The NAEP test referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card” shows our State NAEP data changes from 2003 to 2007 in regard to math achievement gaps as:
Black grade 8 increased by 4.02 ranking #39 of 41
(2nd from the bottom)
Hispanic grade 8 increased by 5.93 ranking #36 of 37
(1 from the bottom)
Black grade 4 increased by 6.50 ranking #43 of 43
Hispanic grade 4 increased by 4.46 ranking #42 of 44
(2nd from the bottom)
Seattle bases math education on the cognitive model of exploration and inquiry. The largest study in education history, Project Follow Through, which studied the effectiveness in grades k-3 of nine education models on educationally disadvantaged learners, found the cognitive model the worst of all nine for math. Check those grade 4 gaps above for evidence of the cognitive model in action.
The National Math Advisory Panel’s final report “Foundations for Success” reported:
“Explicit instruction with students who have mathematical difficulties has shown consistently positive effects on performance with word problems and computation. Results are consistent for students with learning disabilities, as well as other students who perform in the lowest third of a typical class. By the term explicit instruction, the Panel means that teachers provide clear models for solving a problem type using an array of examples, that students receive extensive practice in use of newly learned strategies and skills.”
On May 6th, instead of NMAP’s recommended array of examples and extensive practice, four school directors chose the “Discovering Math” series with few examples and insufficient practice. This action continues Seattle’s ongoing process of ignoring what is recommended for educationally disadvantaged students.
NMAP stated: “A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula. Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.”
Everyday Math continually revisits topics year after year without closure and without a focus on proficiency with key topics. On June 3, the directors will likely vote to support continuing ongoing discriminatory practices in mathematics education with a positive vote for the Superintendent’s recommended expenditure of $474,440 for one year of Everyday Math consumable materials.
To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. The data is available but where is the intelligence?
Intelligence would demand an end to this failed experiment. Will a Federal Court decision be needed to end these continuing discriminatory practices?
Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.
SBE Math Advisory Panelist 2007-2009
Currently Teaching on the Lummi Indian Reservation.
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