PA Coalition for World Class Math

       Proposed Controversial Textbooks Could Start Math Wars in Highline Schools       Highline Times

By Eric Mathison

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Highline School District may have entered the "math wars" as administrators recommended on May 13 adoption of a new algebra curriculum that would include textbooks from the controversial "Discovering Mathematics" series.

But curriculum director Angus Mairs insisted the proposed overall algebra curriculum would be a "nice blend" between inquiry-based learning and more traditional memorization of formulas.

"I am in the middle in the math wars," Mairs declared. ""I am not at one pole or the other."

Mairs said the ideal lesson flow for the proposed algebra curriculum would be from experience to formality to practice.

A committee of teachers and administrators came up with the recommendations.

Addressing board members, Meg Van Wyk, Highline Council of PTSA vice president, suggested letters about the proposed change be sent to all Highline parents.

"This is so huge," Van Wyk added. "You are entering the math wars."

The Discovering series emphasizes allowing students to find math concepts on their own--often working in groups--instead of being taught rules to memorize.

A public meeting on the proposed math curriculum will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 21 at district headquarters, 15675 Ambaum Blvd. S.W.

On May 6, the Seattle School Board approved adoption of the Discovering textbooks on a 4-3 vote. The board president was among those voting against approval. The Seattle board postponed its decision for two weeks after it became apparent the attending board members were split evenly. A seventh member, who had been traveling, broke the deadlock at the May 6 meeting.

A study by the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has labeled the Discovering series as "mathematically unsound" but concluded it aligned with the state's educational standards. Discovering was picked as the study's second choice after a program published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Four Mt Rainier High math teachers told Highline board members that seven out of eleven of their colleagues preferred the Holt program.

They said Discovering needed supplementing with additional math problems devised by the teachers--often on their off hours.

Board members asked for more information and additional time to study the recommendation. Mairs said administrators would need a decision in time to order new textbooks and implement the program for the 2009-10 school year.

The district came under fire from the president of the Highline Council of PTSA who said she hadn't known administrators were going to make a recommendation.

"I am trying really hard not to be angry that we are possibly two weeks away from board adoption in an area where Highline schools are failing their students without receiving community input," Jill Wunch declared.