Judge rejects Seattle's high school math program
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Last updated 5:08 p.m. PT
BY SCOTT SUNDE
Seattle's so-called "Discovery" math curriculum doesn't add up for a King County Superior Court judge, who rejected the style of instruction Thursday and ordered the district to try again.
Last May, the School board implemented a district-wide math curriculum called Discovering Math. The curriculum was part of a five-year strategic plan that Superintendent Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson created.
But Judge Julie Spector ruled Thursday that the board's decision to use the Discovering series was arbitrary and capricious. She ordered the board to reconsider the matter.
"The court find, based upon a review of the entire administrative record, that there is insufficient evidence for any reasonable member to approve selection of the Discovering series."
In a statement the district said it would likely appeal the ruling.
"This is a very surprising decision, and the District is now evaluating its next steps. Seattle Public Schools followed an extensive process in adopting these materials, which were thoroughly vetted by a diverse group including mathematicians and teaching professionals," said spokeswoman Patti Spencer.
In June, two parents and a University of Washington professor went to King County Superior Court to overturn the School Board's decision and force the district to consider other textbook options.
They argued that the curriculum would do harm, not good by widening the achievement gap between middle-class and underprivileged students.
In her ruling, Spector noted that the state's Board of Education had declared the curriculum "mathematically unsound" and that the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction did not recommend the curriculum.
And she said WASL schools from a similar inquiry-based math at Cleveland and Garfield High Schools showed that test scores declined and dropped significantly for students who were learning English, including a 0 percent pass rate at one school.
The Discovery series textbooks started appearing in classrooms across the country in 2007.
According to Key Curriculum Press, the books' publisher, the series was designed to help teachers reach students with different abilities by using "investigations." These investigations are designed to give students the opportunity to work together to solve problems.
Some of the texts included in the series are "Discovering Algebra," "Discovering Geometry" and "Discovering PreCalculus."
Those suing to stop Discovering Math in court were Martha McLaren, a retired Seattle high-school math teacher; Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington; and Da-Zanne Porter, mother of a Cleveland High School student.
Mass, a well-known local meteorologist, has said college students' math abilities have been decreasing over the past 10 years.
"I was absolutely delighted and excited," Mass said of the ruling. He hoped the district wouldn't appeal the decision.
"I think it would be really sad if they did that. I'm hoping the school board will stop them," he said, adding there are several good math textbooks the district could use in place of the series he objects to.
Scott Sunde can be reached at 206-448-8331 or firstname.lastname@example.org
© 1998-2010 Seattle Post-Intelligencer