Judge rejects Seattle's 'discovery' math

Seattle’s adoption of a “discovery” math curriculum was ruled “arbitrary and capricious” by a King County Superior Court judge, who ordered the district to reconsider.

The district probably will appeal.

The plaintiffs “argued that the curriculum would do harm, not good by widening the achievement gap between middle-class and underprivileged students,” reports the Seattle Press-Intelligencer.

In her ruling, (Judge Julie) 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 scores 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 Discovering Math books are supposed to help teachers reach students with different abilities by having students work together to solve problems.

Discovery math is “dumbed down” for equity reasons, writes plaintiff Cliff Mass, a metereologist and University of Washington atmospheric science professor, on his blog. Seattle Public Schools has been using discovery math in elementary, middle and high school, he writes.

“Direct instruction” — that is the teacher telling the students the best approach — is frowned on, calculators are brought in very early in elementary schools, group learning is pushed, and students are encouraged to play with objects (manipulatives).

Seattle students do poorly on the state’s math exam with a huge achievement gap based on income and race.

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Comments

  1. This is an enoromous victory for all students in Washington State. Hopefully other districts will be compelled to make decisions based on evidence rather than pedagogy. It’s ironic that constructivist programs like “Discovering” are advertised as more being more equitable, when the achievement gap has actually widened as a result of their implementation. The plaintiffs and the judge case are heroes of public education, and deserve to be commended for their advocacy. The most disadvantaged students in our schools benefit from direct instruction, far more than discovery learning.

  2. Seriously, why is this in court?

    If every damn education decision in the public schools end up in court, I think that’s a good sign there should be no public schools. Give the kids vouchers, and let them find the curriculum that fits them.

    Jeez.

  3. J. D. Salinger says:

    Seriously, why is this in court?

    Seriously, you’re an idiot.

  4. Cranberry says:

    Why was this curriculum chosen in the first place? “Mathematically unsound” in the judgement of the state Board of Education. 0% pass rate at a school?

    It does seem ridiculous that the plaintiffs had to turn to the courts, but maybe they had to do that to find someone with enough power to make the school district listen. The emperor has no clothes.

  5. Independent George says:

    I’m no fan of discovery math, but how the heck did this wind up going before a judge?

  6. I wonder whether the more wealthy students are in essence being taught math at home.

  7. Student of History says:

    Kumon and Sylvan actually target more well to do neighborhoods and start looking for leased space as soon as a school board or prestigious private school announces the adoption of one of these inquiry math textbooks.

    They know it’s great for business. In Georgia where the adoption was a statewide push for inquiry learning in math, parents report that tutoring services in metro Atlanta are so swamped that you cannot even get your phone call returned.

  8. A shame that it’s difficult to talk about what works in math instruction.

    It would be nice if parents could choose the teacher and the curriculum.

    I favor discovery if done right with a good teacher–but I wouldn’t want to force that on the purblind who swear by direct instruction.

    Is it so hard to give parents choices?

  9. Barry Garelick says:

    The case did not appear before the court on a whim. Many concerned parents and experts presented testimony before the school board with evidence showing that the Discovery Series was ineffective. There was other evidence including a statement from the State Board of Education that the series was “Mathematically unsound”.

    As stated in the court’s decision, the court has jurisdiction under Washington State law to evaluate the Board’s decision for whether it is arbitrary, capricious, or contrary to law.

    At a hearing held by the court, the plaintiffs presented this evidence. The court ruled that the Board’s decision was arbitary and capricious in the face of this evidence. The school board offered no reasons why it was ignoring the State BOE’s finding that the series was mathematically unsound, or test score results, or the testimony of many parents and experts.

    This behavior of school boards is not unique. Whether the case sets a precedent for other similar school board decisions depends on the laws of the state that govern school boards.

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    Interesting, catastrophically and astonishingly interesting, that private or proprietary math curricula follow these nonsense-clusters around. You don’t have to do demographic studies, you don’t have to do market studies, you don’t have to have focus groups.
    Just look for Discovery math and your franchise investment is gold.

    THAT SHOULD TELL YOU SOMETHING!!!

    But it doesn’t.

  11. Cranberry says:

    “I favor discovery if done right with a good teacher–but I wouldn’t want to force that on the purblind who swear by direct instruction.”

    I’ve known excellent teachers who could make discovery curricula work. It is more work than traditional instruction.

    On the other hand, there is no guarantee that your child will end up in the class blessed with a teacher who understands math. Without that understanding, discovery curricula are potential disasters.

  12. Student of History says:

    With a Dolciani textbook and a bad teacher, a motivated student can still learn Algebra.

    With Investigations or CMP and a bad teacher, a motivated student will be frustrated and out of luck. He or she will just have to work on their social skills that year.

  13. Homeschooling Granny says:

    An anecdote: This morning my granddaughter came across a discovery type problem among some math exercises. As usual, she immediately became upset and swore she could not do it. We walked through it together, I pointing out all the way that she knew the steps, and she was OK. She thrives on direct instruction but hates to be asked, “What do you think?” She likes firm ground under her feet.

  14. Follow the money. What administrator was paid a huge sum of money to recommend Discovery Math.

    I’d be willing to bet that an “essential component” is that teachers not use any other Math curriculum.

  15. Barry Garelick says:

    With Investigations or CMP and a bad teacher, a motivated student will be frustrated and out of luck. He or she will just have to work on their social skills that year.

    Very true. I would add that with Investigations, CMP and a good teacher, the good teacher will supplant the material with more effective texts. While it is true that there are good and bad ways to teach lessons employing discovery, the structure and content of Investigations and CMP is such that it is inherently bad. In the case of the Discovering Math series in Seattle, the books were almost devoid of significant content.

    By the way, the lawsuit did not result in the court selecting a textbook or curriculum. The court ruled only on the procedure used to select the textbook, not on its merits. They have asked the district to revisit their selection.

  16. I watched the situation in Seattle develop. I often watched the videos of testimony before the board. Critical information was available, pointed out, yet ignored. The board clearly made an arbitrary and capricious decision when they voted to select Discovery math.

    The judge made a decision based on the evidence. This judge’s decision was not based on any arbitrary rationale. The judge was not deciding what kind of curricula could be used. The decision of the court sends the issue back to the school district to revisit the textbook adoption–with the adoption process possibly needing to be conducted again. The court is not in the business of making curriculum decisions for the district and clearly did not do so in this case.

    I have read a few legal briefs of cases filed against school districts/education systems. I was not impressed with what I read until I read the brief for this case. It made me sit up and take notice. It is good and presents a solid case. It is not easy when you have to make the case that the district’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. It was a strong case backed with a lot of evidence.

    I was also there in court. The plaintiffs’ lawyer did an excellent job of presenting the case. The lawyer for the school district had a weak defense and while she responded to the judge’ questions, she didn’t answer the questions that were asked.

    Read the legal documents for yourselves. It may be enlightening. The brief is a good clean read that lays the case out well The legal documents can be downloaded from the links on the left hand side of the seattle math group website.

    http://seattlemathgroup.blogspot.com/

    Look for Legal Documents in Textbook Appeal

  17. Roger Sweeny says:

    By the way, the lawsuit did not result in the court selecting a textbook or curriculum. The court ruled only on the procedure used to select the textbook, not on its merits. They have asked the district to revisit their selection.

    Which means that if the school board really wants to adopt the curriculum, it can hold a hearing at which a representative of Discovering Math testifies why it would be a good idea to adopt it. They can then officially consider this evidence and vote in favor of adopting Discovery. The representative will be happy to provide suggested language for the board’s justification, language which will purport to show the decision is neither arbitrary nor capricious, and is in fact in the best interest of the students.

  18. Roger,

    You are correct except that now, if the program bombs, the board will not be able to excuse itself by saying that it simply relied on some (idiot) administrator’s recommendations. And the board members tend to want to be re-elected…

    Democracy is wonderful when it works. 🙂

  19. andrei radulescu-banu says:

    Which means that if the school board really wants to adopt the curriculum, it can hold a hearing at which a representative of Discovering Math testifies why it would be a good idea to adopt it.

    Calling a representative of Discovering Math to testify on the merits of their own curriculum is of no value, as it represents a conflict of interest.

  20. Student of History says:

    The Seattle Times has now written a strong editorial urging the School Board not to appeal and to vote again on what textbooks to use.

    Here’s the Link:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/editorials/2010995832_edit08mathbooks.html

    “If the Seattle School Board thinks constructivism is a superior way to teach math, it had better be willing to explain why.”

    This shift of the burden of proof should be a rallying cry for parents and taxpayers all over the country. We are the people who must live with the bad results and we should not have been ignored.

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