The sensible-math advocacy team of former math teacher Martha McLaren, parent DaZanne Porter and University of Washington Professor Cliff Mass have decided to call it quits on the legal front in their valiant quest to bring sound math to Seattle’s schoolchildren. But they have not given up the fight.

Today they issued a statement (posted below) declaring that they have decided they simply don’t have the means to pursue an appeal of the recent Washington State Court of Appeals decision that just overturned last year’s lower court decision about Seattle’s controversial high school math text adoption, which had been in their favor.

Some readers may recall that in 2009, the Seattle School Board was presented with the Discovering math text books for potential adoption — as well as 100s of pages of testimony and pleas from parents like myself not to adopt this flawed textbook. The San Diego School District had already tried it and dumped it. School Board Director Michael DeBell did his own research on the matter (let’s pause for a hallelujah, shall we?) and came to the same conclusion that the Where’s the Math? and Math Underground folks did: there were better, more solid options out there for our kids. Discovering and its “inquiry based” methods failed to give our students the sound mathematical foundations they needed to graduate with math confidence and be ready for college.

Did the school board listen? Of course not. They voted 4-3 in favor of adoption (citing some pretty ridiculous rationales that basically amounted to ‘the process was followed’ — Sundquist, and ‘My daughter and I were able to figure it out, so it seems okay to me’ — Carr).

So McLaren, Mass and Porter appealed the decision, and to almost everyone’s amazement, on February 2010, the King County Superior Court Judge Julie Spector agreed with them. (Judge rejects Seattle Schools math curriculum). Judge Spector famously declared the choice of Discovering “Arbitrary and capricious.” She told the board to reconsider. Well, instead, SPS decided to appeal that decision (more expense for everyone), and in March 2011, the Washington Court of Appeals overturned Spector’s decision.

McLaren et al  will now turn their focus to unseating the four school board members who voted for the flawed textbook: Sherry Carr, Steve Sundquist, Harium Martin-Morris, and Peter Maier, as well as Harium Martin-Morris, whose votes since this one, including support for the $800,000 STEM contract with New Technology Network, have not impressed the group. All four directors happen to be up for reelection this year. [CORRECTION: Martin-Morris joined Michael DeBell and then-School Board Director Mary Bass in opposing the textbook.  Then- Director Cheryl Chow provided the fourth pro-Discovering vote.- sp. NOTE: This paragraph has been updated to explain the inclusion of Director Martin-Morris in the school board renovation plans. — sp.]

Martha, DaZanne and Cliff’s efforts have been greatly appreciated by parents like myself who want the best math text books possible for our kids, and whose children come home each day with bafflingly imprecise and verbose math questions like the ones I’ve collected below.

So in honor of this moment, and to illustrate why parents are not happy with these “inquiry-based” math texts, here are some of my favorite excerpts from the middle school version of this style of math book, including a candidate for the Most Idiotic Question in a Math Textbook, as well as a surprisingly flagrant product placement for name brand candy.

Can’t wait to see what nonsense the high school text books have in store for my kids! Gee, thanks, Seattle School Board and Washington State Court of Appeals!


C. Sam’s grandmother says that “a stitch in time saves nine.”
1. What do you think Sam’s grandmother means?
2. Sam’s grandmother takes 25 stitches in time. How many does she save?
(p. 52, “Comparing and Scaling — Ratio, Proportion, and Percent” CMP2 blue series)

Can you imagine an English language learner trying to make sense of this folksy nonsense disguised as math?– Or any modern kid who’s probably never heard of this expression? The language truly gets in the way of the math. Maddening.


Sample pages from CMP (Connected Mathematics) middle school “inquiry based” math text book, published by Pearson/Prentice Hall
Name-brand candy being used to teach our kids math. Isn't there a law against this? Note how the text book encourages the student to have a "favorite color" of the product. What's really being taught here?
Mmm… how much did our school district pay this publisher for the honor of having math books advertise candy to our captive and impressionable kids? Couldn’t the same exercise have been done with buttons, tiddlywinks, or non-name brands?
Sample page from CMP (Connected Mathematics) middle school "inquiry based" math text book

Note how wordy the question is, and the strange set up — someone soaked a bag of cookies in water to make the dough disappear, leaving only the chocolate chips so they could then be counted…? And does the second question really need the banal dialogue between the kid and lunchroom cook? (How quaint.What school has the money for an actual cook anymore?) Who writes this stuff?

Okay, here is Martha, DaZanne and Cliff’s statement. On behalf of parents like myself, THANK YOU three for your heroic efforts in pursuing sound math for our kids. — Sue p.

(p.s. I welcome more nominations for the Most Idiotic  or Most Bizarre Question in math text books.)



We Will Not Appeal the Math Text Decision Reversal

We scored a stunning victory against the Seattle School Board on February 4, 2010, when Judge Julie Spector ruled the Board’s math text decision “arbitrary and capricious. We will not appeal the March 28th reversal of that ruling by a three judge panel.

Judge Spector’s  original ruling, carefully and courageously taken, put a spotlight on the poor quality of decision making in the Seattle School District, and its impact on our students’ math success.   Since the adoption of the Discovering text, Seattle 10th graders’ math scores have continued to decline, especially among minorities, making it clear that her appraisal, and our lawsuit, were based on real evidence.  The message in Judge Spector’s ruling is that the school board based its decision on pressure from administration, rather than evidence.

The tragedy of this particular wrong decision is that the Discovering texts are confusing and do not enhance solid, useful skill development in algebra and geometry.  Psychologists now acknowledge that “secondary,” conceptual knowledge, such as math skills, cannot be learned efficiently by the trial and error practices utilized in these texts. This kind of knowledge and skill is generally acquired  through a combination of examples, guided practice, independent practice, and mental effort. The teaching methods used in the Discovering texts are simply too random and inefficient for learning mathematics skills. Our students are being failed by a curriculum that leaves them discouraged and unable to do simple computations, much less master algebra and succeed in college level mathematics-based courses.

We were extremely heartened by Judge Spector’s extraordinary courage and integrity: She challenged the School Board and the district establishment by determining that the evidence did not support the adoption of the “Discovering” math texts.  We were further inspired by the outpouring of support from individuals all across the country and the personal stories we heard from families adversely affected by Seattle’s poor textbook choices. We hope that the increased public awareness aroused by our lawsuit will hasten the correction of this terribly mistaken adoption, as others across the district join us in advocating for significant improvement in math curriculum.

Our resources do not permit us to pursue this lawsuit against the deep pockets of the district. At this time, the  urgent task at hand is to elect knowledgeable individuals, willing to intelligently apply relevant data to improving the system, to replace four school board members who have repeatedly failed to make decisions derived from evidence: Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris, Peter Maier, and Steve Sundquist.

 — Martha McLaren, on behalf of myself, DaZanne Porter, Cliff Mass

Here’s some more background info about the appellants and their case — Sue p.

Hearing Impending in High School Math Text Adoption Appeal.

Seattle, Washington – January 5, 2010 – A hearing is set for Monday,
Jan. 11, at 8:30 AM, in the King County Superior Courtroom of Judge Julie Spector, on the appeal of aSeattle School Board vote last May to adopt the Discovering Mathematics high school textbook series. The appellants contend that the school district acted arbitrarily and capriciously by voting 4 to 3 to
adopt a type of textbook associated with a widening achievement gap
between minority students and white students, and between low-income
students and other students.

The three plaintiffs – the mother of an African American 9th grader, a
former math teacher who is grandmother of a 5thgrader, and a professor
of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, filed the
appeal based on their claim that, well before the May 6th vote, there was
an ample accumulation of evidence that the “reform” math curricula
favored by the district had helped to drive down WASL achievement
scores, especially for English language learners and other minorities.

Martha McLaren, grandmother of a 5thgrade student, declared, “Few people
understand what a catastrophe is unfolding in our schools due to this
misguided approach to teaching mathematics. It’s tragic for individual
students who grow up believing they are incompetent, and it’s ultimately
an immeasurable blow to society.

“I can’t afford the tutoring that wealthier parents can afford in order
for their children to learn the math skills they don’t learn in Seattle
Public Schools,” stated Ms. DaZanne Porter, mother of a Rainier Beach
High School Freshman.

Further describing the situation which has evoked a rising protest to
Seattle Schools’ math curriculum, UW atmospheric sciences professor and
co-plaintiff Cliff Mass describes giving a simple basic math skills exam
to his first year AS 101 students in the fall. They scored a class
average of 58%. In the January 2 Cliff Mass Weather Blog, he wrote, “If
many of our state’s beststudents are mathematically illiterate, as shown
by this exam, can you imagine what is happening to the others–those
going to community college or no college at all? … Quite simply, we
are failing our children and crippling their ability to participate in
an increasingly mathematical world.”

Attorney Keith Scully, of Gendler and Mann, LLP, is representing the
plaintiffs. He estimates the hearing will last about one hour, and
expects a decision from Judge Spector by the end of the month. For those
wishing to attend the hearing, the King County Courthouse is located at
516 Third Avenue, E-609 in Seattle.