Seattle Courant

High School Math Textbook Debate Continues this Week

Seattle School Board discussing new high school math textbooks. May 2009
By Ryan Burr
May 4, 2009 01:05PM

The board opted to table the matter to this Wednesday so that the lone absent board member, Cheryl Chow, could weigh in and break the tie. Last week, board President Michael DeBell said Chow indicated to him during a workshop that she would support going to Discovery.

A high school math materials committee recommended Discovery for high school math instruction next school year, which affects algebra, geometry, advanced algebra, pre-calculus, calculus and statistics. The teachers, students and board members opposed to, or hesitant to adopt the committee’s recommendation, mostly appear ready to bring in some type of new math material. But the primary debate is whether textbooks based on mastery through problem-solving and computational fluency, such as Prentice Hall, are superior to inquiry-based material that emphasizes concepts, which Discovery is, DeBell said.

Using Discovery “would be a 10-year mistake,” said Kate Martin, a member of a group working to improve math performance, during the April 22 meeting.

Seventh-grader Maddie Burke was also one of seven people who pleaded with the board not to make the change.

The bigger picture in the textbook debate, according to board members, is ensuring the change helps bring up students’ math scores, which have been much lower than other subjects for years.

“There is a math war going on, but it’s really a math war with Korea, India and other countries that are already ahead of us with math proficiency. We should be alarmed; our jobs are being exported abroad because of this,” said DeBell, who backs the Prentice Hall textbooks.

Prentice Hall came in “a close second” in the math committee’s recommendation list, DeBell added.

Approximately 80 percent of Seattle’s graduating high school seniors need remedial math in their post-secondary education, a long-standing statistic that DeBell says is worsening.

Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said instructional material alone will not greatly improve math proficiency. Effective teaching is a must, too—a point that board member Mary Bass also raised.

“Discovery could be effective if the other pieces are in place. Those pieces don’t seem to be in place yet,” Bass said at last month’s meeting. She, along with DeBell and Harium Martin-Morris stated their opposition to the math committee’s recommendation on April 22.

District staff recommending the Discovery Series cautioned the board that some textbooks are already falling apart, and in some cases, there are too few for each student. Beginning the review process all over would be lengthy, said board member Sherry Carr, with no guarantee that the same recommendation wouldn’t be made.