Seattle Courant

Seattle Schools: New Math Books and Layoffs

University of Washington Virginia Stimpson speaking in opposition to Discovery math textbooks. May 6, 2009.
By Ryan Burr
May 7, 2009 12:05PM

The primary debate has been 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.

Board members were prepared to vote on this recommendation at the April 22 board meeting, but once it became clear that a 3-3 tie would result, the item was postponed to Wednesday. No board member changed positions, with Sherry Carr, Peter Maier and Steven Sundquist backing the reform math. Mary Bass, Michael DeBell and Harium Martin-Morris remained opposed. Cheryl Chow, who was absent last month, cast the deciding vote in favor.

Just like last month’s meeting, about a dozen people addressed the board during the public hearing, nearly all asking the board to vote against Discovery.

But Carr reiterated her sentiment that the board could only accept or reject the math committee’s recommendation, not simply pick a different textbook. If the committee, which has already spent nine months reviewing the best plan for Seattle’s high schools, is directed to restart the process, it could arrive at the same conclusion a year from now, she said.

“Then, the class of 2013 will begin their high school careers with math books that are falling apart, and there are not enough books, either,” she said.

“Discovery offers both inquiry-based learning and direct instruction,” she said, noting that supplemental education and other factors will be necessary to improve student math performance.

Although Discovery has not met all the state’s standards for optimal instructional benefit, Carr said that no textbook has met all the standards.

The district reports that it will cost about $1.2 million for new books, materials, and professional learning, funds that are already allocated in the mathematics budget for 2008-2009.

By a unanimous vote, the board on Wednesday also approved a resolution authorizing Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson to layoff or reduce in rank a “limited” number of employees to balance its 2009-10 budget.

The notices of non-renewal to certificated personnel must be delivered on or before May 15, which is the anniversary of employee contracts.

Enrollment figures for 2009-10 have not been finalized, and neither have the number of vacancies created by retirements, resignations, leaves and discharges. There are still uncertainties in the state’s education budget, too, all of which will affect the layoff process.

The resolution satisfies a provision in the collective bargaining agreement with the Seattle Education Association. But SEA President Olga Addae was anything but pleased Wednesday, when she referenced the likely layoffs of 73 employees, more than 60 of whom provide direct services to students.

She decried what she felt were unnecessary management positions that won’t be cut, and the “unethical” decision to consider laying off a 31-year employee over an at-will employee who has one year of service. She threatened to file a complaint about unfair labor practices.