Seattle, Bellevue, and Issaquah: School Districts Versus Good Math Education

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Major Update: Tonight (Thursday night) the Bellevue Math Adoption Committee voted to adopt Holt instead of the Discovering Math series. This is extraordinary good news and one can assume that school board will follow suit. It was clear to those attending that the massive intervention of Bellevue parents was a major factor. The School district received over a 100 comments, most in support of Holt, and a new analysis by Bellevue parent Jock Mackinlay of the piloting data showed the clear superiority of Holt in supporting student learning. Active, determined parental intervention can make a huge difference and it happened in Bellevue tonight. One can also thank the district for leaving ideology behind and using real data and parental wishes as guides for their actions. Now all eyes turn to Issaquah, which is now in the midst of making the same decision. And for me, back to weather!

If you are a parent in cities such as Bellevue, Issaquah or Seattle, your kids are being short-changed--being provided an inferior math education that could cripple their future aspirations--and you need to act. This blog will tell the story of an unresponsive and wrong-headed educational bureaucracies that are dead set on continuing in the current direction. And it will tell the story of how this disaster can be turned around. Parent or not, your future depends on dealing with the problem.

Let me provide you with a view from the battlefield of the math "wars", including some information that is generally not known publicly, or has been actively suppressed by the educational establishment. Of lawsuits and locking parents out of decision making.

I know that some of you would rather that I only talk about weather, but the future of my discipline and of our highly technological society depends on mathematically literate students. Increasingly, I am finding bright students unable to complete a major in atmospheric sciences. All their lives they wanted to be a meteorologist and problems with math had ended their dreams. Most of them had excellent math grades in high school. I have talked in the past about problems with reform or discovery math; an unproven ideology-based instructional approach in vogue among the educational establishment. An approach based on student's "discovering" math principles, group learning, heavy use of calculators, lack of practice and skills building, and heavy use of superficial "spiraling" of subject matter. As I have noted before in this blog, there is no competent research that shows that this approach works and plenty to show that it doesn't. But I have covered much of this already in earlier blogs.

The administrations of three major local districts--Seattle, Issaquah, and Bellevue--are all pushing the Discovering Math series (by Key Curriculum Press) for their high schools. These are very poor books, found mathematically unsound by mathematicians hired by the State Board of Education. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn did not recommend Discovering Math, but explicitly stated that ONLY HOLT high school math was acceptable of the reviewed texts. I have read through the Discovering books myself and invite you to review them as well--it is difficult, if not impossible, to get a good foundation in key mathematics from the Discovering Math series. Each of these districts are finding ways to marginalize parents and steer the process to secure the desired end.

Parent feedback in every forum I have attended has been overwhelmingly against this book series by wide margins. As are public comments on the internet.


The big story, in the state's largest school district, is that King County Judge Julie Spector handed down a ruling about a month ago, stating that the Seattle School Board was arbitrary and capricious in deciding to select the Discovering Math series. Essentially, she stated that no reasonable board member would be able to pick Discovering with the evidence that they had before them and that they needed to go through the process again. She did not tell them which book to pick, rather that what they had done was not reasonable--something many of us had been saying for a long time. This was a neutral jurist with no axe to grind.

Last week, the district decided to appeal the ruling. Not because the books were good, but because they didn't like a judge telling them that they had messed up. Two school members (Michael DeBell, Kay Smith Blum) stood against the appeal to their credit, but they were outvoted by the rest (except Betty Patu who was absent). A major issue is whether school board members have any real function or responsibility. Are they there to judge whether the district is doing the right thing or simply there to insure that a process was followed?

The Seattle ruling has had a large national impact, emails are pouring in from around the U.S. and the ruling was even discussed in Scientific American and newspapers around the country. The publisher Key Curriculum Press even created a website on the decision that is full of untruths ( A big one is the statement that it is our "contention that offering students of color anything other than a diet of “explicit instruction” is “racist.”" Go to their list of "mathematics professionals" in support of their curricula. The first is Dr. James King of the UW (he teaches math education classes). This gentleman is a fierce supporter of discovery and reform math approaches and set up a web site ("") designed to confuse individuals looking for my groups website (""). And he is a Key Curriculum author. So much for unbiased viewpoints on that website! This publisher is now emailing teachers around the country trying to stir up support for their books.

Interestingly, Key Curriculum Press sued the State of Washington, because Superintendent Dorn only supported the Holt textbook. They lost a few weeks ago. But because of the lawsuit, the Superintendent's office has been muzzled by the State Attorney General's office and is still muzzled because of a worry about an appeal. So Key Curriculum has prevented OSPI (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction) from making it explicitly clear that Discovering is
unacceptable. They got what they wanted.


Many look at Bellevue as one of the flagship districts of our state--rich, highly educated, full of high-tech types who value education. Surely, they wouldn't pick a weak, "unsound" math curriculum! But they seem hell-bent to do exactly that.

Bellevue set up a math adoption process (see for their website), centered around a math adoption committee of 24 Bellevue School staff and 4 parents. No math or technical professionals. A parent representative on the adoption committee made it clear to several of us that the committee discussions were clearly biased towards Discovering. They held four "information sessions" in which parent feedback or comments were not allowed (hard to believe but true). They also piloted both Holt and Discovering math in some schools.

The PTSA set up a meeting to discuss the math adoption and invited district reps and parents and others with interest in the subject. A few days before the meeting, Judge Spector ruled in favor of Seattle (see above), finding that the adoption of Discovering Math was done in an arbitrary and capricious way. Hours later, the PTSA president, after talking to district officials and others, decided to cancel the math information gathering. The district offered to set up another meeting, but only if parents were not allowed to comment or provide testimony. Disgusted by this, a group of parents set up another gathering on February 24, inviting the district to send reps to provide their viewpoint. None of them showed, not event the Bellevue Superintendent who promised to be there. But the crowd was huge, with roughly 120 parents in attendance. The overwhelming majority of them were dead set against Discovering and frustrated that the District had little interest in their feedback.

Recently, the results of the Holt/Discovering pilot in Bellevue Schools were released, one in which the students took the same diagnostic test (based on the current, mainly reform/disovery type of learning). Bellevue parent Jock Mackinlay put together the following summary of the results for Algebra (red indicates Holt was superior):

The results are clear. Holt is compellingly better than Discovering Algebra based on this pilot.

There is so much more I could share, but I will leave it at that. Bellevue parents need to educate themselves about this potential disaster and contact their school board members and Superintendent immediately. They will be making the decision later this month. Will Bellevue adopt a book found unsound by the State and which tested worst in their own trials?


Another highly educated and high-tech community, whose administration is determined to adopt Discovering Math. Their Curricular Area Review Committee (CARC), which has no parents on it, voted unanimously in support of the Discovering Math text series and District Superintendent Rasmussen distributed a letter strongly in support of Discovering Math ( Much of this letter is full of misinformation. For example, in contrast to this memo, OSPI only supports Holt, Discovering is excluded. I have confirmed this with OSPI.

Recently, one of the top international experts on learning (Psychology Professor Paul Kirshner, Director of the Learning and Cognition Program, University of the Netherlands), commented on Issaquah's adoption of Discovering Math, noting that that studies of long and short-term memory indicate that such approaches are generally ineffective.
( see

Issaquah now has very poor reform books in the elementary school and middle school level (Everyday Math, Connected Math). If you go to the Issaquah math adoption page you will amazingly read that this is in fact a reason to go with Discovering Math:

"EveryDay Math in K-5, Connected Math from 6th through Algebra 1, and Discovering Mathematics from Geometry through Calculus. Dr. Steve Leinwand, Principal Research Analyst, American Institutes for Research, also works with our district on the Microsoft Math Project. Dr. Leinwand stated that: "For a district using Connected Math, I believe that the Discovering Algebras and Geometry are a more appropriate continuation of the middle school program than the Holt series would be. Holt is a good traditional program that aligns well with a traditional middle school program. I believe that students coming from a Connected Math experience will be better supported by the Discovering Mathematics books at the high school level."

Translation: If students don't know the fundamentals of real math because they have had discovery curricula in K-8, they need to stay with reform/discovery math the entire way through. If his advice is followed, the damage to the math education of those children would be profound.

A good source of information about the math situation in Issaquah is:

The vote on the Issaquah math adoption is only days away, so again, parents need to contact their school board members immediately.

In Summary

Although a number of districts have moved away from discovery math (like Shoreline and Northshore), three major districts have either adopted the Discovering Math series (Seattle) or seriously considering it (Issaquah, Bellevue) even though OSPI is not recommending it, the State Board of Education mathematicians found it unsound, and piloting in Bellevue demonstrated its inferiority. Why such irrational behavior? Because many in the educational community are believers in discovery approaches, based on a near religious zeal. And many were taught to believe it in Ed Schools. Education in the U.S. is in deep trouble, a fact noted increasingly by the popular press and experienced every day by parents. It is the responsibility of parents and for the community to intervene.
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