A little clarity can solve Washington state’s math problems

By Walter Backstrom, No Excuses

Finally, some solutions, but also unanswered questions.

I have had several discussions with mathematicians who told me that math is linear and follows a pattern from beginning to end.

Besides wasting taxpayers’ dollars, the state decided to teach math in a way that’s similar to going to Disneyland and following the yellow brick road.

That seems to be a reason to give Washington state an “F” in terms of clarity. It relates to teaching and understanding this so-called “fuzzy math.”

I truly have a great deal of sympathy for the teachers who have to teach this math that I believe Bill Gates would have a problem understanding.

Teachers have a hard time being social workers and parents to other children besides their own. It’s a tough job — and God bless those teachers who go above and beyond the call of duty.

Since I have been criticized for being a naysayer and never offering solutions, here is the start.

1. Get rid of Terry Bergeson, state super-intendent of public instruction.

2. Stop accepting mediocrity as the standard instead of ways to “think outside the box” and utilize programs that work in other parts of the country.

3. Review other states such as California and Massachusetts that have clear and concise standards in math.

4. Stop spending money and wasting teachers’ time on this WASL test, which comes at the expense of students studying more relevant subjects.

5. Bring back librarians at every school. I was listening to my daughter read when a little girl asked a librarian if she could listen to her read. The little girl said there was no one at home who could listen to her read. I turned my head so that my daughter could not see the tears welling up in my eyes. I could not find the words to explain how bad I felt, but believe me, it felt like someone you were madly in love with telling you they found someone else.

6. Have a work study session this summer to discuss the implementation of “Saxon math,” which is used in some of the poorest countries in the world with spectacular success, as well as in California, where its Title 1 schools are predominantly poor schools where English is taught as a second language. So the spinmeisters cannot say those people are not like us because if you’re poor in California, what’s the difference between being poor here and poor there?

7. Cut the athletic budget by 10 percent. Use that money to hire para-educators to work in the evening with students who are at risk. Do not look for any extra money coming from Olympia. Believe it or not, we are in a recession, people are losing their homes, and gas will be $4 to $5 a gallon. Don’t expect any bail-out from Washington. If the school board says the money is coming, they are mistaken.

We must make tough decisions about where to spend the money. If we are serious about working with students at risk, then we need to put our money where our mouths are and not just play games. These children deserve better.

We need to bring back more music as well as teach civics and foreign language in elementary schools.

And if we want to file a lawsuit, file a lawsuit that aims to get rid of the WASL and math standards that put us, at best, in the bottom half of the nation.

In 2005-2006, the graduation rate among white students was 71.5 percent, according to state statistics. For blacks, it was 54 percent.

I am unwilling to settle for mediocrity and call it a success, when in fact it is an abject failure. And guess who loses? While these kids fail, teachers still get paid, administrators still get paid, but guess who suffers?

Let us not forget that there are more black males incarcerated in prison than there are in college. You can do the math.

In the following articles, I will continue to suggest ways that we have not tried, but it will take courage, guts and a willingness to take on the status quo.

My question is, does the school board have what it takes?

We will see.

Walter Backstrom is a Federal Way resident. Contact: wkbackstrom@aol.com.

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