Photo courtesy Marty McLaren
West Seattle resident Marty McLaren will run against incumbent Steve Sundquist for Seattle School Board in District 6. Others are also challenging him.

School Board candidate Marty McLaren links 30 percent dropout rate to "fuzzy" math books

17-year Delridge resident disses Discovery books; cites disconnect between School Board and community

Seattle School Board candidate and Delridge resident Martha "Marty" McLaren (West Seattle District 6) is taking on incumbent Steve Sundquist in the Aug. 16 primary. The West Seattle Herald will interview Sundquist, and challengers Joy Anderson and Nick Esparza within the next two weeks.

McLaren's bio

Marty McLaren's three children attended Seattle schools. As a parent she served as president, Washington Middle School PTSA. After earning her K8 teaching credential in 1987, she taught preschool for eight years and later served as co-coordinator of The Homeless Children's Network, a program of Family Services of King County. In 1999, she began substitute teaching in the district. After earning a math credential she taught middle and high school math for four years. 

Teaching at Southlake High School, she facilitated the Save Our School Committee in its first year and a new Southlake Building came to Rainier Beach. She began teaching 7th grade math at Denny Middle School in 2002. In 2004, frustrated with the math curriculum, she said, she returned to substitute teaching city-wide, and a brief stint as a Head Start teacher, until retiring in 2009. She currently works part time in South Seattle Community College's Student Assessment Office.

Her positions

McLaren believes that the concerns of parents of students in Seattle are not heard by the current School Board. She also believes that they have hindered the ability for students K-12 to learn math effectively due to their choosing the controversial Discovery math book curriculum.

"To have stronger programs we need to have dialogue between the principal, community, District and Board so that all programs are answerable and molded by the community," she said. "The principals are under enormous pressure from above as well as below and need more autonomy, control.

"The many stories of discontent and helplessness by parents I have heard must be listened to by the School Board," she added. "During the school closure process parents were saying, 'You are closing schools that shouldn't be closed. Populations are growing. This is not going to work.' They were blown off. The only way to have power now is by banding together and creating such a ruckus to embarrass the Board. That's no way to run things.

"I administer the COMPASS® test in the Assessment Office," McLaren said. "The math scores are abysmal. Some are from West Seattle and Chief Sealth graduates. They should be ready for college algebra but their math skills are at middle school levels."

Just Google "Washington State Report Card", scroll to "Seattle Public Schools" and the low math competency rates and high dropout statistics seem troublesome. Only 60 percent of students in 4th grade are meeting the standard, dropping to about 50 percent by 10th grade. The dropout rate in Seattle Public Schools is 29.9 percent (Oct. 2009). McLaren testified in 2009, along with well-known UW professor of atmospheric science Cliff Mass, and Da-Zanne Porter, mother of a Cleveland High student, to drop Discovery.

"We testified and filed a lawsuit against the adoption of updated Discovery text books," McLaren said. "I acted as lead plaintiff, initiating the lawsuit. On Feb. 2, 2010, Judge Julie Spector ruled the adoption 'arbitrary and capricious' because it was not supported by evidence. Fifteen months later the appeals court overturned that decision, citing the need to show deference to the Board. Other teachers, parents and scientists asked the Board to drop these books. I started testifying in 2005 to the School Board in opposition of their adopting what we call reform style text books because I had experience with them at the middle school level and my students were so confused. It was like dropping them in the middle of Cairo without a street map. Instead of being empowered with math skills they were demoralized and confused. They were clearly bright students. What they learned from the experience was 'I can't do math. I must be dumb.'"

"It's a style of teaching math based on a 'beautiful idea' of putting students in small groups and giving them the problems but not the answers and letting them struggle to find the answers," she said of Discovery. "We were told that 'everyone knows students learn best from each other and they can help each other', and 'we'll only give them a couple of weeks of each topic, and give them lots of different topics every year'. The (School Board) vote was four to three. We had made some progress. Steve Sundquist was right there in favor of Discovering Math Text."

Cliff Mass

"The Discovering Math series was found 'unsound' by a review committee organized by the State Board of Education," Cliff Mass told the West Seattle Herald by email. "It's pedagogical approach is not only unsound, but lacks key mathematical concepts, such as geometric proofs. Marty McLaren single-handedly organized the lawsuit to remove the Discovering series, and in one of the most altruistic acts I have seen, volunteered to guarantee the considerable legal fees.  She has a deep interest in not only math education, but in reforming the dysfunctional School Board and District.  She will ask the questions that the current members have been reticent to ask."

Candidate Kate Martin agrees

"Math is the trap door to dropping out of school," said Kate Martin, also running for School Board in District 2 against incumbent Sherry Carr in the Green Lake/Greenwood area. She mirrors McLaren's concerns. "When you get to high school knowing no math you are thrown into algebra and there is nothing below algebra available. I'm absolutely certain we could lower the dropout rate at least 10 percent by offering math below algebra in high school.

"Seattle families spend about $10 million a year on private math tutors like Kumon (Learning Centers)," said Martin. "While 50 percent of Seattle students are not meeting state standards in math, only 10 percent are flunking. There's a little grade inflation going on there. It's been 20 years of Discovery (text books). Two years ago was the changing of the books to be slightly less fuzzy, but plenty fuzzy to make it so the kids can't learn.

'We have a diverse student base," Martin added. "English language learners are never going to be able to grasp fuzzy math. They get behind in grade school and people keep telling them they are not good at math and they have a terrible view of themselves. Then they get to high school and fall asleep in the back of the algebra classroom because they don't know what's going on, and one day they just decide they are not going to go anymore."

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