Something strange is afoot with the Seattle School Board, and I need your help making sense of all of this.
Let’s start with a quick flashback. In 2014, a district committee spent something like 40 hours evaluating math curricula for Seattle Public Schools. When the time came to officially adopt a new K-5 math curriculum, the committee recommended EnVision, a curriculum produced by a company called Pearson. Math In Focus, from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was the committee’s third choice.
However, at the last minute, a tidal wave of support for Math In Focus came crashing down, and the Seattle School Board voted 4-3 to go with Math In Focus — going against the committee’s recommendation.
This sudden support for Math In Focus came primarily from three sources:
One was Sue Peters, then the Seattle School Board president, whose triumphant vote for Math In Focus was an emphatic “absolutely.”
Another was Wheresthemath, a community group in which Rick Burke (now a school board member himself) was front and center.
The third was Seattle’s anti-equity stalwart Melissa Westbrook and her community blog.
They collaborated to rally support and overturn the committee’s recommendation, and it worked. The district adopted Math In Focus, the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt product.
As an aside, it’s worth noting that the three votes against Math In Focus were the three folks you might trust on that board to think and act in the best interest of all kids: Stephan Blanford, Harium Martin-Morris, and Sherry Carr. Also interesting to note is that right after the 2014 vote, Melissa Westbrook donated to Burke’s campaign for school board.
Anyway, the whole affair was pretty strange. It’s an example of board overreach that is unusual in most cities, and it is certainly an example of a vocal minority steamrolling the district into a decision that does not consider marginalized communities.
Both of these things are unfortunately commonplace in Seattle’s schools, however, and today, and as Seattle Public Schools looks to adopt a new K-5 science curriculum for the first time in 20 years, we have the same key players on the field playing a remarkably familiar game.
A committee has spent many hours researching and debating the merits of various science curricula, and it has recommended Amplify Science. But in an apparent repeat of the old math curriculum gambit, Burke has filed a motion for the Wednesday (May 15) board meeting to abruptly go against the committee’s recommendation and to adopt Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Science Dimensions curriculum instead.
Much of this seems to be based on data that was apparently interpreted and disseminated by Peters, who isn’t even on the school board anymore. I have serious questions about her interpretation of that data, but I haven’t had time to dig into it yet in enough detail to write definitively about it.
The vehicle to disseminate these questionable data points and rallying cries about the science curriculum has been, of course, Melissa Westbrook’s blog. It’s just all so familiar.
There seem to be some procedural questions related to funding for the Amplify pilot program, and I can’t speak to Amplify’s particular effectiveness or ineffectiveness. But that’s not really my question at the moment. It will be, but right now, I just want to know what’s going on.
This is a $5-10 million decision. This is our first new elementary-age science curriculum since the ‘90s. As I understand it, Amplify is in schools in New York, Denver, California, and many other places around the country that aren’t incomparable to Seattle. I don’t know it in enough depth to judge its merits, but it appears at least to be a legitimate option.
Why is our school board again using the same unorthodox procedure to again bypass a committee recommendation? Why are Burke, Peters and Westbrook so specifically invested in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt? Why is board overreach the norm in Seattle’s schools? Why are we asking committee members to invest their time and expertise in making recommendations only to be ignored in the end?
Burke’s proposed vote to adopt the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt science curriculum is scheduled for Wednesday’s board meeting.
Doesn’t it seem like something weird is going on here?