"New Math" on the Losing Side of the Equation as Textbook Publisher Fails its Second Test in Court

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How to teach math? Let the judges decide.
Who's more "arbitrary and capricious": those who want to use "new math" or those who don't?

That's the question in dueling lawsuits over the "Discovering" textbook series that the Seattle School District wants to use in high school and that the state's overseer of education has come out against. The battle has made math the hottest educational subject for litigation since Darwinism.

Last Thursday, a King County judge ordered Seattle Schools to review its decision on the books. The next day, a Thurston County judge came out in support of the state. At this point, "new math" advocates are 0 for 2.

The Discovering series, published by California-based Key Curriculum Press, stresses open-ended problem solving rather than traditional formula drills. In May, the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) said that only one textbook series was aligned with state standards, and it wasn't Discovering.

Seattle went ahead and adopted them anyway, prompting a lawsuit by a group of critics, including UW atmospheric sciences professor Cliff Mass. They won a victory on Thursday when a judge ruled that Seattle's choice of the textbooks was "arbitrary and capricious."

The next day, a judge in Thurston County found that OSPI, by contrast, had NOT been "arbitrary and capricious" in recommending against the series. That ruling came in a little-known suit filed by Key Curriculum, which claims OSPI's position amounts to a bias against new math.

Friday's ruling will potentially impact curriculum decisions across the state. Bellevue and Issaquah are both considering whether to use the Discovering series. Seattle will still have to contend with OSPI's recommendation against the series as it conducts its review, and may have to give the agency's finding more weight.

"So this is really a timely decision," says Mass.

Mass hopes that OSPI will now speak out more forcefully against the textbooks. He believes the agency has been "muzzled" because of the lawsuit. Issaquah Schools Superintendent Steve Rasmussen's has said that OSPI "continues to waffle" on the subject. OSPI spokesperson Nathan Olson denies it.

Meanwhile, Key Curriculum's attorneys say the company is considering an appeal.

 
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