Newsletter #142     Washington's K-12 Standards and Professional Development Council

"Be careful what you wish for -- you might get it!" I make no claim to having invented that thought, but I can lay a firm claim to having newly discovered what it's talking about. I am reeling a bit as a result, but reeling happily. Wouldn't change for anything.

The wish in question developed over the course of the harrowing months when the Math Wars were dominating my life and I felt a growing wistful desire to be able to spend my time doing something positive about mathematics education instead of parrying thrusts and waiting in a defensive stance for the next unpleasant development. I began to feel some rays of hope last spring when a professional development project I was working with attracted the attention of several deans of education and we entered into a very heartening collaboration. Then I got invited to join the state's Professional Development Council (PDC). I accepted because it sounded like something that really ought to exist, and by the end of its first meeting I was very glad I had done so. It is led by another collaboration, this one between the state's Educational Service Districts (ESDs) and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). They have assembled a splendid array of folks with different backgrounds and expertises and a shared strong interest in making mathematics education really work in our state. All education, in fact, but for a start we are concentrating on mathematics. It's a massive task, because the goal is to have a system that flows smoothly from kindergarten through college and reaches everyone from very urban to very rural, including the ones in schools to whom resources currently just aren't flowing. A daunting goal, in fact, but this is not a group that is up for being daunted. I think real progress is a definite possibility. And the icing on that cake is that the summer's collaboration resonates completely with the goals of the PDC. This week we will have another exciting meeting, designed to study how the two can best be meshed.
With all of that, I thought my wish fulfillment was in full force. Ha! Two weeks ago I got another invitation. This one take a little background: one of the reiterated cries in last year's acrimonies was that "Washington's Standards rate an F". I spent lots of time explaining that the F did not have the significance that was claimed because it represented the degree to which our Standards aligned with the philosophy of the Fordham Foundation (they didn't!) This left very little room for discussion about aspects of the Standards that really were in need of improvement. I was still in defensive mode when the legislature bought into the Fordham rating and required that our Standards be revised, but as the dust settled I began to realize that this might not be a disaster. And indeed it wasn't. Even the absurd timeline -- less than a year for a total, thoughtful re-writing -- isn't altogether bad, because it does, by golly, produce focus. The first step was a review over the summer, done by a professional firm with a lot of feedback from many fora. The next two steps occurred simultaneously: finding a professional group to manage the writing of the new Standards and finding a Washingtonian group to be a Standards Review Team. My invitation, which was forwarded around the state to anybody who might be interested, was to apply to be on that Team. The applications were due Friday, September 27, acceptances went out on Monday, October 1, and we met all day Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We worked in grade bands: K-2; 3-5; 6-8; high school. At each band, by strong recommendation of the summer's report, the team was to include a mathematician, a Higher Education Mathematics Education faculty member, a teacher and a curriculum expert. Given the timeline, I'd say they came remarkably close to that. Me, I was on the K-2 team, to my great pleasure. Our job was to agree on three or four Big Ideas for each grade, describe them concisely and also list their subcomponents. We had copies of the Standards of several states and a couple of countries, plus other relevant documents, like the NCTM Focal Points, plus a flash drive with yet more references if we felt incomplete. Grueling -- at times I baulked at the effort of lifting my pencil -- but also a blast. Our team had just the right combination of underlying agreement and contrasting perspectives to make the discussion lively and productive. Now the Editorial Teams -- one Washingtonian and two outside experts for each level -- has three weeks to produce a working draft, and then the Review Team will grab it and run for another three days (starting on Halloween!) More Editorial Team work, two more Review Team days, one more Editorial round and voila! Something to hand to the Legislature.
Yes! I am glad I got my wish!

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