Misguided Math Program Averted

Letter to the Editor
The Daily Breeze
November 2, 2002

Congratulations to Mike Lansing for being selected as the community grand marshal for the San Pedro Christmas Parade.

I have heard many times that, as head of the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club, Lansing has done more to help San Pedro youth than any other single person.

Well, the Los Angeles school board member side of Lansing, with the help of executive assistant Paul Escala, has outdone even himself, ultimately helping every middle and high school algebra student in local District K by saving them from what could have been the worst math program ever implemented.

Last June, LAUSD trotted out an Algebra Pacing Plan — a guide to the order of topics to be taught and the time frame in which to teach them — that was so bad that teachers, college professors and even the authors of the state Mathematics Framework were appalled. Topics were to be presented in a seemingly random order that was not only pedagogically unsound, but it rendered an excellent textbook and all support materials useless. The plan itself was not even aligned to the state framework.

Protests from math chairs in District K went unheard locally; calls and letters to the central office went unreturned and ignored. Math advisers in LAUSD, most of whom have no experience in math outside of the elementary school level, just didn’t understand the problems, and District K ultimately had no power to do anything.

It took the pull of Lansing and Escala to set things straight. Perhaps it was Lansing’s experience as a math teacher himself, or perhaps it was just the fact that both are intelligent enough to see the problems we would have faced if the district plan went forward. In any event, Lansing and Escala were able to pressure the central office to allow District K to design our own plan, which is currently being refined under the sound direction of the new District K math adviser, Barry Fox. We hope to have the plan finalized within the next few weeks and quarterly assessments to gauge student learning in place shortly after that.
It is extremely unfortunate that it took the threat of a board action to get the dysfunctional LAUSD (including local District K) to listen to our concerns; on a related note, it is frightening that a local administrator was reprimanded for daring to have an opinion and signing a letter of support for our cause. But in the end, Lansing and Escala came through. I would like to publicly thank both of them for their hard work and positive influence. Thousands of kids will be better off for it.

Chairman, Department of Mathematics
San Pedro High School San Pedro

Letters to the Editor, The Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA) July 2002 (exact
publication date unknown)

Math Curriculum Undermined

I agree with your July 15 editorial "Advances in Teacher Training";
Better prepared people make for better teachers. Too bad nothing can be
done to improve administrator training, as the best teachers are being
held back by Los Angeles Unified's decision-makers once again.

Case in point: District K of LAUSD selected one of the highest rated
currently available algebra books (according to Mathematically Correct)
for use in our classrooms, because it is rigorous and presented in a
logical order that is easy for our students -- and parents -- to follow.
Our book was one of only three approved by LAUSD, and it easily adapts
to meet the needs of students of various levels.

Unfortnately, a new Algebra Pacing Plan required this year in the
district will render the book, as well as all support materials,
useless. This pacing plan -- an outline of the order in which we are to
teach the material -- undermines the plan designed by the book's
authors: Rather than essentially covering the material in the order
designed and selected by the authors, we are going to jump around the
book in a seemingly random order. You might liken it using a Thomas
Guide road map -- after you tear out all the pages, cut them up, throw
them in the air and randomly place them back together.

The non-math-teaching administrators who thought up this plan think it
is just dandy and refuse to listen to complaints from those of us who
teach, so we are stuck with it. Never mind that no research has been
done to prove it works, and plenty of evidence exists to suggest that
jumping around in a textbook does nothing but confuse students. That's
life in good 'ol LAUSD.

Our local board member, Mike Lansing, refuses to answer calls and
e-mails on the subject.

Personally, I would never let my own children attend a school that
taught algebra in this manner, and I say that with a heavy heart,
knowing that some of our teachers are the best in the state. It pains me
to say it, knowing how good LAUSD could be if the district allowed
teachers to design a curriculum to match the needs of our local students
rather than forcing a one-size-fits-all plan designed by non-teaching

Perhaps it really is time to break up the district. And support for the
upcoming construction bond proposition? Superintendent Roy Romer and the
school board must be joking.

San Pedro

Editors note: Richard Wagoner is the Math Department Chairman at San
Pedro High School.

(Note from the writer: Mike Lansing's office -- Paul Escala in particular -- has been very supportive of our cause since this letter appeared.)

The Reply

July 22, 2002

Dear Mr. Wagoner,

After reading your letter in the Daily Breeze, I must differ with
several of the assumptions you have made.

First and foremost, the Los Angeles Unified School District has adopted
a Math Plan that, if followed, will increase the academic knowledge and
ability of the students in the District. The Math Plan focuses on the
California Content Standards in Mathematics and it is these standards
that must be taught to the students in the State of California. In
addition, the Math Plan is based on sound research and data that is
currently available including the TIMMS Report.

Secondary textbooks are not written for one state, but for all states in
the United States and as such, do not necessarily meet the content
standards established by the individual states. In addition, textbooks
do not drive instruction, teachers do. As such, it is through the work
of many outstanding teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District
that a pacing plan was developed for each textbook in use. These pacing
plans place emphasis on the California Mathematics Content Standards and
ensure that each of these standards is taught prior to student
assessment taking place.

As we can determine through an examination of the math grades received
by students in our Local District and throughout the Los Angeles Unified
District, change is absolutely necessary. Students are not mastering the
skills being assessed on our state tests and individual classroom
assessments are dismal as well. Therefore, the Math Plan adopted by the
District calls for pacing plans to be established that ensure that all
the Math Content Standards assessed by the State of California are
covered with students prior to the state assessments taking place.
Teaching a textbook page by page does not ensure that this requirement
is met.

It is our intent to support schools during this challenging period. Our
students deserve every opportunity to be successfid. To that end, we
will continue to collaborate with teachers, administrators, students and
parents. We must continue the dialogue that envelopes, "No Child Left

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to call me.


Howard M. Vogel
Administrator Instructional Support Services