Facing protest over their choice of a new elementary school math textbook, Palo Alto school administrators have invited parents to observe lessons being taught from the disputed text and have posted online explanations of their selection process.
Distraught parents have gathered more than 150 signatures in an online petition asking school trustees to postpone the textbook adoption for a year, allowing teachers time to pilot-test other options.
Meanwhile McGraw Hill, which publishes the controversial text as well as "SRA Real Math," a textbook apparently more acceptable to most of the protesting parents, said its representative's statement to Palo Alto last fall that it could not provide and support "SRA Real Math" for pilot-testing and adoption was a "miscommunication."
The district's Board of Education is set to discuss the recommended text, "Everyday Mathematics," in its meeting next Tuesday and to take final action April 28 on adopting the text for use in all elementary schools this fall.
The "Everyday Mathematics" series was chosen by a committee composed mostly of teachers, but also including several parents, principals and administrators.
The committee enthusiastically endorsed "Everyday Mathematics" despite concerns from some parents that the series does not adequately cover standard problem-solving methods and strong mastery of basic skills. Committee members disputed those concerns. A parent information night at Nixon Elementary School on March 11 failed to quell the opposition.
"We appreciate the dedication, time and efforts of the Elementary Math Adoption Committee," the parent petition reads.
"Unfortunately, we do not agree with their choice of either 'Everyday Math' or 'Envision/Investigations,'" the only other piloted textbook.
"We need to prepare our students better to compete with their peers from Asia, Europe and the rest of the world."
The petition asks district trustees to revisit the selection process, with greater community participation and pilot-testing of one or more of the seven other state-approved elementary math textbooks, including "SRA Real Math."
"SRA Real Math" initially had been a top committee choice. However, district officials said, an SRA representative informed the committee he could not provide piloting materials due to a company policy decision.
On the contrary, Mary Skafidas, McGraw Hill Education's vice-president for marketing and communications, insisted Thursday, the company is actively supporting both "SRA Real Math" and "Everyday Mathematics."
Asked why a sales rep would not have been able to provide piloting materials to Palo Alto, Skafidas said: "I can only imagine it was a miscommunication. We offer a broad range of programs because we know school districts have diverse needs and want to be able to offer them the breadth they need to choose from."
Assistant school superintendent Virginia Davis said in an e-mail, "Of course the SRA people will say they want to sell in California. However, when it came to sending consultants to give introductions of the materials as all other publishers did, they did not have anyone. In addition, they were not willing to send materials for use in piloting in classrooms which all other publishers did."
As of Thursday morning, the online version of the parent petition had 160 signatures, about half of them anonymous. However, the petition warned signers who are anonymous in the online version that their names and addresses would be included when the petition is submitted to school trustees.
Some parents say they prefer anonymity because the math topic can be divisive within friendly school communities. A few have expressed worry that their children could be affected if they take a public stand.
The district has scheduled a parent information meeting on "Everyday Mathematics" for Tuesday, April 21, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Nixon. Both child care and Spanish translation will be available at the meeting.