Uploaded: Wed, Apr 15, 2009, 9:51 am
School stakeholders clash over math
Parents, teachers continue to tussle over selection of math textbooks
Palo Alto school board members Tuesday struggled to find common ground between district staff's enthusiastic support of a new K-5 math textbook and substantial parent opposition to the choice.
In a four-hour discussion that went until past midnight in a packed meeting room, teachers praised the text series, "Everyday Mathematics," as offering challenging material, problem-solving skills and high levels of conceptual understanding.
Parents urged the board to consider other options, saying "Everyday Mathematics" would confuse students. They said it offers too many less-than-optimal problem-solving methods and flies in the face of advice from the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.
Board members are slated to vote April 28 on the adoption of "Everyday Mathematics" for use in all elementary schools this September.
From their comments Tuesday, it was not clear which way the vote will go, although most seemed reluctant to disrupt the tight timetable that would place new texts in classrooms this fall. Several noted that postponing the decision in order to pilot a new textbook was unlikely to bring about consensus. Some, though not all, of the board members seemed more inclined to try to remedy problems with "Everyday Mathematics."
Some speakers referred to ongoing "math wars" between traditional and reform teaching approaches that have been evident in Palo Alto in earlier math textbook adoptions.
But parent Nimish Vora, among the 319 signers of a petition asking the district to consider other options, disagreed. "This is not a philosophical war. It's just a lack of communication due to lack of time," Vora said.
Administrators presented a list of other high-performing school districts that have adopted Everyday Math, including Piedmont, Palos Verdes and Wellesley, Mass. But parent Lauren Janov, in her own telephone survey of those districts, said she found that Piedmont is new to the series and has not had it long enough to know its value and measure results, and Palos Verdes' board has not yet decided whether to renew Everyday Math. Wellesley no longer has the textbook.
The well-regarded Wilmette/New Trier district in Illinois uses "Everyday Mathematics" in grades K-4, but not for fifth-grade. Scarsdale, N.Y., recently switched from a reform math text (not "Everyday Mathematics") to Singapore Math, a choice advocated by many protesting parents.
Parent Hsiao Su expressed concern that "Everyday Mathematics" presents four different ways to do addition, five ways for subtraction, four for multiplication and two for division.
"'Everyday Math' claims one method is no better than another, and that is false," he said. "By placing emphasis on a shotgun sample we confuse students. I have two boys at Juana Briones. Math is the subject I know most and hope to pass on to my sons. 'Everyday Math' does not place enough emphasis on standard algorithms."
Math curriculum specialist Lucy deAnda defended the recommended textbook. She said that by learning the non-traditional approaches, students ultimately gain a far deeper grasp of the standard methods and a greater fluency in applying math to real world problems.
"It gives them a solid foundation and moves to the standard algorithms, a compressing of those steps into a more elegant fashion," she said.
Parent Roxane Douvos said her daughter had had such a terrible experience with "Everyday Mathematics" in New Jersey that when the family moved to California she chose Palo Alto because it did not use the series.
"This approach gives students a cursory understanding of several ways of addressing concepts at the expense of mastery," Douvos said.
Board member Melissa Baten Caswell asked if "Everyday Mathematics" could be adapted to a more centrist approach.
"(Everyday Mathematics) is over to the reform side. Is there a way to take this program and bring it more to the center so the concerns people have are addressed?" Caswell asked the staff. "Can we talk to some districts that have changed out of 'Everyday Math' and see if we can get the essence of what they've learned? Can curricular experts here acknowledge what people are concerned about and think of ways to bring us together?"
Board member Barbara Klausner said she thought it was possible to adapt "Everyday Mathematics" to a more centrist approach, "but I don't expect we're going to bring everyone along with us. I think we've lost track of the fact that this is a set of curricular materials, a tool in the toolbox. I do feel like we're not listening to each other."
Board member Camille Townsend indicated she was prepared to reject "Everyday Mathematics" because the 40-member text selection committee had inadvertently failed to include specified community participation in its process. "I'm not ready to experiment on 5,000 kids ... until I have better information on where the holes are in this program and how we can fill them in," Townsend said.
Board member Dana Tom said he had telephoned several local districts using the textbook and heard generally positive reviews. However, he said, "I've had plenty of e-mails about 'Everyday Math' being a complete train wreck in some districts. I have to feel really confident that we're going to do it well if we're going to try this."
Board President Barb Mitchell said there is not much return in continuing to seek the "ideal math textbook."
"There's a common interest in outcomes, proficiency and mastery. I don't think there's a solution that will make everybody comfortable." Palo Alto, she said, is not going to solve the ongoing national debate over math teaching.
Posted by M. Presti
a resident of Stanford
on Apr 15, 2009 at 7:57 pm
While I have read a lot of negative reviews about EDM on these threads, I haven't seen a lot of positive. At the end of this post, I am attaching some comments I received in an email from Dana Tom, a school board member, today.
Having twins, now in 5th grade, I clearly see that each of my children learn differently. Therefore, I see the benefits of teaching kids multiple ways of learning the basics of addition, etc. There is no one perfect program for all our kids, but I echo those other posters in that we need to trust our teachers to identify what way each child learns best and provide that to them. For example, we found that while one of my children was able to learn his multiplication and division facts at school, the other one needed extensive drilling at home. Every child is different, and again, no one program will work perfectly for all.
Also, I do remember a reading a call for parents to be involved in this process. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to make sure that even if information is published in multiple places, that people will actually read it. I have found this to be true with information that is published in our school newsletter multiple times and still parents say they never knew about it. If anyone has a solution to this problem, it would be welcome!
Here are Dana Tom's comments:
I recently contacted board members in 9 comparable districts that use or have recently adopted Everyday Math to learn about their experiences with it. Some of them are in the Bay Area and two were benchmarked by our Partners in Education fundraising foundation
because they were similar to PAUSD in student achievement and demographics. My questions were open ended and I wanted to hear their thoughts, favorable or unfavorable.
The capsule summary is that they like Everyday Math (EDM), teachers support it, professional development (PD) for teachers is critical, takes significant teacher effort, and it's important to inform parents about the program. Here is the longer summary notes of what I learned from those board members:
Burlingame implemented this year, viewed as significant positive
Visited many classrooms last couple months, almost uniformly teachers and principals think it's an excellent curriculum, students learning
Takes more instructional time than previous mat'ls
Biggest obstacle was reluctance of parents parent ed key to success
Suggested phased implementation for higher grades
Piedmont implemented this year, adopted last year 3-2
Vocal group of parents opposed the adoption
Process challenged since staff brought to board in June and approved in June after school year ended. Spoke with one of the no votes and it was vote about the process.
Teachers unanimously preferred it, felt had plenty of mat'l on math facts, wanted text that teaches underlying math theory in way that works for kids
Needs a lot of PD, needs teachers on board who want to do it
Teachers said it's a lot of work (their only complaint on it) so they need to be ready for it. More collaboration, which is good
Requiring more time on math per day, which board member saw as a plus
Teachers are good, know they're under the magnifying glass, doing a good job
Teachers like it, supplement with other mat'ls for more practice (collecting, disseminating) . Purchasing grade level "algorithm" workbooks. Found they liked some algorithms but not others, e.g. threw out lattice multiplication
efforts with differentiated instruction
Set up multiple parent information and family math nights at each elementary school positive parent feedback after them
Roll out has been pretty smooth
Pointed to article by math specialist "We are finding that the math lessons have many components which allow students with different learning styles (e.g. auditory, kinesthetic, visual) to access the material. The program is challenging and provides many built-in opportunities for teachers to differentiate instruction. Many teachers feel that their most capable students are being appropriately challenged. Many are also feeling inspired as their math program has been infused with new, dynamic lessons. Several teachers have expressed surprise at how successful their students are when working on material that is more difficult than what they had taught in previous years."
Belmont-Redwood Shores used for awhile, before 2003 at least
with program, students appear to do well in high school
San Mateo Foster City adopted to implement next year
Piloted in a couple classes, pretty consistent support on committee
Knows will take fair amount of PD, committed to provide it
Edina, MN (PiE benchmark district) used for over 20 yrs
Director of Teaching and Learning: "We have had great success in using the materials and our most veteran teachers indicate they believe that the skill level of elementary students has continued to grow over the years due to the longitudinal implementation of the materials. As an example, our 'standard' placement for grade 8 students is algebra however, we have about two sections of students at grade 6 who are ready and begin the course at that level."
Have had parent math nights as long as they've had the program
Teacher training very important
Wilmette/New Trier (PiE benchmark district) 2nd or 3rd yr, passed
Looked at top districts in their area in math, around 8 of top 10 used EDM
"Our performance in the area of Math at all grades continues to improve (which is difficult when most of the meet/exceed totals are already in the 90-something percentile)."
Administrator for curriculum and instruction thought it needed significant amount of PD, but support and PD provided by company was excellent
Greenwich, CT seen improvement in standardized test scores since implementing the change
Menlo Park adopted for next year
Teachers are fine with it, focused on how to enhance the adoption next year
From their website page on EDM, 5th grade teachers at two schools used EDM for past several years for accelerated math groups
Positive comments from 3 teachers, 2 principals on website
Principal: "An analysis of Menlo Park students' mathematics testing data indicates very high levels of achievement. However, both the data and teacher experiences also point to relative weaknesses in our students' problem solving abilities and conceptual understanding. Everyday Mathematics was chosen because of its strengths in these two areas. This series ensures that students understand the mathematics that support the use of standard algorithms. This conceptual understanding coupled with mastery of basic facts, enable students to solve complex mathematical problems and to move forward with complete understanding of the more abstract and algebraic representation of mathematics."
Posted by Ze'ev Wurman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 17, 2009 at 12:27 am
"Is it true that 14 years ago the same crowd that is now opposing EDM was in favor of it? Perhaps one of the historians can answer this. I thought I heard this from someone."
As someone who belonged to that "crowd," allow me to try and clarify the record.
1. There are very few of us from 12-13 (not 14) years ago still interested in these issues. With a handful of exceptions, the faces I saw at the Board meeting this week were all new faces.
2. In 1996 California did not yet have Content Standards, and the 1994 textbook adoption was quite terrible in the quality of the adopted textbooks. Mathland was the biggest seller across the state and it was so full of deep mathematical errors that even Palo Alto educators, then on the bleeding edge of math reform, backed off it once the errors were shown in public. Dale Seymour (a.k.a. TERC) Investigations was their second choice. It had quite a few errors but they were less severe than Mathland's. Investigations' biggest problem was (and still is) large content holes in their program and almost no skills practice. Everyday Math was the best in terms of mathematical correctness, and was the only program that was judged to be even semi-decent by mathematicians. In other words, it was the best of a pile of bad programs. As there were no better choices and an adoption had to be made, EDM was recommended by us (the "crowd") as the best of the worst.
3. PAUSD decided to go with Investigations, arguing that EDM demands too much math understanding from our elementary teachers and the teacher training will be prohibitive.
4. Two years later (1997-8) California finally created its Content Standards, and shortly thereafter adopted a new set of textbooks based on those standards. EDM applied and was rejected; Investigations and Mathland didn't even bother to apply -- they knew they would fail because they missed much of the content standards and/or contained too many errors. In 2002 PAUSD adopted a mainstream textbook (Scott Foresman) and promised to continue to use Investigations mostly as supplementation (which, incidentally, does make sense to me; unfortunately some teachers still use Investigations to this day as their main text, which does not make sense to me.)
5. Currently California adoption list has mostly good quality programs that meet California Content Standards. Everyday Mathematics made some superficial changes, like slapping some teaching of traditional algorithms in the students' (but not teachers') textbooks and succeeded in being approved in 2007. Incidentally, the best program on the current list is--in my quite informed opinion--the Singapore math program, but the committee felt that it will ... demand too much math understanding from our elementary teachers and the teacher training will be prohibitive. Plus ca change.
This summarizes my take on the history. If 12 years ago EDM was the best of the worst, today it represents the worst of the best. For a clear-eyed analysis of problems with EDM, I attach here what Prof. Hung-Hsi Wu of UC Berkeley, one of the authors of Calif. Standards and a member of the National Math Panel, recently wrote:
EM is a not a program I'd recommend because it is extremely misleading. It claims to promote Conceptual Understanding, but in my opinion, it raises hope while dashing it mercilessly. It does not pay careful attention to the need of the painstaking build-up of skills, and when this happens in *mathematics*, you may as well bid farewell to conceptual understanding. What makes Everyday Math especially misleading is the fact that, when other programs are blatant about the de-emphasis of skills, Everyday Math camouflages this de-emphasis by the massive onslaught of a super-abundance of skills. If several skills are taught each week without allowing children the time to internalize the one or two key skills, the end result is that they learn nothing. But this tactics allows Everyday Math to claim that it has given skills their due and at the same time succeed in de-emphasizing them.
Andy Issacs, the major author of EM came to see me to protest my low opinion of EM, so I told him more or less the following, face to face:
"The decision by EM to dump many topics on children each day, and hope that by chance some of them will stick to the children's minds in the long run, is contrary to the way mathematics should be learned. Mathematics is simple and clear, and its progression is orderly and hierarchical. We want children to learn the most basic things, and learn them well each time, so that they can move to the next stage with a clear understanding of what they have learned, and what they can do next with their new-found knowledge. Some skills and concepts in elementary mathematics are so important (place value, standard algorithms, etc.) that one must not leave the learning of such things to chance. They must be learned, and learned well, and the only way to do this is to isolate them and give children time to absorb them. When you do the standard algorithms as some items among a few dozen that children should know, you are doing public education a disservice. You are in fact misleading the public by design, because it allows you to claim, on the one hand, that you recognize the importance of these basic skills and concepts and, on the other, pander to the ideology of others by making the learning of said skills and concepts virtually impossible.
Imbedded in EM is a mathematical knowledge that is above the norm in American educational publishing. Unfortunately, this knowledge does not filter down to the pages of the student texts. These texts use language that is as vague and misleading as other texts from major publishers. Moreover, the flawed design in the structure of your lessons puts this knowledge to waste. For this reason, I do not consider EM to be suitable for the typical elementary teacher or classroom."