Some parents left frustrated and others satisfied Wednesday after a meeting on prospective new math textbooks for Palo Alto elementary students.
School officials called the session after learning of strong parent sentiment, in particular against a textbook series that is one of two finalists for district-wide adoption this fall. More than 100 parents and teachers, as well as principals and all five elected members of the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education, showed up for the meeting at Nixon Elementary School.
A number of parents have questioned whether the textbook series, Everyday Mathematics from Wright Group/McGraw Hill, adequately stresses standard problem-solving methods and strong mastery of basic skills.
A textbook-selection committee composed of 41 teachers, two principals, three parents and several school administrators has winnowed its final choices down to Everyday Mathematics and one other, EnVision supplemented by Investigations from Pearson, from an original field of nine state-approved elementary math texts.
Teachers and one parent member of the selection committee Wednesday explained the multi-year process that has brought them to this point. It involved extensive discussion among teachers of what works and does not work in the classroom, leading to creation of a three-page list of detailed "adoption criteria."
When measured strictly against those criteria, Everyday Mathematics and Envision came out on top, committee members said. The committee also favored one other textbook, SRA, but that choice was dropped after its publisher indicated it may not be able to provide long-term support for the product, according to Staci Stoveland, a math teacher on special assignment with the school district.
Several parents asked why Singapore Math, a state-approved text now used in the Las Lomitas School District (serving parts of Portola Valley, Atherton and Menlo Park) and the private Keys School in Palo Alto, was dropped early in the process.
Teacher Magdalena Fittoria explained that despite teacher interest in Singapore Math, the series "did not rate as a whole" against criteria in areas such as accessibility, cross-curricular applications, support for English learners and "resources to address the learning needs and styles of students at all ability levels."
Committee member Kristin Foss, a Palo Verde parent, MIT graduate, engineer and math tutor who is passionate about the subject, said her participation in the "rigorous" and time-consuming selection process had changed her opinion.
Everyday Mathematics, Foss said, lends itself both to students who are advanced and students who are struggling.
Most parents said they want a textbook that balances strong mastery of basic procedures with conceptual work that spurs curiosity and relates math to real-world situations.
They also sought "differentiation" -- the ability for a textbook to support children who are at varying levels of math. Some expressed concerns that the district's criteria skewed in favor of slower learners to the detriment of advanced students, saying it would harm the international competitiveness of U.S. students.
Others were worried that parents, unfamiliar with the non-traditional "lattice" approaches to problems taught in Everyday Mathematics, would be unable to help their children with homework.
School Superintendent Kevin Skelly, a former math teacher, said parent views "are really important to us."
"You are our partners in the education of students," Skelly said. "We're not going to be successful if we're at odds in terms of this."
At the close of the discussion, Skelly asked attendees to rate the textbook finalists on a scale of "fist to five" -- a fist meaning "this adoption will not stand" and a five meaning "I like what the committee is doing."
Some parents offered "fives," saying they felt reassured that the selection process had been thorough.
But a significant number of others expressed "fists."
"This is not helping us understand why either of the choices is going to help us make our children successful," one father said.
The current timetable calls for an adoption decision to be made in the next month. Skelly said the district legally could delay the adoption for another year.
"My worry is that there are a whole bunch of people who put a tremendous amount of time into this. I would like to drive to a solution," Skelly said.