After a sometimes emotional six-hour discussion, a Palo Alto textbook selection committee Monday afternoon voted by secret ballot to recommend an elementary math series that has drawn the ire of some parents.
The 32-to-6 recommendation of "Everyday Mathematics" from Wright Group/McGraw Hill follows a multi-year selection process in which elementary teachers measured nine California-approved math texts against detailed criteria and tested two finalists in their classrooms.
The choice came despite concerns voiced by some parents that Everyday Mathematics does not adequately stress standard problem-solving tools and strong mastery of basic skills. Teachers on the selection committee disputed those arguments.
The Board of Education will discuss the recommendation April 14, and possibly make a decision April 28 on adopting the textbook for use in all elementary schools this fall.
Anticipating trouble with community "buy in," Superintendent Kevin Skelly at one point suggested the committee make a less contentious choice, "EnVision," supplemented by "Investigations from Pearson."
After a moment of stunned silence, committee members -- almost all of whom are elementary school teachers -- expressed shock that the district should consider sacrificing their best judgment to community pressure.
"I can't believe we're going to give in and not offer what we consider the best textbook to our students just because we want to make it easy," one teacher said. "In Palo Alto I've been trained to think we should not just do what is easy."
"I just feel like we've been completely untrusted, and that my time has been wasted," another teacher protested.
Noting that teachers as much as parents want students to succeed, another teacher said: "I can't understand why parents think we would adopt something that wouldn't be good for our kids. When people talk about how American students are slipping in international competitiveness, they're not talking about PAUSD students."
In the end, 32 committee members said Everyday Mathematics was their first choice, and just six chose EnVision/Investigations.
And in the end, Skelly went along with the teachers.
"I said what I said, but I will support this process," he told the committee. "How could I not? You are so passionate. You're going to have to make it work."
Before the vote, Skelly told the teachers, "If you want me to support you, support doesn't mean jumping into the foxhole with you. It's helping you work through it to find a good solution."
"We're saying we're going to jump into the foxhole with you," one teacher responded, pleading for Skelly's support for their recommendation.
Skelly and others stressed that regardless of which text is chosen, factors of greater importance would be the quality of teaching, teacher training and communication with parents.
"It really needs to be communicated to the parent community and we need to justify why we're doing it the way we're doing it," Anna Schwarzfeld, a fifth-grade teacher at Walter Hays Elementary School, said.
She said there's a difference in the language between the new textbook and the way most parents were taught, and "that's what a lot of parents are worried about."
"They want to be able to work with their kids at home, so if we're able to communicate what a 'number sentence' is -- that it's (an) equation -- we just really need to communicate it."
Before the secret ballot was taken, committee members summarized the pros and cons of the two finalists and also tried to address parent complaints against Everyday Mathematics that were raised in a community meeting last week.
Positives of Everyday Mathematics included depth, quality of conceptual lessons, a high-quality teachers' manual and strong electronic resources. Concerns included a plethora of components, occasional assumptions that students have mastered concepts they might not have mastered and a problematic transition from fifth grade to what students will need for middle-school math.
"There's a huge gap between what they get in fifth grade and what they need is sixth grade," one fifth-grade teacher said. "The hole is as huge as the Grand Canyon. So we're going to have to address that problem as a district."
Becki Cohn-Vargas, PAUSD's director of elementary education, said administrators "will go through with a fine-tooth comb to find all the gaps and bolster those areas."
One parent suggested the district begin monitoring the use of outside tutoring to supplement the math program, which he said is widespread.
"There's a lot of tutoring going on and it's not apparent to me that the school is paying attention to it," he said. "I'd like to know that the district is monitoring the use of tutors" and how much time parents are spending working on math with their children.
Teacher Staci Stoveland said, "I don't care whether it's five parents or 100 parents (who are complaining) -- we have to look at what their concerns are.
"One of the biggest complaints about Everyday Math is about the use of calculators. We see it's not as big a problem as is being portrayed out there, but even if it were it goes back to teacher training and how we implement the program.
"No program is perfect," Stoveland said.
"It's a matter of looking at which is the best fit and how we can tweak it to best fit with the Palo Alto philosophy."