In a contentious 3-2 vote, the Palo Alto school board early Wednesday voted to adopt the Everyday Mathematics textbook series for use this fall in all K-5 classrooms.
After five hours of debate, board members opted to go with the enthusiastic recommendation of the district's textbook-selection committee, despite a petition signed by more than 700 residents, mostly parents, urging them to postpone adoption for a year in order to pilot test other textbook options.
Board members Barbara Klausner, Barb Mitchell and Dana Tom supported Everyday Mathematics. Melissa Baten Caswell and Camille Townsend voted against the adoption.
Superintendent Kevin Skelly said Everyday Mathematics is right for Palo Alto because it teaches rich problem-solving concepts as well as procedural skills and practice and has worked in other top-performing districts.
Acknowledging controversy around the program, he said he was confident Palo Alto would succeed because the district has strong teachers and the series will come with extensive staff training.
"This is going to call upon the highest level of professionalism of our teachers," Skelly said.
When his own children experienced Everyday Mathematics in the Poway school district, their experiences were closely tied to teacher quality, he said.
"In the hands of a teacher that is not very skilled, my kids' experience was not as good as when they had a teacher who was very skilled," Skelly said.
"Was it the material or the teacher? I think it was the teacher."
Board member Dana Tom said that after talking with school districts that have used the textbook he concluded Palo Alto has what it takes to carry out a strong program in Everyday Mathematics.
"We're dealing with children, and in that sense, failure is not an option," Tom said before he made the motion to adopt the series.
Voting against the adoption, Baten Caswell said community confidence would improve if Palo Alto took another year to "look at where the gaps (in Everyday Mathematics) are and how to fill them.
"I was going back and forth," she said. "A 'yes' vote would support our teachers and staff. But I worry that a 'yes' vote will make many parents feel disenfranchised at this point. It doesn't model the rigor that we expect in this district.
"I don't think we've been thorough enough in making sure we understand all the stakeholder interests and I think it's hurting our civic responsibility right now."
A parade of parents, including former school board member Mandy Lowell, urged the board to wait a year.
"Our children's education is in your hands," said Lisa Jiang, the mother of a 6-year-old at Juana Briones School.
"How will teachers fill the gaps? How will the school district train and educate parents so we can help our students at home? With all these concerns plus the signatures of over 700 community members, are you really comfortable to vote yes for adoption?" Jiang asked.
PTA Council President Dan Dykwel said the PTA takes no position on the textbook itself, but that he was "concerned that there was insufficient communication with parents along the way.
"The number of signatures on the petition is a significant percentage of parents and their request for delay should be seriously considered," Dykwel said. "I ask you to give parents an opportunity to participate more rigorously in this adoption process."
Parent Rajiv Bhateja said: "I don't often quote Nancy Reagan, but, 'Just say no.'"
Board member Klausner, a lawyer and former district math specialist, said she has pushed for modifications to Everyday Mathematics so the program fits closely with Palo Alto's vision.
"Significant modifications and changes have been made, so I am 100 percent comfortable with the feedback I'm hearing from staff at this point," Klausner said.
"I have confidence in our teachers, who will be working with our students 180 days a year. I am confident the process has played out in terms of choosing materials that will work for our students. There is no guarantee that it will work for every single student or that it's a perfect program. There is no perfect program out there.
"I know this is a controversial choice at this time but I do think it's a reasonable one," Klausner said.
Board chair Mitchell listed 10 reasons why she supports Everyday Mathematics, among them that Palo Alto has "world-class grade-level mastery standards and assessments" and a promise of "rigorous implementation with embedded evaluation measures.
"Teachers make the greatest difference," Mitchell said. "It's very clear to me that teachers want to develop our elementary math program. This is the linchpin to me. It's our secret sauce as a district.
"Any textbook from the California-adopted materials would succeed here because they're our secret sauce. Our teachers use a variety of tools. The math textbook is only one of those tools."
Board member Townsend said Palo Alto has failed to use due diligence in researching the pros and cons of Everyday Mathematics.
"I have no confidence that we can be successful with this," Townsend said. "To bring in a math book with this level of dissent when we know we can do better gives me great pain."
The district's math battles of 1996, when she had to fill in holes in Palo Alto's textbook with her own children, "are still burning in my gut," Townsend said. "For those who say everything is OK even if we don't know all the answers, I say, 'I know better.'
"If this is such a great program, we can wait for a year."
Skelly called Everyday Mathematics "a leading math program for the top-performing districts in California and the nation.
"Our students are among the highest-level mathematics students in the world," he said, placing the average Palo Alto high school student in the 89th percentile on the mathematics SAT.
"The students here are achieving at national and international levels," he said, adding that Everyday Mathematics has the depth to challenge at that level.
Mastery of basic concepts is a challenge for only about one-sixth of Palo Alto students, and the program can address those concerns, Skelly said.
"For the vast majority of students here, mastery of basic facts is not the issue," Skelly said. The goal is building conceptual skill and, if properly implemented, Everyday Mathematics does that very well, he said.