News

Board to ask: 'Does elementary math add up?'

Impact of governor's proposed budget also on Palo Alto school board agenda

With a controversial new elementary math curriculum well into its second year, a discussion of elementary math "instruction and assessment" on tonight's Palo Alto Board of Education agenda is likely to be spirited.

In the past three years, Palo Alto elementary students have shown continuous math improvement on the California Star Test, with 71 percent of third graders, 72 percent of fourth graders and 64 percent of fifth graders scoring at the "advanced" level.

But the district is still struggling to adapt to the new curriculum, Everyday Mathematics.

Vocal criticism continues to come from some parents who have opposed the new curriculum from the start, and teacher surveys suggest many are still seeking to strike the right balance with the new material.

In a survey this month, a strong majority of teachers said they feel comfortable teaching the new curriculum, but many said they need more help in finding "enrichment" options and other ways to adapt the material to the needs of particular students.

Only half the teachers said "the current assessments in Everyday Math meet their needs."

And just half said they felt comfortable adapting the material to deliver the best instruction for high-performing students.

Some elementary schools have used discretionary funds to hire part-time math specialists or tutors, all of whom use at least some of their time providing challenges for high-performing students.

About half the teachers in the survey said they "sometimes" supplement the Everyday Mathematics curriculum with other materials, and about a third said they supplement at least weekly.

Fifth-grade teachers are exploring supplemental materials to make up for areas of the program "that are not as strong as we believe they should be," according to a report prepared by school district staff.

Special-education teachers also have asked for "supplemental materials that will best support the needs of their student population," the report said.

The school district continues to invest heavily in workshops, both in the summer and during the school year, to train teachers on how to best to use Everyday Mathematics.

In sessions planned for late February and early March, elementary principals will get instruction from a "math coach" on the best way to observe teachers and "help them develop and refine their practice."

Fifth- and sixth-grade teachers will meet in March to make sure students going from elementary to middle school -- where different materials are used -- will have a smooth transition in mathematics "language, rituals and routines."

District officials also said they are speaking with other high-performing districts that use Everyday Mathematics on ways of best using the material to challenge top performers.

Noting the continued gains in math as measured by standardized tests and the "high bar" set for teachers in using the new material, Associate Superintendent Virginia Davis reported to the school board, "We have carefully considered our needs around assessment to be sure teachers have what they need in order to meet the needs of each unique learner.

"We are listening to our teachers so we can provide the support needed for each learner to be successful," Davis said.

In April 2009, the school board adopted Everyday Mathematics by a 3-2 vote. The new materials were in classrooms for the beginning of the 2009-10 school year.

Also on Tuesday's agenda is a report on how Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed budget could affect the school district.

The district anticipates "flat funding" from the state if voters this June support a five-year extension of temporary tax increases approved in 2008.

If the tax extension is not approved, officials predict state funding cuts amounting to $330 per Palo Alto student, or $3.9 million to the district as a whole.

The public session of Tuesday's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. In a special meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the same room, the board will meet with principals to discuss "high-school plans for student achievement."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by What's-Wrong-With-Traditional-Math?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 24, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Changing a teaching paradigm from something as entrenched as "Traditional Math" (TM) to something untested by time, like Everyday Math (EDM), should have been a solution to a problem that was plaguing the PAUSD. But the PAUSD has had strong math performance for a very long time. So, what was the problem to be solved, and how was EDM supposed to solve that problem?

The District never seemed to identify such a problem, and keep it clearly identified in all of the discussions and debate about EDM. Eventually, it turned out that a couple teachers claimed that the kids on the bottom of the well-known PAUSD "achievement gap" were supposed to be the target of this different teaching/calculating technique.

So .. perhaps someone might get the District to restate what they think the problem is/was that required this paradigm shift?

For anyone new to the discussion, here are a few links that might refresh your memory:

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link

While it's not hard to believe that the top students will adopt any rational methodology, how are the kids on the bottom third doing? Anybody paying attention to them?


Like this comment
Posted by tiger tiger
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm

What's going on? All the tiger mothers thing everyday math is too wimpy and all the non-tiger mothers think it is too stressful?


Like this comment
Posted by all in a name
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 25, 2011 at 8:46 am

The only thing wimpy about it is the name. They should have called it something like Fundamental Math and the controversy would have been averted.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

This program was adopted narrowly and the committee fell for the sales pitch. The program is widely discredited nationwide by all levels - inner city and affluent communities (find on the internet). The affluent communities have parents who supplement (tutors, programs or themselves) so their scores don't plummet. The former Barron Park principal forced Everyday Math through the system to help her school's scores rise. Barron Park still has the lowest test scores.

We supplement our children with traditional math so we don't have to be concerned with them having issues with computations once they reach middle school. And guess what? They don't need to know Everyday Math's alternative computation methods once they reach middle school (learn, and then forget - productive use of time). They only need to know traditional math for secondary education. If one already has their computations memorized, Everyday Math may seem "fun", but the program doesn't provide rote memorization (that's no fun). Hopefully, the teachers will fill in this deficiency. The students who will suffer are those who have parents who do not have the time or will to help their children.

If you can't notice how awful this program is, it's because your teachers have overhauled it to be acceptable.

I found some past debate which explains the program for those who missed the heated debate of 2009:

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link






Like this comment
Posted by Victim of "New Math"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 11:06 am

Back in the 50's a professor at Stanford (I think his name was Beagle) developed "New Math" which was delivered to me in 7th grade at Jordan Junior High School. My class was selected because we were the students who had excelled in math. It was called "School Math Study Group" or SMSG. I have never recovered from that experience. It was considered to be advanced over traditional math (which by the way I was very good at). It was the beginning of the end for my academic career in terms of math and many other things (every major in college eventually had a math class as a requirement which necessitated another change of major). Anyway,you may get the drift. The change in curriculum had lifetime and profound effects on me from which I have never recovered. Math anxiety was my master. This should never happen to another child again. The teachers didn't even understand the SMSG system. The basis of learning in my opinion is that it is much easier to learn something that is related to something you already know. I couldn't relate it to anything this led to my academic failings. Don't consider changing anything that may leave any child unable to learn. Some can jump the hoops but many cannot. If one child is left behind it is one too many.


Like this comment
Posted by all in a name
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Resident, "big lies" don't help here.

The program was adopted with the full backing of the committee after careful review.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom and math teacher
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I am very happy to hear that there will be a discussion at the board meeting. I continue to be amazed that Everyday Math is present in Palo Alto. I am supplementing my son's math and tutoring a few students who want to know math. Our son's teacher gives non-everyday math homework weekly. She realizes as well that it is EDM is lacking. I feel sad for parents who cannot support their child with supplemental math until PAUSD wakes up and goes back to traditional math.


Like this comment
Posted by Shawna
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm

"District officials also said they are speaking with other high-performing districts that use Everyday Mathematics on ways of best using the material to challenge top performers."

This is the key statement which really bothers me. Sure, Everyday Math will put all students at a more level playing field and bring up the students that are struggling to lessen the achievement gap, but what about the individuals who have the potential to really excel at Math? Don't we want a little bit of inequality here? Ability differences are good in that those who have the potential to really excel at math may become our future scientists and mathematicians. We really need to challenge our top performers and Everyday Math will not give them the skills for higher more advanced math.


Like this comment
Posted by Eva
a resident of Barron Park School
on Jan 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm

It sounds like I'm in the minority on this forum, but I am seeing a lot of value in Everyday Math for my first graders. I am actually amazed at some of the complicated concepts that are introduced at very young grade levels. Our teacher does not supplement EM, but our boys have no problem with computation. Granted we're in the early stages, but so far I'm very impressed and grateful that math is being introduced to our children in a contextual way, not just memorization.


Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm

"In the past three years, Palo Alto elementary students have shown continuous math improvement on the California Star Test"

Everyday Math was adopted a year and a half ago.

The misuse of that statistic speaks volumes in and of itself.


Like this comment
Posted by What's-Wrong-With-Traditional-Math
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm

> The misuse of that statistic speaks volumes in
> and of itself.

This comment is not attributed to anyone at the PAUSD, so it must have come from the writer of this article. This is an example of a lack of analytic skill, which would recognize that the tracking of District math scores would have to stop when TM was transitioned to EDM. While the these two time periods might well trend upward, it's important to make note of the two fundamental teaching techniques operating during each time segment.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 3:38 pm

@All-in-a-name,

You think people didn't study the program but simply viewed the name and objected? Geez.

"Big lies" no. I speak the truth. I know members on the committee and they were bullied into accepting the program.

You out to know your data before you post rather than assuming.


Like this comment
Posted by new in town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 25, 2011 at 5:17 pm

People should be concerned about the nouveau math. Perhaps the idea of the program is a good one, but it requires a high level of math competency from the teacher. Our teachers are some of the best, but they are not all math teachers so the results will vary!

Web Link

A group called "Where's the Math?" has formed in Seattle and co-founders include a former PAUSD teacher and some UW professors and meteorologist and other technical professionals. They are appalled at the poor math skills of incoming freshmen, and have successfully prevented Everyday Math in a few well-heeled suburbs where the children of Microsoft and Amazon and Boeing attend school.

We were so happy to be leaving the Seattle Public School Math Wars. Imagine the shock upon arriving in Palo Alto and seeing it here. This is one area that Palo Alto is definitely *NOT* leading in, unless the competition is for a downward spiral in core math skills.


Like this comment
Posted by new in town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 25, 2011 at 5:19 pm

For an example of how EDM and TERC Investigations (New math) teach two-digit multiplication, check out MJ McDermott's video on YouTube where she walks through the new math versions vs. the way we all learned by carrying. It is eye-opening!

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 7:42 pm

New in town: We also left Everyday Math and was appalled when we found out they were going to adopt it here! The students in high school there (who experienced Everyday Math) are barely passing their state math standards test!


Like this comment
Posted by What's-Wrong-With-Traditional-Math?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 25, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Back in 1996, the author of this article, Chris Kenrick, wrote on "New Math" from her experiences in the PAUSD, having just arrived in town--
---
Web Link

by Chris Kenrick

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 10, 1996

Our Town: In the middle

When my family moved to Palo Alto in the spring of 1964, I enrolled in the sixth grade at Walter Hays School. A strong and confident student in math, I ran headlong into the Palo Alto Unified School District's "new math" curriculum, and immediately began to have problems. It was different from the math I'd excelled at before, and I just didn't get it.

A year later, I was completely at sea. Oh, somehow I muddled through high school math and did well enough to get into a respectable college, but I can assure you that my major had nothing whatsoever to do with math.
---

She goes on to talk about "new math anxiety", but it's clear that "new math", whatever it is, always creates more problems than it solves.


Like this comment
Posted by KC
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 25, 2011 at 10:15 pm

New in town makes a great point that the curriculum of EDM seems to depend more on having a really great math teacher. Because elementary school teachers are not subject matter specialists, the results could vary dramatically. But at what point do we get back to "old math"? Isn't the old math of today the new math of yesterday?


Like this comment
Posted by college terrace
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 26, 2011 at 12:20 am

A large number (relatively speaking) of the students at our school are going to "Singapore Math" after school. What about those of us who can't afford a very costly after-school program to supplement what is lacking in EDM? I am surprised by the Barron parent who is impressed. Maybe I don't remember my elementary experience as clearly as I think I do, but I recall doing a lot harder math in 1st and second grades than my children are. Some rote memorization is necessary in math, that's just the way it is.


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2011 at 1:28 am

Reading this has me nostalgic for those yellow softcover typewritten SMSG books full of set theory, strange symbols and oddly based numerical systems. (Great memory "Victim" above, the instigator was famed mathematician Edward Begle who came to Stanford from Yale in 1961.) I vaguely recall some controversy as most of our parents were quite perplexed. We had the advantage of Stanford teaching interns a few hours a week at Hoover Elementary and probably the other schools as well. Six years after Sputnik the educational pendulum was in full swing. I don't remember academic pressure so much as the inspiration of new technology and the space program. (And the quarterly duck-and-cover drills.)

Last night our President said "This is our generation's Sputnik moment."

Maybe we'll see the urgency get turned up a notch. I've been reading too much Tiger Mom stuff recently to really know what's the best approach to our math curriculum. How can our educators be as wrong as many people here are implying? Some students will excel no matter what, and the others it's just hard to know how to get that spark lit or how hard we should push. All of my non-math inclined friends from high school have done very well.


Like this comment
Posted by new in town
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jan 26, 2011 at 7:55 am

College terrace raises the point that those who can afford it will pay for outside help. A significant number of parents responded that they were supplementing in the survey conducted by the district earlier this year.

I predict outside help will increase and those who don't have the extra means for this will suffer, yet the district will credit EDM w/any increase scores. Scores should be parsed between those who supplement and those who do not.

Separately - what can be done to change course at this point? We are "new in town" and not familiar w/ the Palo Alto process. Does it apply to schools, too?


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2011 at 8:32 am

One thing to look at may be some of the "hidden" math programs at our schools. Is there an increase in students (or places) in the math intervention summer school programs and what are the criteria for students to be recommended for this program? We have had one student who was recommended and attended for several years and although skills improved the overall grade performance did not.

JLS has also started a math workshop class which is instead of an elective for those kids not able to keep up in the regular classrooms. Once again, a student has to be recommended for this class. This means that some JLS students are having two periods of math with two different teachers.

Presumably the teaching methods in these summer and workshop classes are different from what is going on in the regular classrooms. These may be the only reason some kids are actually learning anything to sufficiently help them in math in our school classrooms.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Populism: A response to the failure of the elites: Palo Alto edition
By Douglas Moran | 9 comments | 1,415 views

Let's Talk Internships
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,350 views

Couples: Sex and Connection (Chicken or Egg?)
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,074 views

Zucchini Takeover
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 888 views

Mountain View's Hangen Szechuan to close after 25 years
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 648 views