Palo Alto school district tests out new elementary math curriculum

School board to discuss pilot program

Palo Alto Unified's elementary teachers started this year testing out mathematics curricula aligned with the new Common Core State Standards, with an eye toward choosing two or three to formally pilot in the 2016-17 school year.

The school board will discuss the math pilot at its meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 26.

This school year has been dubbed an "exploration year" during which teachers can sample portions of Common Core-aligned curricula and incorporate it into their classrooms along with the district's adopted Everyday Mathematics textbook series. The goal is to deepen teachers' understanding and application of the Common Core standards while identifying the best new curriculum to pilot, according to a staff report on the topic.

"Having hands-on experience with two or more curricula will expand our collective district knowledge on the quality of what's available," the report states.

Lead math teachers at each school worked with math teachers on special assignment (TOSAs) and principals this fall to select two to eight different curricula they wanted to explore, according to the staff report. Whole grade levels or individual teachers created plans for how to introduce the materials in their classes and submitted the plans to their principals.

All teachers are encouraged to explore new materials, but those who choose not to will continue teaching the Everyday Math curriculum, according to the staff report.

A "teacher leadership group" will be formed this year to evaluate and recommend two to three curricula that are "worthy" of a full pilot in the next school year, the staff report states. The group will meet monthly and include upper- and primary-level teachers and principals, according to the staff report. That group will also eventually make a recommendation to the board for formal adoption in the 2016-17 school year.

The district will also be seeking feedback from parents through a survey, to be distributed in February, according to the staff report. Math leads and TOSAs will collect input from teachers as well.

Mathematics curriculum became a topic of controversy in the district several years ago, leading up to the board's adoption of Everyday Math in 2009. Parents questioned whether the textbook series adequately stressed standard problem-solving methods and strong mastery of basic skills. More than 700 community members, mostly parents, signed a petition urging the board to postpone adoption for a year in order to pilot other textbook options.

In other business Tuesday, the board will further discuss and vote on one of the Enrollment Management Advisory Committee's final recommendations, presented along with Superintendent Max McGee's own recommendations at the Jan. 12 board meeting.

The board will vote on a proposal to assign new students set to enter the district in the fall from a new Stanford University housing development, University Plaza, to Nixon Elementary School. McGee also recommended that staff plan to place up to three portables at Nixon to accommodate the influx of more than 100 students.

With a total of 471 students enrolled this year, Nixon is the fifth-largest elementary school in the district. (It has the same number of students as Addison, according to the district's 11th day enrollment count.)

Nixon Principal Mary Pat O'Connell has expressed support for the proposal, McGee wrote in a staff report.

The board will have further discussion about enrollment committee's and McGee's recommendation that the district create a new advisory committee to explore and recommend "an array of educational models, programs and practices" for the contiguous Cubberley Community Center campus (including neighboring district sites at 525 San Antonio Road and Greendell School, which houses the district's pre-kindergarten programs) and the current secondary schools, McGee wrote in his report. This committee would be made up of faculty, students, parents, alumni and community members without children in the schools, led by a professional facilitator. McGee has identified a deadline for the group's work: Oct. 1.

McGee has also added a new recommendation since the last board meeting: Direct staff to develop recommendations for realigning attendance boundaries in the 2017-18 school year for two groups of elementary schools — Fairmeadow, Palo Verde and El Carmelo; and Addison, Walter Hays and Duveneck. McGee cites high levels of overflow, particularly in the Palo Verde area, plus extra space and/or lower enrollment at other schools, as a rationale for redrawing attendance boundaries to better accommodate students.

Pending Tuesday night's discussion, McGee could ask the board to vote on the remaining enrollment committee recommendations at the next board meeting on Feb. 9.

The school board meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.

The board will also convene earlier in the day, 10 a.m. to noon, to hear Palo Alto and Gunn high schools' 2015-16 Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA) reports, annual documents each school in the district creates to set and monitor goals for the year. Read the agenda here.

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14 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 26, 2016 at 4:20 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

Ah, yet another round of the PAUSD "Math Wars." I think this is the third I've witnessed since my children started school here about 35 years ago. Glad I'm now retired from the battlefield.

3 people like this
Posted by Baffled
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 26, 2016 at 5:06 pm

How are parents supposed to do the homework now? They shouldn't teach math that parents can't do.

12 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 26, 2016 at 6:06 pm

Given that it’s now been about seven years since the PAUSD adopted the Everyday Math program, has there ever been a public review of the methodology and the results? Has the school district ever actually looked that the standardized test results for the students having this methodology imposed on them? Has the school district ever queried the parents to get their sense of whether their children are better off under Everyday Math, or the previous methodology?

If memory serves, there were a small number of teachers claiming that minorities were having problems with math, and they assured us that they students would be able to better perform under the EDM approach? Well .. have any of those assertions been reviewed? Are the kids that were underperforming now performing at successfully?
It’s a real shame that more scrutiny has not been performed on the math teaching at the PAUSD—given how controversial the shift to EDM was at the time.

13 people like this
Posted by A
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 26, 2016 at 6:30 pm

How long have people been learning math? Thousands of years? What has changed that we have to bring in new ways of teaching basic skills? Why do kids need to know the essence of math in the 1st grade? It's stupid. I think they come up with these new ways of teaching math so the teachers don't get bored teaching.

18 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 26, 2016 at 11:52 pm

I hope they get it right this time. Everyday Math was only adopted because the former Barron Park principal mistakenly believed that the program would help her underperforming students so she bullied the committee and the Board into adopting the program. Everyday Math sales were probably laughing all the way to the bank and promoting it as a program used by PALO ALTO. The program was widely disliked by inner city teachers/parents as confusing/lacking in helping their children, yet it was still adopted in Palo Alto due to politics.

We experienced the program when living out of state, and if Everyday Math is followed completely by the program, it's insane! The program "spiraled" so it would have time, calculations, word problems, etc. all one one page so students had to try to learn all at once. "Don't worry if you don't get it all, we will spiral back to it in 4 months and you can try again to learn it." It expects students to somehow know their multiplication tables without having drill sheets. What, through osmosis? And it had an alternative way of multiplying which was supposed to be easier (and parents were unfamiliar with this lattice method) yet, the students couldn't solve with the lattice multiplication chart if they didn't already have the multiplication chart memorized. No solving the multiplication problem the traditional way, must be the lattice method, which they won't use in secondary school. The only thing that saved our students was that PAUSD told teachers they didn't have to follow the program exactly and could teach math loosely following the Everyday Math program. The teachers adjusted the program so no one could see all the faults of it. Let's return to traditional math! Get it right, this time, School Board, sheesh. I know Dauber would never approve such a deficient program - he does his homework and doesn't allow himself to be bullied (thanks, Ken, for your strength).

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 7:11 am

When I was at school I was taught something called New Math which my parents shook their heads in despair as it made no sense to them. It contained sets and subsets, Venn diagrams, all sorts of symbols and words like union and cup and cap, I vaguely remember it. I spent a lot of time learning all of these.

It seems that this new math is now old hat. My kids have no idea what I'm talking about. It seems that math can go into style and out of fashion.

I wonder what the latest thing will be when my kids' are parents and their kids have to learn the new fashion in math.

10 people like this
Posted by don't get it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 27, 2016 at 8:13 am

You'd think that the State of California Department of Education's taking Everyday Math OFF of its approved math textbook list would prompt PAUSD to NOT consider adopting it this round. Ditto Investigations/TERC which I recall was the program PAUSD kicked out when it brought Everyday Math in.

Web Link

But maybe not. Both Everyday Math AND Investigations are on PAUSD's short list of texts that are being considered for its next multi-year, multi-million $ purchase.

Web Link

Neither appear on this list of texts aligned with Common Core either. Web Link (EdReports' "The Great Common Core Textbook Swindle')

6 people like this
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:43 am

One good thing about common core is that it exposed how weak the Everyday Math curriculum is. Now just kill it already and get a new solid math program in schools. I'm just sorry for the kids who have been stuck with it for the last several years.

3 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:48 am

OMG!! The spectre of Stanford's New Math (1965) all over again. That and "New English" spawned out of Stanford University. It was so bad that parents were in a state of rebellion which resulted in parents pushing - and getting a
Back to the Basics School - called Hoover then - which we have to this day. Parents waited in line to sign up to get their children into the school and slept on the lawn in sleeping bags!! CBS national TV recorded the fight for this school. I have noticed that most children sending us the required thank you notes for grad and birthday gifts do not write 'cursive', and they did not attend the Back to Basics or private or parochial schools. They PRINT (Children in private and parochial schools still can write.) Can public school students provide a 'signature' anymore? Do banks accept printed names? Teaching writing should be done in K-2. Once it's 'in the brain', it's there forever. This math proposal is preposterous. The 1965 "New Math" and "New English" resulted in first my older siblings then my transfer out of the PAUSD. PARENTS - FIGHT THIS.

1 person likes this
Posted by Seen It Since Sputnik
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 27, 2016 at 11:55 am

"When I was at school I was taught something called New Math ... "

Our generations are marked by the style of math they failed to learn. Fortunately, the few percent of students that actually need to know math learn it, including important tools like "sets and subsets, Venn diagrams, all sorts of symbols and words like union and cup and cap ... ."

2 people like this
Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 12:43 pm

What does learning cursive have to do with learning math? The reason kids print instead of write cursive is that much less time is spent learning cursive and by the time the kids are writing long-enough pieces for it to matter, they've switched over to typing on the computer.

As for EDM, the kids who had it are now in high school. After the early hue and cry, the complaints kind of disappeared. I know at least some of the Ohlone teachers augmented the EDM with other texts. Some teachers told me that EDM was fine as far as it went, but there wasn't enough to it. Another told me that as far as the various approaches went, he preferred EDM to the others.

I don't recall seeing any particular score drop in math, but then given the emphasis on math and science around here, I doubt the teachers and families around here were going to let that happen. (Which is why you get five lanes of math, but almost nothing in English.)

5 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 27, 2016 at 1:02 pm

Is it just possible that all this change over of math curriculum is an excuse to acquire all new stuff with the requisite "re-training" oops I meant "professional development" all billed to taxpayers?
Before we moved to Palo Alto, I read in newspapers there was a "Math War" circa 1998, too.
Personally, I valued knowledgeable math teachers who taught is a straightforward way with clear texts and provided appropriate practice. I oppose unusual schemes like "spiral curriculum' so thankfully our kids missed that.
As for why some current high school students do well, for Heaven's sake, many are tutored and/or have been carefully supported by their parents. While that's OK, it doesn't endorse EDM.
KISS method is best.

6 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 27, 2016 at 4:20 pm

I want to say a huge thank you to PAUSD and the elementary school principals and teachers for taking a fresh look at math education. The current program is quite deficient, and while this is a big effort, it is really important.

Thank you!!

3 people like this
Posted by LelandManorMom
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 28, 2016 at 10:13 am

Bravo to the District for closing the EDM chaper. Let's not beat up past decisions and let's make a decision rooted in data now. Last time, Singapore Math had significant support and many parents supplement with it at home or in private/group tutoring. Will it be considered? Also, as long as parents are not satisfied, the dissatisfied parents will supplement and thus widen the gap between those who have either the money of skill to fill the gap and those who don't. Let's adopt well to cut back on the stress of after-school supplementing and narrow the gap. It is a potential win-win.

4 people like this
Posted by Math wars moronic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2016 at 8:11 pm

Singapore Math! Ha! Please post the data demonstrating its effectiveness! Gosh, I don't know why more districts haven't run out and adopted this. A bunch of loudmouth complainers is not the kind of data that's compelling. Im no supporter of EDM, but I'm certainly no critic. The teacher is more important and you just have to hope you get an effective one. The new standards are a blessing for textbook publishers, but there products are all the same. if you want, I could send you the contact info for Houghton-Mifflin, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, etc. and they would be happy to tell you that their product is superior. [Portion removed.]

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

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