Palo Alto school board to take action on new elementary math curricula

District eyes October start for pilot of materials

The Palo Alto school board will discuss the selection of new elementary mathematics curricula on Tuesday morning in advance of a vote on the proposed textbooks at its regular meeting in the evening.

A large committee of teachers and parents have recommended the district either pilot two new textbooks -- Investigations and Bridges in Mathematics -- or pilot both along with a third, Eureka/Engage New York, as an approved supplementary curriculum. Third- through fifth-grade teachers expressed more support for Eureka/Engage New York than the lower-grade levels.

Staff is now recommending a third option: to pilot all three, considering that Eureka/Engage New York is a free, online resource. This is despite the fact that Chief Academic Officer for Elementary Education Barbara Harris told members of the Elementary Math Exploration Committee at the Aug. 29 meeting that piloting three curricula would be hard on teachers.

The elementary-math committee also voted to drop from its list of recommended curricula the newest version of Everyday Math, which has been the district's officially adopted elementary-math textbook since 2009. Many teachers reportedly no longer use Everyday Math because it does not meet the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, and district administrators thought its troubled history in the district would make adopting it this time around unlikely.

Superintendent Max McGee wrote in a staff report that following Tuesday's discussion, the board will hopefully approve a set of materials at its regular meeting in the evening so the pilot could begin in October. If the board approves two curricula, the teachers on the adoption committee would pilot both this school year, starting with one textbook in October through December and the second in January to March, according to a timeline included in Tuesday's agenda packet.

The district plans to spend the fall and spring collecting data from teachers, students and parents on the pilot materials before recommending a final curriculum for adoption in the 2017-18 school year.

Staff will also give an update Tuesday morning on a math textbook pilot already underway at the district's three middle schools. Materials for two chosen curricula -- Math in Focus and Big Ideas -- have arrived and teachers have participated in training from the publishers of the textbooks being considered, McGee wrote in his report.

"Providing time for teachers to 'demo' the online platforms, explore the resources (print and online), and discuss with their colleagues the program components has been extremely beneficial," he wrote. "With the current school year well underway and the trainings completed, the teachers are ready to begin using the materials to see what they offer."

A separate middle school math-adoption committee plans to present a recommendation to the board in March to implement a new textbook in fall of 2017.

If time permits, the board will also discuss potential changes to board policy and administrative regulations related to textbooks' alignment with Common Core standards, a potential requirement or "encouragement" for independent, third-party validation of any new materials, clarification around conflict of interest for curriculum-selection processes and clarifying the difference between an "exploratory" and pilot process for testing out new curriculum, the staff report reads. (The district engaged for the first time last year in an exploration of materials, during which teachers could choose from eight curricula to try out in their classrooms, rather than a pilot, which would require board approval.)

If there is not time to discuss these policy changes during Tuesday's two-hour meeting, they will be postponed to a policy-study session on Tuesday, Sept. 27.

Tomorrow's meeting will be held 8-10 a.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. Read the full agenda here.


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9 people like this
Posted by What About
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

So Singapore Math is still not an option? Another generation of Palo Altans lost to the endless Math debate.

9 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 12, 2016 at 1:51 pm

To What About:
Singapore Math is being piloted at Jordan. There are two textbooks on display in the lobby, one being Singapore Math, unsure of the other. At Back-to-School Night, my child's Math 7A teacher said that Singapore Math might be too difficult for the regular lane students, which I don't understand because it's a straightforward program.

6 people like this
Posted by Euraka! They're considering it.
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 12, 2016 at 4:50 pm

I hope they choose an option that includes looking at Eureka.
Leaving it off the list to pilot was a mistake.

16 people like this
Posted by Mastery-based Learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 12, 2016 at 11:13 pm

Question: why does everyone have to use the same one? What are we in the stone ages? We are PAUSD, and we are better than this. We now have the technology to individually track kids and even allow them to go at their own pace.

My kid is using a standard honors textbook but taking math at 2X the usual pace through a teacher who teaches accelerated mastery-based math. The only thing required by the district is to take their tests, but that's easy. (This is an outside district.) My kid loves math again, and willingly works far more problems every week, no longer sloppy. This after going from loving math to hating it in PAUSD, learning slowly and badly in PAUSD classes (incl EDM), never being recommended for advanced math, and being denied the ability to do independent study. Now there will be time to take differential equations junior year, more advanced math senior yr, and do physics with calculus (kid's choice), where before it would have been hard to get calculus in, if same demoralized child would even have stuck with it.

I recommend the latest TED talk by Salman Khan about mastery based learning. We have many different students with different needs and learning styles, and the tools do exist for us to better customize the approach to best meet individual students' learning styles. It actually is possible for the district to achieve its stated vision of helping each child reach their creative potential. So why isn't THAT possibility on the table for math?

9 people like this
Posted by Math sanity
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 13, 2016 at 4:21 pm

I just hope the board makes choices based on the agreed-on process, including parents, not overweighted by teachers from a single school, and picks a book that's on the State approved list. Don't repeat the mistakes that led to Everyday Math.

3 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 14, 2016 at 8:22 am

@math sanity: Good luck with that.

I was just in the Jordan lobby and there are tables of the books they are piloting: Big Ideas and Singapore Math. And there are feedback forms and a box so anyone who thinks they can make a difference and stuff the ballot box, there you go.

Like this comment
Posted by Dennis Ashendorf
a resident of another community
on Oct 28, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Math in Focus is a fatter "Americanized" version of Singapore Math. More support materials - often needed.

Scan (started by Harvey Mudd College's president). Not everything has been looked at yet. Do NOT select materials based on the state's 2013/14 adoption. It was done to get materials out there. Far better products like Bridges aren't on it.

If Singapore Math (probably the 1990's version) appeals to you, please look at Sansu Math - a Japanese curriculum adapted for the US market. The distributor Koyo expects any school that adopts it to embrace Lesson Study. This is smart, but maybe too smart for the US market.

Mastery Learning, which is called boringly "Competency-based learning" is another issue.


My soapbox

Lastly, the elephant in the room is that the Common Core isn't a core - it's everything. Imagine an "only what's necessary for citizenship" mathcore under competency-based learning (eg deep knowledge of proportions - basically the TransMath curriculum) and the rest of required math for college prep (eg modernized with a coherent statistics for real-life, not engineering/science academics) and finally semi-mandatory electives for STEM pathways (trig, pre-calc). The interesting under this scenario is that Geometry (NOT Measurement) becomes an elective and that state math requirements for graduation could be adjusted for different students. Currently Math is a sequence of unnecessary topics and remediation. It doesn't have to be that way.

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