News

Palo Alto school board split on elementary math curriculum

Teachers ask to pilot Investigations: 'We as professionals know our students best'

The Palo Alto school board was split this week on whether to allow elementary school teachers to pilot a third mathematics curriculum, which teachers continue to be enthusiastic about despite an independent organization's determination that it only partially meets academic standards.

In response to the school board's request this fall for a third party validation of the new edition of Investigations, independent nonprofit Ed Reports evaluated the curriculum on the district's behalf.

While the materials for kindergarten, first, second and fifth grade fully met criteria for a first "gateway" on focus and coherence, it only partially met standards in this category for third and fourth grade. Materials for all grades partially met expectations for EdReport's second gateway, rigor and mathematical practices. EdReports did not evaluate Investigations against their third gateway, usability, because no grades were fully aligned across the first two gateways.

Palo Alto teachers, however, say they know their students' needs best and are eager to evaluate Investigations in their own classrooms as a complement to two other textbooks approved for a pilot program in the fall.

"We as professionals know our students best," Michelle Robell, a first-grade math teacher at Walter Hays Elementary, told the board on Tuesday. "It is only by piloting this year I've actually come across two different ways that I've never thought of before of teaching place value. I truly believe that it's only through the actual implementation and piloting of the actual materials that we can learn that."

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Two trustees agreed and said they wanted to place their trust in local teachers, who after exploring eight different curricula last year ranked Investigations as their top choice for pilot.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza, who served on last year's Elementary Math Adoption Committee, noted that EdReport's review was conducted by a group of teachers from around the country who might be unfamiliar with Palo Alto Unified.

"If our teachers are saying, 'we want to check this out and explore it further,' I don't know why that doesn't have as much weight as teachers we don't know around the country," she said.

Acting president Ken Dauber agreed, noting it was the intent of a new California law that gives school districts the freedom to adopt textbooks that haven't been approved by the state Board of Education to allow teachers to drive the process.

"I think just as a matter of principle that this is solidly within the professional work of the organization and the job of the board is to support that work. For me to figure this out from the dais would be like doing surgery with oven mitts," he said. "I'm just not equipped for it."

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Board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Todd Collins, however, were still hesitant to green light the third curriculum. Collins said "third party evaluation" is important and has always been a part of textbook adoption in some form — previously, primarily through the state Board of Education. He suggested a "less is more" approach would be more effective than piloting three textbooks at the same time and said he would not vote to support the pilot.

In the same vein, Baten Caswell proposed piloting Investigations as supplementary material. She worried that teachers "fall in love with little pieces" of curriculum, which she said is what happened with the district's previous, contentious adoption of a new elementary math curriculum (Everyday Math).

Staff said Tuesday that teachers are ready and willing to pilot Investigations, and it is only through a full pilot that they would be able to evaluate the materials and make a recommendation on whether the textbook should be a primary or supplementary curriculum.

While the decision is on its face a curricular one, it has exposed issues around trust between teachers and the school board.

"We're just wanting to honor what teachers want," said Mangla Oza, a math teacher on special assignment and member of the math-adoption committee.

While the proposal to pilot Investigations was brought as an action item on Tuesday night, Dauber suggested the board postpone a vote until its next meeting to comply with the board's two-meeting rule, which requires trustees to discuss items publicly in two meetings to take a vote. Staff considered the last time the board discussed this, in September, to be the first of the two meetings.

Dauber disagreed, stating that an issue discussed several months ago by a previous board "doesn't meet the requirements for community discussion of the issue."

The board will discuss the math curriculum again at their next regular meeting on Feb. 14.

Board President Terry Godfrey was still absent on Tuesday due to a car-accident injury.

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Palo Alto school board split on elementary math curriculum

Teachers ask to pilot Investigations: 'We as professionals know our students best'

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Jan 28, 2017, 8:20 am
Updated: Mon, Jan 30, 2017, 8:30 am

The Palo Alto school board was split this week on whether to allow elementary school teachers to pilot a third mathematics curriculum, which teachers continue to be enthusiastic about despite an independent organization's determination that it only partially meets academic standards.

In response to the school board's request this fall for a third party validation of the new edition of Investigations, independent nonprofit Ed Reports evaluated the curriculum on the district's behalf.

While the materials for kindergarten, first, second and fifth grade fully met criteria for a first "gateway" on focus and coherence, it only partially met standards in this category for third and fourth grade. Materials for all grades partially met expectations for EdReport's second gateway, rigor and mathematical practices. EdReports did not evaluate Investigations against their third gateway, usability, because no grades were fully aligned across the first two gateways.

Palo Alto teachers, however, say they know their students' needs best and are eager to evaluate Investigations in their own classrooms as a complement to two other textbooks approved for a pilot program in the fall.

"We as professionals know our students best," Michelle Robell, a first-grade math teacher at Walter Hays Elementary, told the board on Tuesday. "It is only by piloting this year I've actually come across two different ways that I've never thought of before of teaching place value. I truly believe that it's only through the actual implementation and piloting of the actual materials that we can learn that."

Two trustees agreed and said they wanted to place their trust in local teachers, who after exploring eight different curricula last year ranked Investigations as their top choice for pilot.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza, who served on last year's Elementary Math Adoption Committee, noted that EdReport's review was conducted by a group of teachers from around the country who might be unfamiliar with Palo Alto Unified.

"If our teachers are saying, 'we want to check this out and explore it further,' I don't know why that doesn't have as much weight as teachers we don't know around the country," she said.

Acting president Ken Dauber agreed, noting it was the intent of a new California law that gives school districts the freedom to adopt textbooks that haven't been approved by the state Board of Education to allow teachers to drive the process.

"I think just as a matter of principle that this is solidly within the professional work of the organization and the job of the board is to support that work. For me to figure this out from the dais would be like doing surgery with oven mitts," he said. "I'm just not equipped for it."

Board members Melissa Baten Caswell and Todd Collins, however, were still hesitant to green light the third curriculum. Collins said "third party evaluation" is important and has always been a part of textbook adoption in some form — previously, primarily through the state Board of Education. He suggested a "less is more" approach would be more effective than piloting three textbooks at the same time and said he would not vote to support the pilot.

In the same vein, Baten Caswell proposed piloting Investigations as supplementary material. She worried that teachers "fall in love with little pieces" of curriculum, which she said is what happened with the district's previous, contentious adoption of a new elementary math curriculum (Everyday Math).

Staff said Tuesday that teachers are ready and willing to pilot Investigations, and it is only through a full pilot that they would be able to evaluate the materials and make a recommendation on whether the textbook should be a primary or supplementary curriculum.

While the decision is on its face a curricular one, it has exposed issues around trust between teachers and the school board.

"We're just wanting to honor what teachers want," said Mangla Oza, a math teacher on special assignment and member of the math-adoption committee.

While the proposal to pilot Investigations was brought as an action item on Tuesday night, Dauber suggested the board postpone a vote until its next meeting to comply with the board's two-meeting rule, which requires trustees to discuss items publicly in two meetings to take a vote. Staff considered the last time the board discussed this, in September, to be the first of the two meetings.

Dauber disagreed, stating that an issue discussed several months ago by a previous board "doesn't meet the requirements for community discussion of the issue."

The board will discuss the math curriculum again at their next regular meeting on Feb. 14.

Board President Terry Godfrey was still absent on Tuesday due to a car-accident injury.

Comments

7th grade parent
Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2017 at 8:30 am
7th grade parent, Palo Verde
on Jan 28, 2017 at 8:30 am
36 people like this

My daughter started Kindergarden year with Every Day math curriculum and she is now in 7th grade. So many of her classmates are now struggling with math. I believed this curriculum has left so many kids behind in math. It was a choice well supported by teachers. Parents had strong objection to it to no avail.

If we are going to be using the same process to determine the new math curriculum, how can we be sure it will be a better choice?


Former Teacher
Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2017 at 10:12 am
Former Teacher, Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 28, 2017 at 10:12 am
19 people like this

Yes, the idea that "teachers know best" is in some ways an odd one, given the track record and groupthink that prevails in education. Teachers are well-meaning, no doubt, but their profession has often fallen prey to fads and unfounded theories that do children no good. While I think teachers have an important contribution to make, the idea that we should rely solely on them seems wrong; an active and engaged community also has a contribution to make.


if you can't handle the heat...
Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 11:38 am
if you can't handle the heat..., Barron Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 11:38 am
5 people like this

"I'm just not equipped for it."

Says it all. Why bother to get independent nonprofit Ed Reports to do the evaluation if you're just going to ignore their finding. If all you were going to accept was a positive result don't waste the district staff and teacher's time and money!

We are seriously in need of new board members.


Stoopid
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 12:04 pm
Stoopid, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 12:04 pm
27 people like this

Another generation of underperforming students in math and science, due to dumbed-down curricula.

This nation is doomed for certain, between bad public schools and Donald Trump.


Sanctimonious City
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm
Sanctimonious City, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:22 pm
19 people like this

@Stoopid

One out of two ain't bad. The progressive ideology that permeates our public schools has ruined the curriculum and destroyed our school system. Under their administration, California has effectively gone from first to worst in only a few short decades.

More time is spent on identity politics and social engineering than preparing the students for successful academic careers or productive lives. Trump will empower more school choice so families can make their own decisions.

If school districts want to play politics with our kid's education then parents of all classes (not just the 1%) will be able to vote with their feet. When that happens, I predict a stampede for the door at PAUSD.


Fake news
Green Acres
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm
Fake news, Green Acres
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:44 pm
15 people like this

Somehow I don't think an educated populace is what Trump is after. Lot harder to lie to people who know how to think critically.


john_alderman
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm
john_alderman, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Jan 28, 2017 at 2:12 pm
25 people like this

Investigations is Everyday Math 2.0, a dumbed down, terrible curriculum that undermines any credible claim that we care about STEM. Worse, the unintended consequence of dumbed down math curricula like Investigations and Everyday Math is that it exacerbates the achievement gap, because parents who care and are able supplement their children in Math. That gives the advantage to parents who are wealthy, stay at home, and have an advanced degree. It screws the poor, single, working, less educated parents who put their trust in public education.


JA3+
Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 3:14 pm
JA3+, Crescent Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 3:14 pm
5 people like this

"dumbed down math curricula like Investigations and Everyday Math ... exacerbates the achievement gap, because parents who care and are able supplement their children in Math"

+1^10*10^10


Board Bozos
Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:12 am
Board Bozos, Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:12 am
10 people like this

At least some of the board menbers admit they have no idea what to recommend since they have no educational experience. I don't understand why we make any decisions based on the boards opinion.

Currently the board is throwing a fit about the school calendar for next year for two reasons.

1) elementary school teachers really want to have the whole week off for Thanksgiving because it is very hard to accomplish anything with the kids that week because of all the distractions. The high school teachers are willing to go along with it because the elementary school teachers conceded the semesters falling on either side of the winter break. The elementary teachers realized it was the best thing for the kids and conceded even though they did not want to start in mode august and end in June. The board is digging in about Thanksgiving because parents don't have day care set up for those first few days of Thanksgiving so having the kids home would be an inconvenience.

Parents can take the week off. Do what's best for the kids and stop thinking about yourselves.

2) Christmas falls on a Monday this year. If we have the week before Christmas off, then we would go back to school January 2nd. High school teachers favor having three days of school the week before Christmas so we can give finals that week. That would also help with the imbalance of the semesters. The first semester is shorter than the second semester now that we pack the first semester in before christmas. Staying as long as possible before Christmas would help to balance out the semesters. The board is insisting we have the entire week off before Christmas. Why? I have no idea but clearly the best thing to do would be to balance out the two semesters as much as possible.

[Portion removed.]

Back off the teachers who are trying to do right by the students. Support the superintendent and his staff who are trying to lead the district in a positive direction. Ignore the board. [Portion removed.]


Possibilities
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:29 am
Possibilities, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:29 am
13 people like this

Why is this discussion stuck in the stone ages? Aren't there programs that allow kids to choose what works best for their learning style, self-paced, with data for teachers? Couldn't we get a few of these? No more arguments.

I remember in the early grades, opportunity from child to child varried wildly. Many teachers didn't want kids working ahead (seriously) while others in the same cohort encouraged it. Kids were often wildly different in their ages, developmental advancement, interest, outside tutoring, etc. The district did no evaluation to see whether EDM was changing any child's learning trajectory. The kids end up in 6th grade, and opportunities depend on where they are at that moment, and compound.

This district's math program was an unmitigated disaster for us. They have decent teachers who get stuck with suboptimal programs. The teachers could do a lot more with programs that allow true self-paced differentiated instruction, optimized msth education for every child. The textbook should be a supplement.


Paly Parent Wondering
Registered user
Community Center
on Jan 30, 2017 at 11:13 am
Paly Parent Wondering, Community Center
Registered user
on Jan 30, 2017 at 11:13 am
18 people like this

Isn't it a conflict of interest that Jennifer DiBrienza is listed as a contributing author for Investigations? Does she have a financial interest in the adoption?
Web Link


former math teacher and parent
Addison School
on Jan 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm
former math teacher and parent, Addison School
on Jan 30, 2017 at 3:50 pm
13 people like this

I am concerned that the elementary school teachers are looking for a cookie cutter program versus something that is comprehensive. There are many elementary school teachers who have limited confidence in math. They do an amazing job given they need to teach all subjects. If the content is challenging, perhaps they can hire math teachers for the elementary grades and have a robust math program. As a math teacher, the most important formative years are the elementary years. Build a solid base for higher levels of math.

Also, if there are experienced math teachers at the elementary grades, maybe, just maybe, parents can stop needing to hire tutors!


SOS
Greenmeadow
on Jan 30, 2017 at 8:14 pm
SOS, Greenmeadow
on Jan 30, 2017 at 8:14 pm
6 people like this

Can we give the same amount of attention to English and writing?
Students go through elementary and middle schools with little or no grammar and spelling instruction, write incomplete sentences etc.


Curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2017 at 8:25 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Jan 30, 2017 at 8:25 pm
6 people like this

"Another generation of underperforming students in math and science..."

That's been the knee-jerk popular mantra at least since Sputnik in 1957, although the USA has led the world in technical innovation since before then. Weird, no?

Relax, everyone. It's the top 1% who will achieve in science and technology. They are the self-motivated learners who ignore the sundry fads du jour pushed by successive generations of prior sub-achievers. Think Apple. Think Google.


Possibilities
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:23 am
Possibilities, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:23 am
6 people like this

@former math teacher,
Please share your post with the board. So spot on.

I can attest that it is possible to recover from a problematic early math education, but not within the system we have. Bringing in math specialists and comprehensive programs that allow self-pacing, individualization, and mastery by everyone would help a lot.


Linda Henigin
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:30 pm
Linda Henigin, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:30 pm
2 people like this

Dear Paly Parent Wondering,

Jennifer DiBrienza wrote a small piece of curriculum for a previous version of Investigations. She is not paid a royalty, but was simply paid as a contract worker for her writing. She receives no ongoing income from Investigations. She does not have a conflict of interest here. She has no financial interest in the adoption. I think we're lucky to have her on the Board, since she has a PhD in Mathematics Education, and has been an Elementary teacher and staff developer in Mathematics Education for years. She is very responsive, so you can email her from her webpage any time to get direct answers to any questions you may have about her.


Cogito
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:39 pm
Cogito, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2017 at 9:39 pm
7 people like this

re Dibrienza - the PAUSD textbook conflict of interest policy isn't limited to financial interests. It also includes "Does not have an interest as a contributor, author, editor, or consultant in any textbook or other material submitted to the district." (Web Link)

Dibrienza fails the conflict policy and needs to recuse herself. She should not have been on the text book committee in the first place. This is just plain unseemly.


Linda Henigin
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2017 at 5:29 pm
Linda Henigin, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 1, 2017 at 5:29 pm
Like this comment

Dear Cogito,

The version of the textbook that Jennifer wrote for is now out of print. She has no interest as a contributor, author, editor, or consultant in any material submitted to the district. The version of Investigations that teachers are asking to view (she is not pushing it - teachers are asking for it) has no contribution of any kind from her.

I think we are lucky to have someone with inside knowledge of how textbooks are constructed on the committee. We can respectfully agree to disagree on this. I have provided my real name, as I stand behind my comments.


Cogito
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2017 at 6:46 pm
Cogito, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2017 at 6:46 pm
3 people like this

Dibrienza is thanked by name in the acknowledgements of the brand new edition. She never told the district or her fellow math committee members of her association with the book, they were told by community members long after she joined the committee.

Good for you using your name. I wish Dibrienza was as transparent as you.


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