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.