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Which Math Books Will Seattle Kids Use? School Board To Vote Tonight

Students in a second grade class tackle math problems. A new UW study shows people form their math stereotypes at this age.
AP Photo
Students in a second grade class tackle math problems. A new UW study shows people form their math stereotypes at this age.

Most Seattle elementary students will likely be using new math textbooks next year, and if a few members of the school board have their way, they might not all be the same textbooks.

Seattle School Board members will vote Wednesday on whether to allow school principals to decide between two sets of math textbooks, worksheets and materials rather than mandate which one to use.

Credit Photos Courtesy Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Some Seattle Public Schools board members want the district to adopt two elementary math textbooks — enVision (left) and Math in Focus — and allow principals to choose between them in their own building.

Though a Seattle Public Schools committee recommended the district's 27,000 elementary students use a curriculum called "enVision," three school board members want to allow principals to order a different set of math books and materials, called "Math in Focus," a finalist on that original committee's list.

The board's decision, due during its meeting Wednesday night, culminates a months-long review process built around this question: How should Seattle schools replace its standard elementary math texts with materials that better follow a new set of tough, nationally-crafted and controversial academic standards?

"The mandate — the non-negotiable mandate at this time — is Common Core [academic standards]," Seattle School Board President Sharon Peaslee said last month. "We have no choice in this matter. The choice we have is how we teach the Common Core. I feel that it is extremely important that we give our schools a little bit of choice."

Support For Both Options

Staff from the district office have asked supportive board members to back away from the "dual adoption" idea. They say picking one set of math textbooks allows for students to move more seamlessly between elementary schools and makes middle school math teachers' jobs more manageable.

"In sixth grade, the teachers are going to have to spend a lot of time getting all the students who've come in exposure to different materials and different instructional strategies to be on the same page," said assistant superintendent Michael Tolley during last month's school board meeting.

But Peaslee, along with school board members Sue Peters and Marty McLaren, have both expressed support for the "dual adoption" option.

Peters said feedback from the community overwhelmingly favored the use of the "Math in Focus" curriculum, but the committee's adoption process may have placed too much weight on whether the new materials matched the Common Core's expectations.

"We need to offer our students the very best materials available, that will serve them well, possibly even above and beyond mandated standards," Peters said during last month's meeting, adding "Math in Focus" is more rigorous than Common Core prescribes. "So to put all our eggs in the basket of Common Core, I think, is risky."

What Schools Use Now

Many schools around the district have already found their own funding to replace or supplement the district's standard math curriculum. Adopted in 2007, the "Everyday Math" curriculum has drawn wide criticism, both locally and in other districts across the country where it's used.

Alki, Schmitz Park, McDonald International elementaries and the K-5 STEM at Boren already use the "Math in Focus" curriculum (or a closely-related curriculum called "Singapore Math").

Montlake, McGilvra and Thurgood Marshall elementaries and Jane Addams K-8 already use the "enVision" curriculum.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.