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CUSD set for new textbooks, delve further into Common Core

Local elementary school students are poised to embark on a new math curriculum this fall, written to support the Common Core State Standards.

The Claremont school board will vote on whether or not to approve the adoption of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s “California GO Math!” series at its next meeting, held Thursday, August 7 at 6:30 p.m.

CUSD parents and residents are welcome to attend the gathering, held at the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center (170 W. San Jose Ave. in Claremont), to share their thoughts on the K-6 math books during the public comment portion of the agenda item.

In the meantime, you are welcome to stop by the basement level of the Kirkendall Center during business hours and check out samples of “California GO Math!” textbooks and support materials for each of the elementary school grades. Cards have been provided so that visitors can provide written feedback.

Sumner Elementary School teacher Joe Tonan, who will teach sixth grade this fall, said he is satisfied with the process through which the district selected the K-6 textbook series as its number-one option.

“The decision-making was left in the hands of the teachers,” he said.

In an email he sent last month to Superintendent Jim Elsasser and the school board, he had particular praise for CUSD’s assistant superintendent of student services: “I am so pleased to report that Dr. Bonnie Bell conducted the most fair and transparent, open, in-depth and complete textbook adoption process that I have ever seen.”

The district initially looked at five publishers whose offerings had been vetted by the state as being Common Core-compatible. Two of these were eliminated early on, according to Ms. Bell, one because the company was unresponsive to queries and another because the publisher was unable to ship books by this fall.

Next, the 23-member K-6 Math Textbook Adoption Committee convened from June 24 through June 25. The committee featured representatives from every elementary school in the district, 90 percent of them teachers. They were tasked with determining which of the three remaining textbook choices is most in keeping with the principles of the Common Core.

One of the most salient characteristics of the Common Core math standards is that fewer concepts are introduced. Those concepts that remain are delved into more deeply in order to avoid the “mile-wide, inch-deep” brand of education Common Core proponents say has prevailed for far too long.

“Focus means doing fewer things at any given grade so that students have more time to internalize, practice and learn what is being done in that grade,” explained Common Core math standards writer Jason Zimbra on a video posted on the Teaching Channel website.

The new curriculum also encourages students to move beyond simply giving answers, instead showing their thinking process using tables, drawings, diagrams and discussion. In the case of the “California GO Math!” textbooks, students are often asked to illustrate problems through shapes, blocks, number trains such as circular cardboard counters.

Another criterion when selecting a new math series was whether it provides sufficient technological support for students who—although they will be using print editions of the math books this year—will undertake state testing on iPads, using the Smarter Balanced assessment program.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s math books, which are accompanied by digital quizzes students can take on tablets, fit the bill.

“The teachers opted unanimously to choose this series,” Ms. Bell said. “There was a total consensus.”

Mr. Tonan, who served on the K-6 Math Textbook Adoption Committee, is eager to jettison the “Everyday Mathematics” textbooks with which he was previously saddled.

“The series we currently have is the worst math series I have ever taught with in 28 years of teaching,” he said. “It didn’t require mastery at any level, and it sometimes had 15 different concepts taught in one day’s lesson.

“For instance, when the book was introducing two-digit times three-digit multiplication, it would present three different ways of how to do it in the initial lesson,” he continued. “Kids were like, ‘What’s the way to do it?’ I think every teacher who is on the committee felt this is an upgrade.”

Should the board approve the books, the Claremont Unified School District will embark on a $300,000 contract with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt the publisher. The contract will entitle the district to two years of print editions and eight year’s worth of digital editions.

The print editions are consumable, meaning that kids write in the books, discarding them at the end of the year. The price tag is equivalent with what the district has typically paid for textbooks, according to Ms. Bell.

At the conclusion of the 2014-2015 school year, the district will begin to craft a digital implementation plan, exploring how it might partially or completely phase out the print versions of the math books.

“We’d ultimately like to move towards e-books, but we first want to familiarize ourselves with the parts and pieces of the new curriculum, Ms. Bell noted.

The district must also make sure that it is compliant with the Williams Act, meaning that all students have access to the necessary hardware and software both at school and at home. Thus far, results of a yearly  CUSD questionnaire administered to families has been promising, with between 95 and 98 percent of students reporting they have Internet access at home. If after two years has passed, CUSD opts to receive hard copies of “California GO Math!,” the print contract can be renewed at a price of $30,000 per year.

A number of individual teachers and principals have received training on the Common Core math standards, according to Ms. Bell. Mr. Tonan, however, said that the district as a whole has received very little training in the math component of the Common Core, having placed more emphasis this past year on the English Language Arts portion of the new standards.

Still, he is happy that all CUSD elementary school teachers will participate in an in-service on Common Core and the new math series on August 25.

“There’s going to need to be ongoing training, but this is a good first step,” he said. “We’ve never had a full-day in-service on a new math curriculum coming in.”

—Sarah Torribio


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