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After lots of Debate New Math Books Approved

By Teresa Rochester

In the end, no one got exactly what they wanted.

But school district officials and middle school teachers said they were pleased with the consensus reached for picking new math textbooks that meet state approval.

Board of Education members were pleased too, unanimously approving two textbooks -- California Middle School Mathematics Concepts and Skills for sixth and seventh graders and Prentice Hall Algebra 1 California Edition for eighth graders -- at their meeting Wednesday night.

"This comes with my strong and whole hearted endorsement," said new Supt. John Deasy at his first board meeting.

The vote caps an emotional and controversial adoption process that saw some parents, teachers and officials clash over teaching philosophies and styles, as the district moved to put uniform, state approved math programs in place at Lincoln, John Adams and Malibu middle schools.

The shift to a state approved, uniform math program rankled teachers at Santa Monica's two middle schools, JAMS and Lincoln. Neither of the programs used at the two schools were on the state-approved list. Teachers can use those programs to supplement the new text.

Lincoln, which earned a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence last year, used an accelerated math program known as Forester. JAMS used a controversial program called College Preparatory Math, a concept-based method denounced as "fuzzy math" by its foes.

Faced with strict state guidelines, teachers and officials found themselves searching for a new and approved program. In late June they presented their choice -- California Middle School Mathematics Concepts and Skills -- to the school board for use by all sixth, seventh and eighth graders.

The board shot down the recommendation after a steady stream of parents complained that the text was the weakest of the approved programs and did not present enough new concepts for eighth graders, but instead focused on rehashing things they had already learned.

Leading the parent's charge against the book was JAMS parent Tina Grossman, a vocal critic of CPM, who urged the board to approve a program with a stronger track record.

JAMS teachers however called for the retention of the CPM program, describing it as an active, hands-on approach to math. But on that June evening the board sent teachers and officials back to the drawing board.

On Wednesday night, board members congratulated them on pulling together and coming up with the new recommendation.

"I feel it's important to go on record in expressing gratitude and admiration for the work of staff and teachers because we gave them rather a difficult problem [to solve]," said board member Jose Escarce. "It was done in a meaningful way with enough changed. I'm pleased and just thrilled by this."

As the board lauded the teachers and staff for their work, Grossman sat quietly in the back of the boardroom. For more than a year she and other parents had lobbied the board, district officials and teachers for stronger math programs, particularly at JAMS. They sent out frequent emails that included research, commentaries by experts and parents and newspaper clippings on the subject and made impassioned pleas at board meetings.

"My feeling is it's a good thing for our children and parents and teachers," Grossman said after the meeting. "We need to work together and those materials give us the best hope in achieving for our students at all points on the spectrum. These books do more for our students than previously stated."
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