Article Last Updated: 5/28/2006 01:13 AM

Alpine School District relents and will change its math offerings

By Celia R. Baker
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

   Alpine School District is calling a truce in its version of the nation's math wars. Weary of battles over its progressive "Investigations" math curriculum, the district will allow each of its elementary schools to choose between two district-sanctioned math programs - one traditional, one "standards-based."
   Soon after Investigations was adopted in 2000, parents and teachers besieged the district, complaining about the program, which is endorsed by the National Science Foundation and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Many claimed the program gives too little emphasis to memorizing multiplication tables and learning long division, and devotes too much time to "silly" assignments meant to deepen understanding and enjoyment of mathematics.
   "There were strong advocates for and against the program," said Gary Seastrand, Alpine assistant superintendent. "Those who were against it felt the system had made a central decision. There were parents and teachers who did not buy into it or like it."
   Although Alpine stuck by Investigations, efforts were made to pacify critics by supplementing with assignments focused on math basics. Still unappeased, parents began pulling children out of their classes.
   Home, charter and private schools proliferated in the area, which became a hotbed of political support for school vouchers designed to subsidize private schooling.
   Parents unhappy with "Alpine Math" also formed a network to advocate for a new math program, and a stronger voice within their district, which serves nearly 70,000 students.
American Fork resident Oak Norton, the group's unofficial leader, views Alpine's decision as a victory. He hopes it means Investigations math is on the way out.
   "Everyone is excited that Alpine has finally listened to parents after five long years, [during] three of which our children were not taught the times tables under Investigations math," Norton said. "I think it's a mistake for them to offer it in the future, as there are much better programs that work for visual learners."
   Seastrand said a district review committee will search for math programs that emphasize elements of "understanding, computing, applying, reasoning and engaging." Then, the district will approve one traditional and one standards-based program and allow schools to choose between the two.
   Seastrand estimates the cost of obtaining new math materials at around $2 million.
   Costs for retraining teachers are not known, but Seastrand believes much of the training can be done within the district's professional-development budget. The new math programs will be ready for the 2007-08 school year, he said.
   Whether Investigations remains as one of the choices offered to schools depends on the work of the review committee, Seastrand said.
   Likewise, he can't say whether Saxon or Singapore math - programs popular among parents who have fled the district - will be among the choices.
   Parents help make choices in other areas within his district through community councils and parent-teacher organizations, Seastrand said. But parental choice over curriculum is something new for the district.
   "This is a door that has opened," he said. "We just want to get out of the divisiveness. We believe the school-choice option is better for local patrons. They'll have an opportunity to be involved in the conversation."