Newport-Mesa parents and teachers urge speedy switch to new math curriculum

A truck with a message appears in the parking lot outside the Newport-Mesa school district board meeting Tuesday.

A truck with a message appears in the parking lot outside the Newport-Mesa school district board meeting Tuesday.

(Alex Chan | Daily Pilot)

A dump truck with a red painted sign reading “Dump Swun now, kids deserve better” sat in the parking lot outside the Newport-Mesa Unified School District board meeting Tuesday evening as parents, teachers and students told district trustees of their frustration with the Swun Math program and urged the board to adopt an alternative curriculum.

Before they spoke, John Drake, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the district already was considering a pilot program using different math materials that could start in January. Ideally, he said, a recommendation on which program to use going forward could be given to the board by the end of April.

But parents and teachers said they believe it can be done faster.

District elementary schools began using Swun Math in 2013, and teachers and parents say materials for the curriculum contain typos and other errors.

Newport-Mesa trustees approved an agreement in June with the Cypress-based company to use the curriculum again this school year, though parents urged trustees to look at other options.

Swun Math did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

But last year, program director Carrie Mitchell told the Daily Pilot that when the company finds errors, it posts the corrected material on its website. She added that a 2014 article posted on described Swun Math as a “widely praised program.”

This summer, a team of Newport-Mesa parents, teachers and students researched alternative math programs used by other Orange County school districts.

According to team member Erica Roberts, a parent at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach, the group supports Go Math!, published by Boston-based Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Go Math! is one of several programs on a list adopted by the state Board of Education.

Swun Math is not on the list, but a local education agency can use instructional materials that aren’t adopted by the state board as long as the materials pass review by a majority of teachers in that subject area, according to the California Department of Education website.

Parents who lined up Tuesday to address the Newport-Mesa board aired several grievances about Swun Math.

Some said they spent hundreds of dollars on math tutors for their children because the students didn’t understand Swun Math. Others said their children “think they’re bad at math” because they weren’t grasping the Swun program.

“The curriculum has always been the problem,” said Peter Boyd, who has children attending Newport Heights Elementary School. “We have phenomenal teachers in this community. They’re using a faulty tool to instruct our children.”

Janet Phillips, a teacher at Mariners Elementary, told the board that she has spent the past three years dedicating professional and personal time to making Swun Math work.

Last year, the district requested that a panel of 11 teachers perform what administrators called “edits” to the materials to fix mistakes.

Roberts said it would make sense for Newport-Mesa’s kindergartners through sixth-graders to use Go Math! since it has been vetted for the district’s seventh- and eighth-graders.

“Kudos to the board for making this positive change in upper grades,” Roberts told the trustees. “And now all we are simply asking you to do is have that same courtesy with the same program by the same curriculum writer for kinder through six. Have continuity.”

Referring to the pilot program Drake described, Newport-Mesa spokeswoman Annette Franco said Thursday that “the district is working to develop a timeline and to further refine the process, which is aligned with the state Board of Education guidelines for piloted textbooks and instructional materials.”

“This will include teacher committees to collaborate and essentially guide the direction of any future math programs,” Franco said. “We have an obligation to successfully prepare students for the changing [educational] environment, which includes significant changes in how we teach and learn mathematics.”

Retired teacher Laurie Smith said that after consulting with experienced teachers who have been on math curriculum review committees, she drew up a proposal for the district in which a teacher committee could complete a review of a new elementary school math curriculum by Nov. 1, seek board approval by mid-November and have materials distributed to schools the week of Dec. 19.

The Fullerton School District piloted the Go Math! program last year and will fully implement it in its 17 elementary schools this year.

Sung Chi, the district’s program coordinator of educational services, said it took Fullerton eight to 10 weeks to pilot Go Math! and another program, California Math by McGraw-Hill, in the elementary schools and for staff to determine which program to recommend.

“I heard a lot of positive feedback” about Go Math!, Chi said. “But I heard positive feedback with the other program as well.

Go Math! is a mixture of traditional computational problems and word problems, Chi said.

“It’s really about having students understand math through real-life situations,” he said, “but also by using calculations.”