The Cobb School District’s math textbook saga is far from over, as school board members now have the opportunity to consider four new potential textbook purchase options proposed at Wednesday’s work session that preceded an almost two-and-a-half hour long discussion.
The discussion also led Board Chair Randy Scamihorn to direct Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa to send an email to all district staff in the coming week in an effort to dispel rumors spread by emails originating from district employees.
Hinojosa said he plans to send the email out in the next few days.
Scamihorn and other board members said the staff emails contain false information about the April vote to reject a purchase of math textbooks aligned with the Common Core Standards.
In a May 28 email blast with the subject line “share with your department,” Michelle Mikes, the 6-12 Mathematics Supervisor for the Cobb School District, wrote how she is receiving questions from administrators and teachers about when they will receive new textbooks and workbook orders.
“Please make sure today that all administrators/teachers/parents understand the School Board voted 4-3 against adopting mathematics textbooks K-12 with SPLOST 3 funds,” Mikes writes. “So, there will not be any new resources at all for at least the next six years.”
Mikes goes on to warn that the math funds could be used to build “a playground or something of that sort.”
She writes that if they want to encourage the board to change its mind, “then you have the chance to speak up as well. I have done everything in my power that I am able to, it is now up to you,” she writes before going on to describe when the next board meeting is and how to sign up for the public comment portion of it.
Though the textbook talks inevitably failed to get away from the controversial issues surrounding the alignment of the materials with Common Core Standards, some board members seemed willing to consider a compromise that would cost the district less than the originally proposed $7.5 million purchase.
Supporters of Common Core describe it as a way of ensuring that the algebra taught in Georgia is the same Algebra taught in New York or Kansas, but critics claim the standards will lead to a loss of local control and federalize the public education system.
Scamihorn did not give a timeline as to when the proposals would be acted upon, if at all.
Math materials still up in the air
After four different proposals were presented for potential textbook purchases by Chief Academic Officer Amy Krause, it’s unclear whether any of the options — including the initial proposal and three condensed versions ranging from $3.7 million to $6.3 million — would be taken action on in the near future.
While some board members will take the time to consider the new proposals, which ranged from the initial $7.5 million proposal containing all materials deemed needed by an appointed teacher committee to a $3.7 million proposal that included print resources for only teachers and advanced high school classes, Board member David Morgan indicated he wouldn’t support anything but the full original proposal.
“I think that (the original proposal) is the direction that we should go in terms of this math book adoption,” Morgan said when Scamihorn asked board members if they were in favor of the other options.
Board member Kathleen Angelucci said she had a recent conversation with State Superintendent Dr. John Barge, in which he told her the new standards are 90 percent aligned with Georgia Performance Standards, the state’s present standards.
“If it’s 90 percent aligned, I’m trying to figure out why there is such a need to change if we already have the Georgia Performance Standard curriculum in the current textbooks,” she said. “Wouldn’t we just have to supplement to make up that extra, so that if we do stay, we could be aligned, or in the mean time, we could be aligned?”
Krause said the state revised the mathematics curriculum a few years ago and with the shift, the school district did not change its textbooks.
“So that moved a lot of pieces around for teachers,” Krause said. “So they have textbooks, but they may have to pull out two or three textbooks when they are teaching a course as it is now.”
Board member David Banks said he felt the board’s decision was not centered on student and parent needs and failed to consider the district’s textbook recommendation committee’s choice based on general opposition to Common Core.
“I’m concerned that the direction of the board is, we’re trying to dictate what the curriculum and what the text will be as far as what’s being used in the classroom,” Banks said. “If we go in that direction, we’re getting very close to a SACS violation, which is what happened in DeKalb County… We do have power over the purse. But that doesn’t mean we’re supporting our students, our teachers and our parents (with this decision.)”
Scamihorn said he has previously served on textbook recommendation committees where his committee’s recommendations had not been approved. He added he valued the teachers’ hard work in making the recommendation, but that they only represent one point of view.
“But this board represents everyone — the community, parents, businesspeople, students,” Scamihorn said.
Along with board members Brad Wheeler and Tim Stultz, Angelucci and Scamihorn seemed to agree their opposition is not solely about Common Core —it’s about ensuring the money is well-spent in an environment where state politicians have largely hinted that Common Core “has not been put to rest yet,” as Scamihorn put it.
“We want to make sure we are prudent so we can see where the state goes so that we don’t spend $7.5 million and be concerned that we are (stuck) for six years with those textbooks,” Angelucci said.
Morgan disagreed, saying the group of teachers recommended the textbook package with their full support, regardless of changes that could happen at the state or federal level.
“I don’t see how we would be compromising our autonomy or our direction because we have a group of Cobb County stakeholders …who say, ‘This is the direction we want to go,’” Morgan said.
After the work session, Scamihorn said he expected he and other board members would need time to digest the proposals before taking action on them at a future meeting.
For now, Scamihorn said the option considering full implementation is not a “serious option,” but he believed the others to be worth considering.
Correcting the record
Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was quietly supportive of the request made by Angelucci and seconded by Scamihorn to send all district staff a detailed email correcting misinformation regarding the math textbook vote, which was supported by other board members who voiced their frustration over false claims swirling around the community that were rooted in emails from district staff.
Scamihorn said he brought up the emails because they contained accusations that were “about as far from the truth as you can get.”
“The reason I brought this up is… part of the misinformation is that the board may not support our math teachers and we’re going to leave them out there hanging, which is absolutely not true,” Scamihorn said. “I was a little distraught over that, that this is what we’re hearing from parents and teachers. We’re here to give our students the best education that we can possibly afford, but we’re also here to be good stewards of (tax dollars).
Angelucci said a “common thread” in the emails was misinformation that came from someone at the central office that she contended was an attempt to “sabotage” the board’s vote.
“When the board votes on something, whether the central office is happy with it, whether the district is happy with it, it is a vote that we took,” she said. “And this email does not point to that support… instructing teachers and parents to come in here and complain and pressure the board to change their opinion. And that bothers me because it’s one thing to come in with true concern, it’s another for them to come in because they’re being told something that’s not true.”
Wheeler said he hoped the employees who sent the emails were not purposefully trying to mislead others.
“I hope that that’s not true that we’ve got people in our district that are sending out stuff because they didn’t get what they want,” Wheeler said.
Krause apologized and said there was a “misstep in judgment” on the part of the sender(s), who were not identified by either the board members or district staff during the discussion.
The sole speaker to address the board Wednesday was Carrie Newman, a math teacher in her third year at East Cobb Middle School, who asked the board to reconsider their vote on the math textbooks, saying the teachers are in need of the new materials.
“I love the kids. I love seeing the spark in their eyes when they learn something new,” Newman said. “What I do not love is how the county treats their teachers. We’re without textbooks, without updated resources, without adequate access to materials that we need.”
Newman may have been a recipient of the emails as she referenced one of the erroneous claims mentioned in the correspondence, which stated math teachers would not get new textbooks for another six years if the board does not reconsider the vote.
Krause said teachers like Newman are referencing the typical six-year cycle the state Department of Education recommends.
“That’s the pattern of review they (teachers) understand,” Krause said. “A member of the board at any time can choose to purchase materials outside that window. That’s just the cycle they are used to, so I think that’s why that keeps coming up.”
The funds for the textbook purchase would come from SPLOST, and to be considered a capital improvement the books must be used for over a year. The funds could not go toward “building a playground,” as one email suggested.
“It’s this kind of stuff that does not do any good,” Angelucci said. “It’s the kind of thing that causes fear and anxiety where it shouldn’t be.”
The next board meeting will be June 27 at 7 p.m.