Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Aleen Ure, director of math curriculum for Alpine School District, standing at center, listens to a group discuss math programs.

AMERICAN FORK — A committee of parents, teachers and administrators in the Alpine School District is recommending textbooks for two math programs — one from publisher Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley and one from MacMillan-McGraw — for elementary students next year.

The committee also recommends elementary school teachers supplement math instruction with the controversial Investigations in Number, Data, and Space.

So-called Investigations math will not be adopted as a textbook program, however.

"We want kids to learn good, solid mathematics through the lower grades," and the Scott Foresman and MacMillan textbooks will assist with that, said Aleen Ure, the district's math curriculum director, at a Tuesday study session with the Board of Education.

The committee also unveiled a document called "A Comprehensive Approach to Balanced Math," which describes the district's strengths and weaknesses in math education and calls for a program that will help students have quick recall of basic math facts as well as the ability to apply math to the real world.

"We believe that no single program offers all the aspects of instruction needed to proficiency," the statement says.

Barry Graff, the district's administrator of K-12 educational services, hopes to either mail the document to patrons or send it home with students soon.

The district is caught in a national debate about math education, with sides divided between proponents of traditional math approaches and the "standards" outlined by the National Council of Teacher of Mathematics in 1989.

The Alpine schools began using Investigations math, a "standards-based" program, in 2000. Since then, parents have been protesting its nontraditional approach to math instruction — which includes group work but a lack of textbooks.

Proponents of investigations argue that students develop deeper understanding and a love for math. Critics say that students are unable to quickly recall standard algorithms and math facts.

Investigations math was criticized in November 2005 by a legislative committee. The Utah State Office of Education removed it from the list of recommended primary sources of instruction.

The two proposed textbooks are more traditional in their approach, the committee said.

But to continue "balanced math" instruction, which district administrators deem necessary to continue above-average standardized text scores, Graff said he will continue to teach Investigations techniques to teachers. It will be a supplementary program since it has been removed from the state's recommended list.

The Alpine board is expected to vote on the committee's recommendations by the end of the month. If approved by the board, parents, teachers and principals at each of the district's nearly 50 elementary schools will choose one of the textbooks for their programs.

Some members of the Board of Education complained about giving up on Investigations because of the protests by what member Donna Barnes believes is a small but vocal group of parents.

"It doesn't make sense to me at all," she said.

"Amen," board member JoDee Sundberg said.

Board President Debbie Taylor hopes teachers will continue to be trained to teach students deep thinking skills "or are we (just) back to memorizing (math facts)?"

Kyle Tresner, on the school community council of Cherry Hill Elementary in Orem, doesn't mind the district supplementing with Investigations math but wonders whether parental input is necessary, as the district committee has already mandated a balanced approach.

"They're almost billing it like parents are really involved when the only decision you choose is between different textbooks," Tesner said.