Beware of “Everyday Mathematics”
A week ago, I was contacted by a Louisiana parent whose child was subjected to a K – 6 math “curriculum” developed by the University of Chicago Mathematics project and published by McGraw Hill, Everyday Mathematics. Three editions of Everyday Mathematics have been released, the most recent in 2007.
A major flaw with Everyday Mathematics is the teaching of inefficient mathematical algorithms (the formulas and sequential steps one uses in order to perform a math problem). In general, the kids don’t master mathematical operations; instead, they become steeped in confusing procedures. Everyday Mathematics is also calculator-dependent. This Seattle blogger notes particular deficits of the supposedly-CCSS-aligned curriculum that in 1999 was rejected outright by the math and science communities:
Almost as soon as the first edition was released, it became part of a nationwide controversy over reform mathematics. In October 1999, US Department of Education issued a report labeling Everyday Mathematics one of five “promising” new math programs. The perceived endorsement of Everyday Mathematics and a number of other textbooks by an agency of the US government caused such outrage among practicing mathematicians and scientists that a group of them drafted an open letter to then Secretary of Education Richard Riley urging him to withdraw the report. The letter appeared in the November 18, 1999 edition of the (Washington) Post (as a full-page ad) and was eventually signed by over two hundred prominent mathematicians and scientists including four Nobel Laureates (one of whom, Steven Chu, has since become Secretary of Energy), three Fields Medalists, a National Medal of Science winner from the University of Chicago, and… some chairs of math departments. [Emphasis added.]
Everyday Mathematics is not preparing students for higher-level math. Texas, a state that has not signed on for CCSS, dropped Everyday Mathematics when the third edition was released (2007). The news made it into the New York Sun:
The state of Texas has dropped a math curriculum that is mandated for use in New York City schools, saying it was leaving public school graduates unprepared for college.
The curriculum, called Everyday Mathematics, became the standard for elementary students in New York City when Mayor Bloomberg took control of the public schools in 2003.
About three million students across the country now use the program, including students in 28 Texas school districts, and industry estimates show it holds the greatest market share of any lower-grade math textbook, nearly 20%. But Texas officials said districts from Dallas to El Paso will likely be forced to drop it altogether after the Lone Star State’s Board of Education voted to stop financing the third-grade textbook, which failed to teach students even basic multiplication tables, a majority of members charged. …
Texas officials said Everyday Math’s publisher, McGraw Hill, began scrambling to keep its curriculum on the state’s okay list the minute board members indicated they might vote it off. After concerns were first raised at a long meeting last Thursday, McGraw Hill officials arrived the next morning at 9 a.m. sharp with seven full sets of additions to the text, including new worksheets and teacher guides, state board members who attended the meeting said.
“I think they were in a state of shock, like those of us who were on the non-prevailing side,” Ms. Knight said. “I think they were truly mystified.” [Emphasis added.]
Altering a curriculum provides opportunities for businesses to garner profits. Texas is a large market to lose. I am certain this was on the minds of McGraw-Hill at 9 a.m. “that next morning.” What is useful for children, not so much.
Time to experience some “everyday math.” In the 15-and-a-half-minute video below, meteorologist M. J. McDermott demonstrates the inadequacies of two reform-math curricula, Everyday Mathematics and Investigations in Numbers Data, and Space (TERC). She was prompted to produce this video in 2007 based upon her experiences years earlier entering the undergraduate math classroom as a mid-career student in need of both calculus and calculus-based physics to pursue a degree in atmospheric science. As she discusses at the end of her video, her math skills twenty years out of high school surpassed those of her fellow students who had just graduated. As McDermott states, “And now, my children are in elementary school, and I know why students are not more prepared for college math and science.”
Regarding Everyday Mathematics, McDermott observes, “Why not teach the most efficient and internationally known algorithm?” She notes that the “new,” less-efficient methods are unfamiliar to parents, thus placing parents at a disadvantage to help their children with even basic math homework.
As McDermott notes, here it is, straight from the Everyday Mathematics manual:
The authors of Everyday Mathematics do not believe it is worth student’s time and effort to fully develop highly-efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms for all possible whole-number, fraction, and decimal-division problems. Mastery of the intricacies of the algorithms is a huge endeavor, one that experience tells us is doomed to failure for many students. It is simply counter-productive to invest many hours of precious class time on such algorithms. The mathematical payout is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator. [Emphasis added.]
Yet students of Everyday Mathematics are required to solve problems using obscure, inefficient, and awkward methods. Go figure. (Pun intended.)
From a researcher standpoint, let me add that students using Everyday Mathematics are being tested on adjusting to and mastering unorthodox methods rather than on acquisition of math skills.
I can readily see where Everyday Mathematics would easily produce high frustration levels in both students and their parents.
The parent whose upset prompted me to write this post included the following regarding her child’s experience with this reformer nonsense math:
At this young age, daily tears were the norm every day after school trying to work these math problems. One particular day, we took her out on the Lakefront to relax a bit where she fell (probably from stress) and broke her arm. I so hope that other children will not have to go through what my child went through.
I will scan copies of a psychological evaluation of my daughter who I was told had a learning disability when she could not grasp this math in the 4th and 5th grade. We literally had to spend thousands of dollars between tutors and therapists to try to rehabilitate both her math ability and her attitude with respect to same – to this day – she feels that she is a loser in math. She is now a junior at (high school). [Emphasis added.]
This is a distressed parent who wants a voice concerning the damage done to her daughter as a result of being forced to master not math, but Everyday Math. Below I have included this student’s evaluation for placement into the gifted program at school (her name has been removed).
She was tested following her exposure to two years of Everyday Mathematics. Her scores on the Woodcock-Johnson achievement test reveal the deficit in her math skills. The school psychologist administering the evaluation observes that her math scores are average but that this is out of step for her intelligence and achievement in other areas. He also recognizes that the student experienced distress in math. Consider this excerpt from her evaluation:
As a final point regarding intellectual testing, the examiner would mention that this individual actually meets the most stringent of requirements as referenced in Executive Bulletin 1508 (the evaluation manual currently employed in the schools for special education placement purposes) for inclusion per the Gifted category.
Approximately twenty percent of students that this examiner evaluates that are deemed eligible for the programming as indicated fall into this category.
As a supplement to the intellectual testing, standard academic achievement data has been collected with results posted as per the attached. Please observe that functional reading skills are exemplary and more or less in line with this student‘s functional capabilities. On the other hand and perhaps in contrast, calculational math and orally-presented skills are very disappointing and reminiscent of what would be expected from a student of perhaps low to mid-average intelligence. In all honesty, the examiner is not sure as to account for the discrepancy in terms of aptitude and mathematics performance, but of course I would remind the reader that the parents have been concerned that the subject has not been receiving proper educational instruction as would relate to mathematics this last year, and again, this has caused the concern and interest in perhaps changing the educational instruction strategy by offering the child the opportunity to attend a different school. …
While it is completely normal for an average child to function at an average level in mathematics, this individual should perhaps be functioning at a year or two above grade level, but she doesn’t. In this respect my observation that the parents are concerned as to mathematics productivity or lack thereof is well founded. [Emphasis added.]
This student was able to escape her terrible reform-math experience, but not before she was traumatized.
Most students cannot escape.
By forcing reform-driven curricula onto our students, we are creating an artificial illiteracy in scores of children.
The profiteers are pilfering the public school classroom. Everyday Mathematics is yet another tool in the box of reformer destruction of American education.
Post script: For those inclined to reading research studies, this is an excellent meta-analysis of approaches to teaching math; it includes detailed discussion on study limitations.