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Beware of “Everyday Mathematics”

August 17, 2013

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).

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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 students 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.

  1. poohcornerpens permalink

    I’m a retired secondary math teacher, having taught in public, private and charter schools for about 20 years. I re-careered from a 30 year stint in the US Navy Nuclear Submarine Force, where I was a nuclear propulsion plant watch officer and supervisor, and finishing up as a nuclear engineer at a Naval shipyard.

    I was schooled in the “old” method, just before the “new math” hit in the 60’s. Drill and practice, algorithms, homework, and more drill and practice, etc. It all worked well enough for me, although problem solving was a bit under taught, until I got to college and calculus, but it carried me through Nuclear Power training and operating billion dollar weapons platforms.

    As an educator, I taught as adjunct faculty at a two year college, part time for about 10 years and used the standard college math texts from McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall.

    After my teacher’s training and a couple of Masters degrees, MEd in teaching and MEd in educational technology and curriculum I was thrown on most of the math curriculum committees, starting in 1999. NCLB was in the wings and textbook publishers were maneuvering for positions to sell districts their wares.

    My life for nearly 12 years as a classroom teacher taught me one thing in particular, and that is materials do not drive the boat. They are a tool to implement the curriculum/standards.

    Now here comes the rub. What do you do when your standards are rolling past you at 60 mph? By the time you get your curriculum aligned, it’s time to realign, and on you go. When I retired (medically) in 2010 I felt no closer to having a grasp of teaching to the “standards”, but I was darned sure I didn’t succumb to the “teach the test” syndrome. As a district and school math coordinator I pushed as hard as I could to fight the urge to waste weeks of classroom time. That didn’t make me very popular with district admin staff but I had the support of my building administrator, usually.

    I worked to make my case, sometimes 80 hours a week, including teaching my own classes and doing the prep work for the district meetings, state meetings, etc. I wore myself out.

    The last straw was my final teaching post at a charter school where I was “ordered” to work on practice tests for 4 weeks, assign no homework, have after school “horse” sessions using released items, etc., etc. I refused and was subsequently asked to either resign or be fired. The building administrator at this charter was a seasoned principal from Nevada, who tried to turn this charter into a high performing school overnight. It didn’t matter what evidence/data, etc., we were not going to teach our students to do any more than do well on the state assessment.

    As far as math materials go, I quite honestly don’t believe even the most highly praised systems will work adequately unless math teachers are taught how to properly teach math, and they are then allowed to do their job without the emphasis on immediate performance. Math is a system of building blocks. Unless you understand basic number sense, being able to add, subtract, multiply and divide fractions, decimals, percents, whole numbers, mixed numbers, ratios, proportional reasoning, etc., etc., and can grasp an approach to problem solving then it’s pointless to try and beat the child up with advanced algebra and pre-calculus.

    With that said, Everyday Math, as well as most other “systems” can work, provided enough time is devoted to covering the grade level standards. Heck, I taught using my own materials, scavenged from here and there depending on the unit I was teaching and the standards we were covering. I had a chart up in the room at the beginning of each year for each grade level that had each of the state math standards listed. Each of my students got a replica chart for their notebook and would chart their own progress toward mastery.

    When students learn what is expected of them, and are taught how to get their minds around what the math looks like, almost all students will be able to perform at some optimal level. However, you cannot take a child that is 2-3 years behind their grade level, at least as noted on our somewhat inadequate testing methods, and get them caught up in one year. Give me two years and I can get them close to where they should be, but now with the CCS kids automatically start off 2-3 grade levels behind, even if they previously were proficient.

    You can throw any math materials that are aligned to the CCS at any teacher, at any grade level, and if you don’t change the way that math is taught, and tested, and practiced, then it will be for naught.

    I used maybe 25 different material sets in only about 12 years. One for classroom teaching, one for remediation, one for before school tutoring, one for after school tutoring and one for state test preparation, which I for the most part didn’t use.

    So, in my final analysis, is the culprit EveryDay Math, or any of the other materials listed in the meta-analysis paper (which I did read Mercedes, thanks for that)? Nope.

    I feel parent’s frustrations, and certainly those of teachers, who are essentially being told they are no longer adequately prepared to teach, but the CCS train has left the station and is picking up speed, rolling over everything in its path.

    I’m not a prophet, but I do predict that CCS WILL NOT solve the problems we have in math literacy, or any other subject. Our methodology is simply not aligned with the way kids learn and retain information. Until that is fixed we’re just pushing the rope up hill and wearing ourselves out.

    Hang in there folks. Keep your stick on the ice, I’m pulling for you.

    Jim Sanders
    Tucson AZ

    • I am from your generation. I have been frustrated at the lack of math, critical thinking and effective communication skills for decades. I ran for the school board and joined committees but found little interest in understanding the issues. That seems not to have changed. Too many reject reforms without understanding them.
      The last superpower in the information age and we still have this issue? PREPOSTEROUS!! I agree no solution is perfect so why don’t we focus on keeping what works. We treat this as local concerns not wanting Fed control. But we still share the same concerns and make the same complaints nationwide!!! We need a national discussion, not debate. Why do we repeal Common Core standards thinking the strange methods will disappear when standards do not dictate methods?

    • Nice post, Tom. Thanks!

      • Oops…I meant “Jim”.

        Who’s this “Tom” guy, anyway?

  2. If the only problem with EM and its Middle School version Connected Math is them not explicitly demonstrating standard American algorithms for certain computations, then a teacher could make up that lacuna.

    I have used Connected Math for several years before I retired. It’s not a perfect, foolproof textbook series. But no series or individual math text is. One gap I see is that there is not enough embedded review of prior concepts and skills learned. Some of the math actually gets quite complex–and I’m not referring to computations.

    However, it does have the advantage of showing real life examples and situations in which math is used.

    • poohcornerpens permalink

      I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting for the rest of your post 🙂

      Happy Sunday

    • poohcornerpens permalink

      I also used CMP and out of all the spiral, investigative math programs, I liked it the best. I also used EM, Saxon, and Math-e-matics.

      There are pros and cons to all forms of math materials and as you say, there are no perfect textbooks. It is very difficult for some students to grasp the investigative approach to math but that is where group work comes in.

      I haven’t followed CMP for about 5 years, so I don’t know where it is currently in relation to CCS. I’ll take a look for my own amusement.

      Thanks for your comments.

    • Sorry to disappoint you both, but I am working on other projects.

      As to a suitable math program for K-5: Solve the problem yourselves.

      Pun intended.

  3. susannunes permalink

    I believe EM is University of Chicago, which really says it all.

    It is very similar to Saxon Math with the spiral nonsense in lieu of mastery of math concepts. I hated both when I taught.

  4. susannunes permalink

    There was a reason the old lattice system of multiplication went out of style-it is HORRIBLE.

    Thanks for that video.

    • Michael, are you a math teacher? Do you disdain all parents? Do you appreciate that the success of EM (if it exists) has nothing to do with you or the books but the countless hours and money expended by parents who care if their children can succeed in high school and college math? Could you be more smug?

    • My Paula Deen piece has no relevance to my reaction to your aggressiveness; unwarranted I might add. I could see nothing in the responses previous that would have elicited the tone of your comments.

      So, you like the lattice method? Are you a math teacher? Those are pretty easy questions to answer and I really don’t think they are loaded. It helps to have a frame of reference.

      If you are a parent and like the lattice method then you would be the first one I’ve personally spoken with who does. If you are a teacher and like the lattice method, then you are entitled to your preferences, but I would prefer to have you not teach my child math. No harm no foul. Do you think as a parent who is asked to contribute precious time, effort, and money toward my child’s education that I should have any say in how she is taught?

  5. Dianne permalink

    In 2005, St. Tammany Parish adopted the constructivist approach curriculum Connected Math /TERC/Investigations. A group of parents was successful in getting the parish to buy a brand new textbook for the parish just one year later. See this article that was originally published in the Slidell Sentry.

    The story of how this feat was accomplished has never been widely told. In the article, you can read how the school system told the parents that Grant Wiggins helped them to decide to purchase the Connected Math series. We were told that Dr. Wiggins was from Harvard and we were supposed to be awed and put in our place by this revelation. Many in our parent group felt that we would never be able to successfully oppose what a Harvard professor was supporting. That is, until one mom thought to research Dr. Wiggins, and discovered that he was an English and philosophy teacher; he had no experience teaching math.
    That mom decided to write Harvard’s math department to see what a math professor would think about St. Tammany’s math textbook choices. It was a long shot, but in less than 24 hours, she had a response from Dr. Wilfried Schmid. It began with this sentence: Investigations and CMP are awful choices.
    Encouraged by the swift response, she thought if professors from Harvard would write in opposition to the textbooks, what about writing to other institutions that were renowned for their math programs. Using a US News and World Report to determine the best math institutions, she wrote to what was considered to be the top five math institutions at the time: Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, and MIT. She received letters back from four of the five institutions; MIT did not respond. One professor even wrote back twice. That professor was Dr. James (Jim) Milgram from Stanford. The same Dr. Milgram that was on the validation committee for the CCSS, but refused to sign off on the standards at their completion stating they would set students behind in math.
    In short, the group approached then superintendent, Gayle Sloan, with the information that four of the five top math universities had sent letters condemning the new math textbooks. Knowing that if such letters made their way in to the press the district’s reputation would greatly suffer, a deal was reached with the parents group that if the letters were kept out of the press, new textbooks would be purchased for the parish. There would not be funds to rewrite the curriculum to support the new textbooks, so teachers would have just fit the new textbooks around the existing curriculum. But at least they would have the option to no longer teach from the CMP and Investigations textbooks.
    How do I know about this story? Because I was “that mom”…and I still have those letters, including the two from Dr. Milgram.

  6. Reblogged this on Parents of PVMS and commented:
    I have been saying for a while that our kids are not getting what they need in math. This finally explains why. They are not being taught the basic fundamentals, instead it is some confusing convoluted that is supposed to make them think. All it does is muck up their brains to try and learn this way. I am not against learning alternate ways to solve problems (I do it with my son), but after the basics are mastered.

  7. I recommend efficiency, familiarity, and the drilling of skills. I recommend that teachers and schools have input into their teaching. Everyday Math is the long and convoluted way home, so to speak.
    Parents of K5 students do not need that report to know whether they and their children are not benefitting from EM (or drowning in it, as the case may be).

  8. I use Singapore Math for my daughter and we supplement with Life of Fred (to keep it fun) and IXL to get extra practice if needed. If I think my daughter needs a break from listening to me, I will pull up a video on Kahn Academy.

    I don’t like EM because it is inefficient and the longer an algorithm takes, the more chances there are to make mathematical miscalculations. Also, the lattice method does not, in my opinion, teach any of the ideas that proponents of EM insist partial products does.

    You do not have to use EM as the standard in order to use a different algorithm to help a struggling student. I find that most progressive math programs like to break down problems so that students are multiplying by 10s and 1s only. Baby math. Our children have more potential than that.

    You are asking for some study that shows EM doesn’t work or that the standard algorithm does. I’m not sure why diminishing math skills since new math programs have been introduced is not good enough for you. While it might not prove the Standard Algorithm is best, it certainly should suggest that EM and the like are not working. Given that parents hate it, why should any more time be wasted on it?

    • Richard permalink

      Singapore Math gives strategies that struggling students can grasp. the use of manipulatives help support the students understanding of the concepts.

  9. Michael,

    I know you say you are done with me here and that if “I want a piece of you”, I can trot on over to your blog. I don’t want a piece of you. You were relevant only regarding your responses to this post about Everyday Math. So, respond or not. I care not.

    But if you are still following, you have not answered a single, simple question I have asked. You, instead, deflect. So the author and I disagree (probably) about the Common Core. So what! you could have left out that useless observation and enlightened me with what your credentials are in teachimg math to elementaey school students. Why send me on an internet scavenger hunt? I looked you up, and other than blogging, I’m not sure what a math coach does. You excel at condescending remarks. Does that qualify you to teach math to 9-year-olds?

    Your conclusion that the lattice method fell out of favor because the lattice itself could not be printed is a common response that I’m not convinced has any proof. It wasn’t being printed initially and was utilized in the Dark Ages. It is being printed now and a lot of people (not you, of course) hate it. So, did it fall out of favor because it couldn’t be printed or because printing actually allowed more efficient methods to be taught? But is that even relevant? That it is old and, therefore, valid? My question is, is it making kids more equipped to tackle algebra, geometry, trigonometry, calculus, or physics?

    I tell you what. You get a physics professor and a calculus professor at U of M (no one from the Department of Ed) to endorse the lattice method as a main method of teaching mathematics in elementary school (not just as a cool math thing that works) in eventual preparation for their college courses and I’ll be more willing to consider your position having merit.

    As for Dr. Tanton, I am sure he is a fine mathematician and teacher. However, he taught HS math at a college prep high school (private and exclusive and expensive). His focus seems to be on secondary level math and education. I could find nothing he has aimed at elementary school students. I am not sure when, if ever, he sat in a K-5 math class. How about you? You say lattice has merit. Does that mean it is effective in teaching a class of 30 grade school students? In my opinion, the worst thing that happened to elementary education is that it started trying to employ methods touted as effective In middle and high school.


    A U of M Alum

  10. Michael,

    You are all over the Internet defending math curriculum like EM. You are the one who has a closed mind. I had nothing against the way public schools were teaching before I saw the damage it was doing to my daughter and our family.

    I know you cannot teach elementary school students in a public school. Your acerbic style of communication and your lack of respect for the very parents you would rely upon to make your pet project succeed would be a recipe for failure. If you DO teach in a public elementary school, you post under a persona and not the real you.

    My U of M education taught me the importance of mastery of the basics. If you didn’t have that, you were doomed in Calculus 115, not to mention 116. The number of students who thought their AP classes were a replacement for being able to slog through practice test after practice test had a rude awakening. So far, I haven’t had a reason to ask for a refund, but the more you say, who knows.

    Whatever your motivation is to support failing curriculum like EM, go for it. As long as I have a choice, I am not going to lose my mind over the fact that EM is still being used in public schools. I am sad about it, though. And to be clear, my motivations are entirely personal; at least it started out that way. My concern is for my daughter and her future. I have the opportunity to use whatever- and I mean WHATEVER – works best for her. I would even use something you presented if I thought it would help and that is the honest truth. Common Core guidelines, Lima beans, pennies, unifix cubes, fingers, toes, games, rewards, you name it. What I won’t abide is that if something works that it is not allowed because my daughter can’t explain it to a turnip.

  11. Michael,

    I suppose your questions deserve a response that is not typed out with my thumbs on my iPhone. I try and use my iPhone to curb my natural tendency to be long-winded.

    MPG: My, is being ‘all over the Internet” anything like being ubiquitous or, better yet, omnipresent?

    Me: Ubiquitous and omnipresent are synonyms for each other as well as “all-over”. Granted, I think they convey slightly different levels of “all-over”, but to the extent that your presence is nothing like their antonyms – rare and scarce – you choose which adjective fits you best.

    MPG: My divine powers shock even me.

    Me: I know, right?

    MPG: But there’s a world of difference between answering what appear to me to be biased, false, exaggerated, distorted, or otherwise less-than-honest attacks on something or someone and “defending” that thing or person, if by the latter you mean advocating, in the case of a math textbook series, its adoption. I don’t believe you’ll find a case of my doing that in any unqualified fashion, as I’ve yet to see the math textbook series I could give such a recommendation to. But of course, in the world of the Math Wars, failure to condemn a “fuzzy” math book, series, author, teaching method, etc., is tantamount to mortal sin and must be treated as such. So I guess I’m guilty as charged, at least in the eyes of fanatics.

    Me: You cannot remove bias from an opinion; not totally. I am biased because I saw “fuzzy math” not working in our school district and with my own child. What I did see was a bunch of second graders trying to teach each other math and failing miserably. My daughter was willing to put a wrong answer down because someone who “knew everything about dinosaurs” told her to. She didn’t learn this from me or her father. She learned this from an educational philosophy that insists when children work together to solve problems, they will arrive at the best answer. Clearly, these same educators have never been confronted with a charismatic 8-year-old that knows that the term Brontosaurus is what the unenlightened call an Apatosaurus nor have they read Lord of the Flies. In any event, to most people who read your posts, you would appear to be supporting Everyday Math. You have highlighted its success in Ann Arbor a number of times (more on that later).

    MPG: In reality, I have no dog in this fight. I get no endorsement money, have written critically about EM and other books where I had issues with something in them.

    Me: You are a math coach, right? Isn’t part of your job teaching teachers to teach curriculum like EM and to make sure they are doing it properly? I apologize if I’ve misrepresented what a math coach is. It is a new term to me. At first I thought it was someone who was a tutor to children, but I guess in today’s world, even the teachers need supplementation when it comes to math.

    MPG: What I’ve NOT done is insist that it is a tool of Satan, that all must shun it, etc. I’m sure you’re JUST as fair-minded in pointing out deficiencies in, say, Singapore Math, right?

    Me: I have found a few mathematical errors in the Singapore Math answer guide which I have rolled my eyes at. Seriously, you would think publishers could find the math errors in simple grade school texts, but, then again, we have had so many people fed on fuzzy math that they are now in positions that require some math skills. Perhaps an answer like 274 looks very reasonable when rounding to 200 tells you so, but it surely doesn’t tell you that the correct answer was 275. Oh well. I do not use the answer guide. I work through every problem to check my daughter’s work. This allows me to keep my own math skills sharp and she often gets to see me do the work also. I know…..booorrrrinnngggg!

    MPG: But what, exactly, do my views on EM, et al. have to do with you and your child? Seems like you’re free to teach from what you like and are doing so. I applaud your resoluteness in the education of your own child.

    Me: Your views are relevant to the extent that I might not always be free to teach my child at home. Also, I saw -with great consternation, I might add – the effects that the math programs had on elementary school students and your average middle and high school student. These people will run the world one day. But I seriously do thank you for supporting my choice to educate at home. So many educators are not so gracious.

    MPG: If you were to stop there, there’d really be no argument. You could teach your daughter what and how you like. I would go about my business. I won’t be coming to your house to tell you what to do. So shouldn’t you be happy?

    Me: See above. By the way, I am happy for my family. I wish more families had this opportunity.

    MPG: Well, apparently not. You go on to write, “I know you cannot teach elementary school students in a public school. Your acerbic style of communication and your lack of respect for the very parents you would rely upon to make your pet project succeed would be a recipe for failure. If you DO teach in a public elementary school, you post under a persona and not the real you.”
    Well, it’s quite remarkable that you keep harping on my “lack of respect for the very parents. . . , etc.” in that I can’t see which parents you’re talking about, exactly.

    Me: I am talking about the parents you are dismissing by saying they are close-minded because they do not support EM or its philosophy represented in other equally bad math curriculum. You have called ME close-minded and that is just not a very accurate conclusion. I gave public elementary school three years. I am taking the last three years for myself and my family. Someone close-minded might have started home schooling from the beginning.

    MPG: Are you saying that in order to teach at a public school, a teacher must “respect” the opinions of each and every parent of each and every student s/he teaches, on every issue, and in particular on the textbooks being used (which in K-12 are often partially or entirely out of the hands of the teachers)?

    Me: Yes, this is my experience. Everyone is so politically correct in public school, it is a parody of political correctness.

    MPG: So that if Parent A thinks that Book X is fabulous, while Parent B believes that Book X is a monstrosity that is putting children on the fast-track to idiocy and Satanism (with a little Communist garnish), the teacher should, . . . well, do what, exactly?

    Me: In a perfect world, the teacher could have the ability, authority, and support to try a different curriculum with that student. But they do not. They are forced, through political correctness, even if they do not buy into the curriculum, to pretend they do. Meanwhile, these same teachers end up sending their own kids to math tutors when their children hit middle school.

    MPG: Your vast experience as a K-12 teacher tells you to do what? Oh, you have no such experience. . . , hmm, what a bummer for the poor teachers caught in that dilemma.

    Me: I have one and a half years of experience formally teaching my daughter. I had three years of experience in public school teaching my daughter both what the teachers expected me to teach her at home and what I expected that the teachers should be teaching her at school and were not. I have three years of experience tutoring other parents’ children at our public school because these children did not qualify for Title I but were not even meeting the abysmal level of “average” that the state requires. So, the school trusted me to tutor; though I’m pretty sure that this should not be an endorsement of my teaching and/or tutoring abilities. It always made me very uncomfortable, because should we really be relying on unrelated parents to catch the children falling through the cracks? Besides, most parents who were helping at school were there strictly to make sure their little angels were getting what they needed.

    MPG: The reality is that I respect the rights of people to have opinions and to express them. I don’t believe, however, that that gives them the right to dictate curriculum or pedagogy.

    Me: I agree…with a caveat. If your curriculum requires a significant amount of parent involvement and expense outside of school for an average to bright child, then you have just invited my big mouth into the fray. I will have something to say about it, and by God you will listen, and yes, I expect there to be change.

    MPG: And if you believe otherwise, I would like you to explain how that plays out in a class with only TWO (let alone 20) strong-opinioned, vocal, activist parents who hold competing and opposite views about, say, math textbooks, or math pedagogy, or math content, or. . . .

    Me: See, above.

    MPG: And if this is K-5, there are questions about how to teach literacy, what books are “okay” for the kids to read, which comprise the promotion of black magic and Satan worship (I taught the first three Harry Potter novels in an elective course “The Literature of Fantasy” in spring of 2000. A few hours from the school, a superintended went through the district’s school libraries pulling all copies of the Harry Potter books off the shelves because they encouraged kids to do. . . well, black magic and Satan-worship. Lucky for me, none of the parents of my students were so-inclined and neither were any school officials. Whew!).

    Me: I ADORE Harry Potter!!!!!!!!! I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone well before it became a sensation. By the way, if you haven’t listened to Jim Dale read the series on CD, you really are missing out on the complete Harry Potter experience. That said, I respect a parent’s decision that their child not be allowed to read Harry Potter. Should these books have to be pulled from library shelves? No. And I would fight tooth and nail if someone tried to do that at our public school, even though I’m not there anymore. I wouldn’t shed a tear, however, if Junie B. books and American Chillers were pulled from shelves. But, alas, these literary masterpieces have been determined to make kids like to read; assuming they CAN read.

    MPG: So by all means, explain to me and other teachers how to do our jobs. I have no doubt that you are brimming with opinions. And of course, no other parent we might have to appease and show respect to could possibly have a viewpoint in conflict with yours. Or in harmony with mine. So who wins? Who makes the call?

    Me: Yes, I am full of opinions. It is something we have in common n’est-ce pas? Who makes the call? I happen to believe that when the public education system is working best, parents are kind of out of the equation. There is no reason for them to be so involved. Things work. Well. For the majority. Sadly, teachers and administrators invited parents into the equation when they made them a partner in teaching. Gone are the days when the only time kids saw other kids’ parents was at sleepovers, parent-teacher conferences (if you passed in the hall), and the Christmas pageant. I’m sure THAT is a relic many teachers would like to see revisited. Anyway, I am of the opinion that kids learn differently, at different speeds, and have different capacities for learning. But for some reason, we cannot group them according to these factors. Instead, we have to choose a curriculum that we think addresses the children who might have the most problems grasping math. It is why we choose curriculum that teaches kids to break problems apart so that they are only evey multiplying by 10 or 1. I suggest that a child who can never master multiplying by anything other than 10s or 1s without a calculator is a child who will not be going on to higher math (even algebra), but surely not ever child is so challenged.
    Anyway, I am digressing. The final say in the classroom should be the teachers and administrators, but if enough people are complaining, the teachers and administrators should admit there is a problem and change. No brainer, really. If only one or two parents have a problem, it can still be a legitimate problem, so every resource should be made available to address the parents’ concerns. If they think a different teacher would work, let them switch. If they think a different curriculum might work, and they are willing to purchase it, why not let them use it? If they tell you that their otherwise bright child can solve math intuitively but can’t explain it in words because they are only 7, then don’t require them to explain it. These solutions all honor the individual don’t they? Isn’t that what “fuzzy math” purports to try to do?

    MPG: How we made it through public school in the ’50s & ’60s without having parents screaming at teachers on a regular basis eludes me. If only those bad parents had “really cared” and seen the brain washing being perpetrated by our teachers, texts, etc., no doubt the Sixties would be remembered as nothing out of the ordinary. No Summers of Love, Woodstock, Altamont, anti-war protests, civil rights marches, Haight-Ashbury, smoke-ins, love-ins, be-ins, teach-ins, free speech movements, etc., because we would have had the RIGHT teaching and the RIGHT textbooks. And of course, the RIGHT common core standards.

    Me: I started first grade in 1971. So, I am on the cusp of that time frame you have outlined. My parents never went to the school except for parent-teacher conferences and the aforementioned Christmas pageants. My parents never helped me (nor were they required to) with my homework. I never saw anyone else’s parents at school except for once in 5th grade when a parent helped with a Valentine Day party. This does not mean my parents did not care about education. I knew if I got in trouble at school, I would get in trouble at home. If I brought home anything less than a B, I was pretty sure they would have a stroke. They expected A’s. Did they expect A’s unrealistically? No, they expected them because they knew that was what I was capable of. Anything else would have signaled a problem that needed to be addressed.
    Today, there are no grades for most of elementary school. Heck, I couldn’t even convince the school that it was worth their while to actually look at my child’s schoolwork before she brought it home for me to peruse. If they had taken the time to look at it with discernment, they would have seen that my child was not always “getting” it or was doing sloppy work. To me, either is a problem. To them, she was average or above average, so there was no problem.
    So, again, at the sake of being boring and redundant, they got through the 50s and 60s without lunatic parents storming into the school screaming at teachers and principals because the educators did their job to the satisfaction of the majority of parents without requiring parents to pick up any slack at home.

    Now, as promised, back to Everyday Math and its “success” in Ann Arbor. I’ve put together a spreadsheet outlining the MEAP scores for the different elementary schools and middle schools in the district. I’ve analyzed how well the students were doing in math AND reading (as I thought reading proficiency would have at least some effect on a math program which has a lot of reading and writing involved). I’ve analyzed the change in math scores year-to-year within schools and between elementary and middle school. I’ve analyzed Median Household Income and education attainment of the adults. And then I have included my own district at the bottom. Since I do not know how to insert a graphic in a reply, I have just provided a link to the spreadsheet below.

    What this data suggests to me is that once the students in Ann Arbor start middle school and begin working on higher math concepts, their elementary math lessons leave them unprepared. Every single middle school in Ann Arbor had lower proficiency rates in math at the end of middle school than they did at the end of elementary school. Ann Arbor students certainly manage to retain more of their elementary school achievement than students in most other districts I’ve studied, but their income levels are higher and their education levels are through the roof; both advantages help to offset the deficiencies in their elementary math program (i.e., smart parents help their kids themselves or busy, rich parents can afford to pay for outside tutoring). But you notice in my school district, which performed at about the same level as Ann Arbor in Elementary school, that proficiency rates took a gigantic nosedive upon entering middle school. By the end of middle school, math proficiency is almost 30% lower than it was in elementary school. Income levels in my school district are about 17% less than in the Ann Arbor school district and the educational attainment percentage is less than half that in Ann Arbor. Many parents just aren’t equipped educationally or economically to provide the help that their idea-rich, skill-poor, calculator-dependent, peer-needing children require. Perhaps if they let kids take tests as a group, like the way math is being taught as a group project, then kids would do better (assuming the dinosaur nerd isn’t the leader). Instead, kids in our district get virtually no practice in taking tests on their own until the MEAPS or whatever else is coming down the pike now. And even in Ann Arbor, where these very bright PhDs are sending their kids to school, the AAPS math specialist Michelle Madden has “introduced a proposal to purchase ‘Do the Math’” which is an early Math intervention supplement; this, according to an article in the Ann Arbor Chronicle. The Chronicle goes on to state that since Ann Arbor has been using EM for the past 13 years, “recent research into the necessary prerequisites for early success in algebra have led the district to begin looking for supportive backup to EDM”.

    I also found it interesting that in Ann Arbor, where the math proficiencies were clearly below the low range, the reading proficiency was also low. Inversely, the two schools where math proficiency was above 90%, reading proficiency was also above 90%. Just some food for thought.

    If a child does not have the skills to be successful in Middle School math, it matters very little (in my opinion) whether they were blissfully, happily ignorant of their weak math skills or hate math because they were required to learn their math facts and practice math problems until their fingers bled. The results are the same according to the pundits on either side of this war: kids who can’t or who won’t do well in algebra and beyond. I must point out, however, that I’ve never actually seen a child’s fingers bleed from solving math problems. And I have seen many children who were required to memorize and practice who developed a deep love of math and were able to put their drill and skill math background to very good use. Never forget that while elementary schools are trying to become shiny, happy day camps with bean bags for lounging with friends while purportedly doing math or reading, colorful math manipulatives, fancy CD players to read books to students, iPads for every student, no requirement to spell or memorize or strive for a higher “grade” or skill, that their students’ favorite “subjects” are still recess, lunch, music and sometimes art. The lesson is that kids didn’t hate academics because they were being forced to do it, they just like to do anything else better.

  12. EM teacher permalink

    My students can do multi-digit by multi-digit addition, subtraction, and multiplication in their head without pencil and paper or calculators using methods they learned in Everyday Math. Why is it so necessary to do old school algorithms just because it is not as easy to do for people who are unwilling to practice new things? I also feel that my students have gained a much greater place value sense than any drilled algorithm would ever do. My students can break down numbers into logical parts to help them make faster calculations which a step by step algorithm rarely does. For those who are willing, I will also conduct lessons for the parents of my students so they can better understand how to help their students but most often my students don’t need the extra help.

    • Teachers should not be hemmed in by any method, especially one foreign to parents who are frustrated at not being able to help their children with their assignments.

    • My “debate” is on what is being pushed as a forced, inflexible means of doing math, one that id foreign to parents who are not morons and wish to assist their children.

      Do not leave any more comments implying my ignorance or willful deception.

      If you like EM, fine, but I do not, and I take issue where it is being promoted as THE way to do math. EM is the long way home in my opinion. If teachers were not being locked onto such methods, that would be one thing. It’s the lock- in that particularly bothers me. But like I stated already, I think EM is a poor system.

      I am done with the matter.

      • Life Long Learner permalink

        Dr. Mercedes Schneider,

        You clearly have a great deal of experience and want to promote messages that can help parents and students. This is a beautiful thing. I was a bit disappointed that you got defensive in this response instead of listening to what felt like was a valid experience from a fellow educator. Of course the comment by EM Teacher could have been phrased a bit better, but I think there is a valid point in understanding alternative experiences. I feel parents who encounter EM and feel that is inefficient compared with the way they learned math. As a high school teacher who has never taught with EM, I first was really floored when I found out about such algorithms. However, I noticed differences in underlying understanding from students who were taught multiple problem solving techniques. I found that some student were better at mental math than others, and when questioning students many of the pointed to these types of non-traditional strategies. With that said, I can only imaging how frustrating it must as a parent not understand the algorithms your child brings home.

        I have really looking into the data on teaching multiple problem solving strategies and how to develop students that can be flexible thinkers. If you get the chance, read Star and Rittle-Johnson (2008) “Flexibility in problem solving: The case of equation solving.” All of this is to encourage you to see people who post as people who have valid experience and that you can learn from your readers. I know you have a background with a PhD in applied statistics and research methods, and I hope that people value your expertise in this area. Likewise, it is important to value others experiences and expertise in what they teach. EM aside, I encourage you to specifically investigate why several reform-based programs are teaching math in non-traditional ways. In this case, I know that you value being a life long learner, and I hope that you plan to really investigate empirical data, as you have been trained to do in your PhD program. I really love how you want to communicate ideas to others. I just want to make sure than in sharing your knowledge recognize that people who disagree with you are not necessarily implying that you are trying to deceive anyone. Rather people have different experience and there is data in favor of teaching math that many of the reform-based mathematics programs promote(The initial post by Jim was an excellent illustration of employing strategies from multiple curricula). As you know a curricula is only a tool, and it can be misused and/or optimized by teachers. Many of the algorithms in EM may not be the most efficient way to get to the answer. However, do they help students become better problem solvers and critical thinkers? The way we teach math in the US could be improved and needs to be improved. Cross-cultural studies and empirical research have shed light ways to do this. There is really good data on this. This is not a pro EM post, but rather a post in favor of teaching students using different algorithms and problem solving strategies.

        Thank you for reading. Keep writing and keep learning!

      • Sarah, I have offered another EM teacher the opportunity to write a guest post on my blog, but the person chose not to take me up on the offer.

  13. Everyday Math is HORRENDOUS! A serious miscarriage of curriculum. It cannot be taught in 40 minute classes. It doesn’t expect a student to achieve mastery & jumps around like a rabbit on crack. Imagine teaching literature by having a kid start a new book each day for 30 days in a row. How is that a sound practice? And saying, “It revisits concepts throughout the year and all students eventually get it by the end” is all well and good *if* you only test them at the end of the school year. It’s asinine. Kids don’t master basic facts, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. Everyday Math is a hot mess.

  14. I’m sorry I missed out on this post but will put my 2 cents (times 100,000), now:

    1) Everyday Math was rolled out shortly after the NYCDOE decided to change over to a more “process over product” approach. I was sent as a rep of my special education schools (D75 in NYC) to a PD which proved to be the unveiling of the change. What was particularly unusual was that it was the first time that general and special ed were sent to the same PD to learn the same system. They made it clear that this new curriculum series would apply to all students, regardless of classification or functional level (though they didn’t cite EM as the specific curriculum to be used, at the time).

    I knew that this shift would be tough on my emotionally disturbed students, most of whom were significantly below grade level in both math and reading, so I said as much and asked the speaker why they were making such a radical, all encompassing shift.

    She said that the BOE (not the DOE, yet) had approached the heads of some of the most successful Fortune 500 companies and asked them what they wanted from our NYC graduates. The answer was that they needed “problem solvers”. They could put a calculator on every desk for peanuts.

    This is significant because:

    A. It mirrors Everyday Math’s philosophy about the efficiency of calculators vs the onerous and inexact science of teaching/learning to calculate as a human being.
    B. It was the first time that I witnessed our education department deferring to the wishes of the business community. And it sure wasn’t about to be the last.

    A couple of years later we bought the Everyday Math series for all of our sites. It was the only option. For all the schools. I was using a very popular, well regarded, and effective remedial math program with my kids at the time and was told to drop it, immediately. “Not enough word problems”. At the school EM professional development sessions I was told to keep my mouth shut. The ship had sailed and I had to be on board.

    The problems with EM became obvious very quickly. After school parental involvement was a key component to the success of the program (as was stated in the introduction to the series). Considering that the vast majority of our students came from broken (if any) homes located in poverty and crime stricken areas, this was a knockout punch from the start. Those whose parent(s) did/could put the time and effort into helping out at home were all (all) extremely confused by a system that was totally alien to what they’d learned in the past. Homework assignments were usually not done or answers were figured out, using the “old math” way (which I was told to consistently discourage).

    I was given one grade level series to work with: 3rd grade. It was the average of the different functional levels at which my students were functioning. Many couldn’t read the word problems. Those that could didn’t understand them. The method was very different from what we’d been using, with success, previously. They started to complain. A lot. They’d get restless and fight in class (a normal occurrence, but one that hadn’t happened during my remedial math and reading lessons). They’d make pistols out of the base 10 building blocks and “kill” each other. There was no learning …but we had to put on a show. At one point I pulled out the remedial series which I’d hidden (the kids were so happy). My AP saw this and told me that if she saw those books again, she’d personally burn them. Admin was under a lot of pressure to use the EM series.

    2) Back on the home front, my daughter (a very bright general ed first grader) was using the EM first grade series. None (none) of her friends’ parents (well educated) understood the methods behind the assignments and they all knew that I DID because I was teaching the “new math system”. So I’d have 3 or 4 extra kids over after school to spend about an hour, every day (math), so that they could get the work done with a degree of understanding.

    Yes. Parental involvement was crucial.

    3) A year after our sites had invested substantial money on the first edition of Everyday Math, I was sent to a second PD, unveiling the new and improved version. There had been complaints from the special education community, so this new rollout had a “differentiation” section at the beginning of every unit and the end of every lesson (I believe it was in attractively colored purple boxes?). Although I could appreciate the effort, it really was pretty obvious stuff that we’d already tried with very limited success. The problems went much deeper than the teaching of the units and lessons. The results were the same as with he first series, unfortunately.

    The kicker on this one was that we had to shell out more money from our individual school budgets on this new version, INCLUDING all new manipulative kits. We’re talking a LOT of money, here…and then we had to get rid of the still well maintained books and kits from the first series to make room in the book closet for the newbies.

    We were forced to use the Everyday Math series for almost a decade under the Bloomberg administration. The pressure was eased after a while and we eventually went back to the remedial series we’d had so much success with, previously.

    Everyday Math, to my eye, heralded the beginning of the heavy handed education reform movement and was indicative of all that followed. Upper admin, acting like the private sector managers they really were, looked for and found a system that had shown promise at some very high performing schools and forced it on everyone, demanding the same results. “What you’ve been using is useless, now. This method is better because it will make the kids more successful in college and career. Make it work or we’ll try to fire you and close your school”. But these were KIDS functioning at many, many different levels under very different conditions. Not adults hired to work in a Fortune 500 company. It was a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse and then being held accountable for the results.

  15. I guess I was one of the 1st people to use this program in 2004. I was surprised when I saw today people are still using it. Not because it was bad but because I thought it would have been pushed out due to it’s practicality. I found it to be very useful. My students liked the games and took will to the practice sheets when assisted. I was working at a tough school in Harlem and my 4th grade top class scored very well after using the program. Just saying. Its not the worst thing out there.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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