If your school uses Everyday Math, you should be extremely watchful. Everyday Math is problematic because it is a language-intensive-based program that
- stresses the use of calculators,
- wants the kids to come up with their own ways to solve the problems
- doesn't teach the traditional algorithms (the multiplication and division methods that they teach break down when using large numbers, but there is absolutely no reason to be able to compute large numbers nowadays, is there?),
- and does not advocate drill in any form.
Now, this means that some kids lose out:
- Kids who might have a language problem but would be really good at mathematics,
- kids who need the "rules" first and then they can come to the concepts (think phonics versus whole language),
- and kids who need drill in order to retain concepts.
Furthermore, if your child is mathematically gifted and is good in language, this program is just not advanced enough.
My town uses this and it is a disaster for both my kids. My daughter falls into the categories of needing the rule, then the concept and needing more drill. I am drilling my daughter in math concepts using a computer program, and she has improved dramatically. On the other hand, my son is so bored it is frightening. Particularly frightening is that I have read that it leaves out concepts that you need in order to go on to math at the highest levels. I’m doing more research on that now.
How did I find out about this and come to these conclusions? The state standardized tests; literally, thank God for the state standardized tests, the only test that allows a glimpse of what might be happening within the schools before it is too late. My daughter received a “needs improvement” on her 4th grade math scores. Meanwhile, her math grades were all fine -- nothing that showed she should have received a needs improvement.
Of course, on receiving the score, I immediately contacted the school and asked for a copy of the test and her answers, which I received. I had her take the test in my kitchen to make sure that the results were valid. They were. Only one question off. I asked for a teacher conference, which I received. Her teacher didn’t seem concerned and said that she wasn’t a candidate for remedial math, and I can see why. My daughter gets concepts pretty quickly, but if she doesn’t drill to retain them, then they aren’t retained.
Furthermore, I found out at a school committee meeting that my daughter’s elementary school didn’t implement the curriculum correctly in comparison to the other schools in town. Everyday Math is based on a spiral – keep teaching the same concept in small doses each year. If you don’t get it that year, you will get it the next. Well, the teachers at my daughter’s school slowed down the curriculum so most children got it the first time. They didn’t go ahead as fast as they should have. As a result, they didn’t finish the program each year, and my daughter never was exposed to some key concepts at all. (This has since been fixed, but the parents who didn't listen to that school committee meeting were not informed.)
Fast forward to the end of 5th grade. It turns out that they give a pretest and a posttest for the curriculum. In other words, they give the final at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year to track the learning. My daughter received a 25 at the beginning of her 5th grade year in math, but she only received a 69 at the end of the year. Obviously, one year didn’t make up for what she was missing.
Clearly, intervention was needed. In the summer at the end of 5th grade, I had her try the Aleks computer program in math, www.aleks.com. The Charter School in my town uses it, and I decided to try it for my own daughter. A tutor would have been expensive and less than optimal in this situation because my daughter does get concepts, she just needs more drill (how can most kids hone their number sense if they aren’t ever asked to multiply and divide numbers continuously), and she needs algorithms that have fewer steps so there is less possibility of error (everything that Everyday Math does not provide.)
According to Aleks, my daughter only knew 21% of a traditional 5th grade curriculum – and this was at the end of 5th grade. Talk about having a heart attack! This was soon remedied. My daughter is now in the 6th grade and she has completed the 5th and 6th grade curriculum according to Aleks. I’m looking forward to the tests at the end of the year to see if my intervention worked.
All of the things that apply to my daughter don’t apply to my son. He gets everything the first time, including figuring out the multiplication tables, etc. He doesn’t need drill. He just needs to spend more than 60 seconds doing his math homework – something that is a bit more challenging. He isn’t going to get it from this program or the town’s teaching methods. When teaching reading there is more sophistication in the teaching methods, kids are broken out by ability and then brought back together. In math, every kid is the same. And every kid SHOULD learn math the same way; it doesn’t matter what their learning style is or what their strengths are – it doesn’t matter what IS.
So, bottom line? Kids in upper income communities will probably do OK despite the Everyday Math curriculum. Why? Because there are parents like me to pick up the pieces. If it isn’t Aleks, then it is high-priced tutors or mom or dad working with the kids each night. If there are concepts that are missing that are needed to become a mathematician, we’ll find out what they are and make sure they learn them.
Where Everyday Math will do real damage is in the communities who don’t have the knowledge or the resources to overcome the shortcomings.
And, sadly, who really gets shortchanged here? The kid who might be mathematically gifted but who has a language disability. All kids should have the opportunity to be good at something; these kids can’t even have that.
To find out what it could do if parents don't pay attention, read this: How Not to Teach Math, New York's chancellor Klein's plan doesn't compute, by Matthew Clavel (City Journal, Mar 7, 2003).
To find out what concepts are missing, read this: Review of the Everyday Mathematics Curriculum and its Missing Topics and Skills, by Tsewei Wang (April 9, 2001).
And for lots more criticism, go to this page: Reviews of UCSMP Everyday Mathematics.
Update: And for lots of contrarian views, read the comment section.
BTW, I'll be writing more about this, but my daughter made it into the "accelerated" math class for next year based on three things: her test score, her grades, and her teacher's recommendation. What a difference working with a traditional curriculum makes! Of course, her success will be attributed to the Everyday Math curriculum. But helping my daughter is much more important than "proving" a curriculum is broken for a lot of kids. And more math help here.
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