Friday, February 24, 2012

What is Wrong With Everyday Math?

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the Math coordinator for Greenwich Public Schools, at his invitation, to discuss my thoughts on Everyday Math.  We both realized from the start that we were not going to change each other’s mind (he is a supporter), but we had a excellent discussion on the issues (as I see them) and on the pluses (which I recognize exist and understand).  I appreciate the openness shown by all members of the administration.

The primary issue with EDM is structural, i.e., how the material is presented.  If the structure is flawed, anything you build on it will be weak.  Educational theory holds that factual, procedural, and conceptual learning should occur in parallel.  Problem is that not enough of the factual knowledge is being practiced, and the wrong types of procedural knowledge (i.e., non-standard algorithms) are being emphasized.


1.    EDM spirals, does not have a clear progression of topics, and does not teach to mastery in a compressed timeframe.  “A focused, coherent progression of mathematics learning, with an emphasis on proficiency with key topics, should become the norm in elementary and middle school mathematics curricula. Any approach that continually revisits topics year after year without closure is to be avoided.” (NMAP Finding 1)  EDM may claim that research supports the distributed nature of its instruction, but research actually supports distributive practice, not distributive instruction. 

2.    Further, the actual distributed practice is insufficient to provide for a solid foundation in either the core math facts or the core algorithms.  EDM spreads the practice over years, while it should be weeks or months.  While the fact practice can be supplemented, the actual supplementing in GPS is inconsistent across schools.

3.    As shown by the recommendations of the CCSS, EDM covers too wide of a set of topics, contributing to its lack of coherence and focus. 

4.    The language intensive nature of EDM presents an extra challenge for Special Educations and English Language Learner students.  “Special Education students need structure and coherence, direct explicit instruction, more individual work, less group work, clarity of purpose, incremental goals, practice and repetition, regular assessment of skills and knowledge, a textbook, and meaningful graded homework. Homework assignments aligned with class work, textbook and tests will provide guidance and feedback to parents to support their children's home work and study.” (taken from a discussion with a NYC Special Education administrator, commenting about the adoption of EDM).

5.    Homework problems stray far from mathematics (geography, art) in an attempt to be “everyday.”

6.    Calculators – EDM requires and encourages the use of calculators.

7.    Parents struggle to understand and help because the terminology/ language/ procedures are different than traditional elementary math and more advanced math. By learning non-standard terms and algorithms, the student will struggle when (1) they reach a traditional program (college mathematics) which uses only standard terms and (2) the alternative algorithms break down because of inherent flaws or excessive time requirements.

8.    Lack of text book to aid students and parents.  EDM reference book is not helpful, and in some cases in not even given out.

9.    Time spent on a number of inappropriate topics (e.g., military time, geoboard designs, probability), when basic skills are not secure.

Factual Knowledge

1.    Insufficient drill for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division facts.  The schools are relying on parents to conduct the drills, in most cases only if they (the parents) realize there is an issue (i.e., only one of my daughter’s three teachers has indicated that she should drill at home, and that was her ALP teacher).  The point is that if the teacher does not indicate that the student should drill, there is a large probability that the student and parent will not recognize the need, and will not drill at home.

Procedural Knowledge

1.    Insufficient attention to standard algorithms

2.    Too much attention to non-standard algorithms which are not general, not efficient and/ or are not applicable to advanced math

Conceptual Knowledge

1.    Non-standard terms (e.g., “turn around rule” instead of Commutative Property) or made-up terms (e.g., cubes, longs, flats, big cubes), which can only lead to confusion in the real world.  NOTE: these “made-up” terms are part of the world of manipulatives, which students use to visualize concepts, such as place value.  Apparently they were made up after I went to school, but are accepted terms in elementary education.    Probably won’t find them on your Chemical Engineering Thermodynamics final though!

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