Saturday, May 30, 2009

Hot topic: Everyday Math

An SF K Files visitor suggested that I post the following:
I followed the discussion on your blog concerning Everyday Math in the SFUSD. I left some comments and a link to an article I wrote that generally talked about the problems of math education in the US. Because it appeared in a journal published by Hoover Institution, I was instantly branded as right wing, so of course I would have such opinions.
I'm used to this at this point. There are many parents--liberals included--across many school districts who do not like what passes for math courses. You may be interested in an article that I wrote about my experience tutoring my daughter using Singapore math to escapte the train wreck of Everyday Math. It was just published a little over a week ago. It can be found here:
I suggest you look into using Singapore Math for tutoring your children at home, as many parents have done. I'd be glad to answer any questions you may have about this.


  1. Thank you for posting this. Update:

    Andy Isaacs one of the co-authors and developers of EM. He wrote a response, defending EM. It is here.

  2. so what happens to students whose parents don't happen to be mathematics majors? Even the ones who do have time to re-teach their child.

    How much teaching happens in the classroom vs at home with homework?

  3. In SFUSD - When is Everyday Math used - K-5? Does middle school use Everyday Math?

  4. Everyday Math goes from K-6, but in areas where middle school starts at Grade 6, students will have K-5 of Everyday Math. I don't know what SFUSD uses for middle school math.

    so what happens to students whose parents don't happen to be mathematics majors? Even the ones who do have time to re-teach their child. How much teaching happens in the classroom vs at home with homework?

    Good question. Some parents send their kids to Kumon, Sylvan, Huntington or other places. Or they hire tutors. But for parents who are low income, they wouldn't be able to do that. Unless they teach their children math at home, those students would not get help.

    Your last question raises an interesting point. When real math is learned outside the home, then high SES districts will show high test scores. Such scores are not necessarily indicative of good instruction at the school. Absent data that breaks out how much outside help a student receives, test scores can present an inaccurate reflection of a school's ability to teach math. High test scores may be indicative of a lot of parent involvement, plus outside tutoring in many cases.

  5. Hi folks,

    Can anyone elaborate a little more about what's wrong with Everyday Math? (Besides the annoying "at home" things with bean counting and the like - who has time to do that?!)

    My son has finished his first grade year really jazzed about math. ("Look Dad, the Easter Bunny brought me a times tables book!" exact quote.) I wouldn't say he is out of the ordinary in ability, but definitely interested. He was fascinated by exciting concepts like pi and googleplex; also he independently asked me about equations that have more than two numbers in the string (clearly I'll have to review that terminology!).

    These last aren't things he learned at school, obviously - but he developed enough interest to follow up in off-hours chat.

    Anyway, I'd be curious to hear more about what people don't like about EM, specifically. Just curious - I am not an advocate of EM or anything.


  6. Yule Tree:

    If you haven't done so, read the article I wrote which SF-K provided a link to for this post. Then go to this link here . It is Andy Isaac's response to my article in which he defends EM. What you might find interesting are the 50 or so comments that follow his response. The commenters provide many examples of the things you are asking for.

  7. Barry,
    This is the second time you've tried to get San Franciscans riled up about EM. Starting to wonder why you aren't getting the reaction you've been trying to incite?

    Two reasons:
    1. We are capable of forming our own judgments based on the readily available research and out own children's experiences with the program.
    2. So far, we aren't particularly horrified by EM.

    Hit the road, Barry.

  8. Well, contrary to Anonymous, I think there's some very interesting information here.

    Now that I have read the letters back and forth and the comments on the link that Barry Garelick included above, I think I can see what is at issue.

    Commenters (who are, it must be noted, a somewhat self selecting group imho) overwhelmingly felt that the EM system was not challenging enough for their children. That's definitely giving me negative flashbacks from my public school experience.

    However, many commenters also negatively noted the use of the calculator, and that stumped me. I am not opposed to calculator usage, in general. It is the 21st century, after all. Calculators, keyboards, etc, I am not uncomfortable with that.

    What DID freak me out was googling "lattice multiplication." That's a big OMG. This blizzard of numbers in a cube made my eyes go blurry.

    As a parent of an incoming second grader, I don't think any of these distinctions matter so much - "everyday" applications are probably appropriate (relative amounts, greater than/less than, money, counting by twos, threes, etc).

    But I do wonder about what appears to be a "narrative" of math. I don't mean narrative in the sense of story problems, I mean that the game or the gimmick of the curriculum eclipses the simpler but more intellectually rigorous traditional math.

    Hmmmm. As Spock would say, "Fascinating."

    -apologies for the long post-

  9. "... I think I can see what is at issue."

    You're partly there. I've had to deal with seven years of this stuff with my son; first with MathLand, and second, with Everyday Math.

    If you open up EM anywhere, you see problems that don't look so bad. Even the Lattice Method didn't bother me that much. However, what I consider to be the biggest problem is that they move from topic to topic too quickly. It's not distributed practice of previously learned material, it's repeated partial learning. This is what they call the spiral. If your child is bright or gets help with math at home, then they can make sure they learn the material the first time they see it. If you can do this, then EM is manageable. This doesn't happen for many kids. Since EM is a mile wide, schools have to keep moving to get to all of the material. They even tell the teachers to keep moving and "trust the spiral". What this means is that after the first couple of years, so many kids are on so many different pages that it is impossible for a teacher to diagnose or solve all of the gaps in knowledge. EM ASSUMES that repeated exposure to the material will solve the problems. It doesn't.

    In my son's case, this meant that the fifth grade teacher had to blow off the timeline and slow everything down. Se had to make sure that all of the kids really knew the basic arithmetic facts. This also meant that she didn't get to 35% of the material in the course. If your child has been kept up to speed already, then (like my son), they sit around most of the year twiddling their thumbs. You can't look at the EM Home Links, Study Links, etc. and assume that the school comes anywhere near covering the material.

    They want you to trust the spiral, but what happens when your child takes the 6th grade math placement exam and gets put onto the math track to nowhere in 7th grade? It's too late. Don't trust the spiral.

  10. As a tutor, one operational problem I have is that Everyday Math has practically no homework. They purposely do not drill concepts until mastery.

    It's not that bad in Kindergarten when the homework is, "Find and trace a few circles." It's ridiculous in 7th grade when the homework is, "Give the slope and y-intercept from this line equation," and there are only 6 equations: 4 in slope-intercept form and 2 in standard form. I can do one or two of each as examples... No, that's practically the entire homework assignment. It makes "help" a lot harder.

  11. Oh, and the San Francisco teachers pretty much all quit the spiral (or the "whirling dervish," as I call it) after trying it only 1 year.