Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Should the district keep using Everyday Math?

The district has started up its every-seven-years review of its math curriculum. I know from four years of blogging that there is a good deal of dissatisfaction out there with Everyday Math, the district’s curriculum for elementary school math. I’m no expert on the topic, but my own household’s experience with Everyday Math has not been a particularly positive one. My concerns came down to these four:

First, I thought the Everyday Math curriculum, at least in its current incarnation, sent some mixed messages that were frustrating for the kids. The sense I always got from Everyday Math is that it was designed by people who thought that elementary-age kids just need to be exposed to lots of different math concepts, and that mastery is not important until later. I have some sympathy for that kind of patient approach, but the problem was that the kids felt that they were supposed to have mastered the concepts, and felt frustrated and upset when they hadn’t. There is so much testing all through elementary school; of course if you give kids a math test, they’re going to think you’re expecting them to get the answers right—but often Everyday Math hadn’t equipped them to do so. In the end, the curriculum seemed like neither fish nor fowl: the patiently-cycling-through-concepts was inconsistent with the constantly-testing.

Second, whatever you might think about Everyday Math’s pedagogic philosophy, its materials often seemed needlessly unclear and hard to understand.

Third, because of the first two concerns, I’m afraid Everyday Math creates a lot of bad feelings toward math of the kind that too many people take from their school experience.

Finally, Everyday Math is too reliant on parental help, which raises a serious equity issue. There is a frequent homework, which ought to be unnecessary in elementary school, and many parents feel the need to supplement the Everyday Math program with their own instruction. As a result, kids whose parents can help them end up potentially far ahead of kids whose parents can’t—an advantage that’s compounded by the fact that our system uses math test scores as a criterion for entry into gifted and talented programs and advanced classes in junior high and high school. So it would be a great step forward, in terms of educational equity, if there were a curriculum that enabled kids to learn math in the classroom without as much outside and after-school help.

But I know others have even stronger opinions on the subject. (Feel free to let loose in the comments!) My only point here is: now is the time to speak up. I am hoping (against hope?) that this will be a real review, not just a rubber-stamping of a choice already made, via a committee hand-picked for compliance. The committee should engage in a real debate about people’s concerns about Everyday Math and about potential alternatives. If you have strong feelings on the subject, you should apply to be on the review committee; you can apply using this form. You can also chime in on the email survey that the district is circulating, or by emailing Pam Ehly, the curriculum director, at ehly.pam@iowacityschools.org.


Nik Stouffer said...

Everyday math is an awful program. After years of tears you child has to re-learn all the basics that they never mastered when they reach middle school.

Chris P said...

Wow, I guess I have a completely opposite opinion. My children are both still in elementary school and the one area of the curriculum that has definitely caught my eye is the math program. It is soooo much better than the mind numbing rote calculation classes that I endured as a kid. I did very poorly in math as a child because I couldn't see the point of becoming a proficient machine at arithmetic. Fast forward a few decades an I see what my kids are bringing home instead. Graphs, the basics of functions, word problems, relating fractions to areas, heck even using areas to multiply fractions instead of arbitrary rules. It's just, so much more rich. Calculation is necessary but boring... logic, now that's interesting and useful.
I have no problem with the math program, heck I'd hate to see it go, but it looks like I'm in the minority.

Chris said...

Nik -- Thanks for the link.

Chris P -- Thanks for the comment. I don't think you should assume that you're in the minority, and I appreciate hearing that your family has had a positive experience with Everyday Math.

I'm not against the idea of what you're describing, but my experience is that the program didn't really live up to the ideal, and that it downplayed computation to an extreme degree. One little example: I remember my daughter struggling to subtract one six- or seven-digit number from another. When I went over it with her, I realized that she totally understood how to borrow and carry -- she just didn't know what 17 minus 9 was, or 15 minus 8, etc., so she kept getting the wrong answer. I'm no fan of rote memorization, but moving on to more complex math before the kids are even comfortable with single-digit computation seems like a recipe for frustration.

NL Mom said...

Chris, my daughter is in 6th grade and has had similar struggles with math. There must be a happy medium that helps kids with the concepts and the computation.