To Kanawha, WV, school board re Everyday Mathematics and Saxon Math

by Bas Braams
March 29, 2006

Addressees (by email): William Raglin, Pete Thaw, John Luoni, Jim Crawford, Becky Jordon, and Ronald Duerring

Dear Kanawha School Board Members,

The wonders of Google News searches, on keywords such as Saxon Math and Everyday Mathematics, brought me to your district, first two weeks ago when your newspaper reported a decision to adopt Everyday Mathematics grades 1-5, and again today for an article that reports that you will reconsider that decision at your meeting tomorrow.

Some years ago when Everyday Mathematics was adopted in New York City I studied the grades 3-6 of the program carefully, and I also looked closely at Saxon as it is widely viewed as a superior traditional program. I fully endorse that view, and would urge you to reverse your earlier decision, abandon Everyday Mathematics, and choose the Saxon program all the way grades K-5, or even into middle school.

I have written several brief content reviews of Everyday Mathematics: one on their multiple algorithms for arithmetic and one on the spiraling nature of the program.

The style of those reviews is quite neutral and non-polemical, but I want to make it clear here that I am deeply skeptical about the wisdom of the choices made in the Everyday Mathematics program. I amplified my criticism in an editorial in the New York Sun:

I would like to point you as well to a review by Matthew Clavel, who had to use Everyday Mathematics in his NYC classroom.

Many other reviews and comments on the program may be found via this page, assembled for New York City HOLD:

NYC HOLD (Honest Open Logical Decisions on Mathematics Education Reform) was first established in order to address mathematics education in the New York City schools. It is a nonpartisan national advocacy organization that provides parents, educators, mathematicians and other concerned citizens information, resources and networking opportunities to support systemic improvements in the quality of mathematics education in our nation's schools.

The Saxon mathematics program is entirely solid and has received excellent reviews for K-6 in the detailed content review that is used by the State of California for textbook adoptions. I should make one caution with regard to Saxon: the numbering of their textbooks can be confusing. A title such as Saxon Math 54 may suggest that it could be used in grades 5 or 4, but that would not be a very ambitious choice. In California, Saxon Math 54 is recommended for adoption for 3rd grade, Saxon 65 for 4th grade, Saxon 76 for 5th grade, and Saxon 87 for 6th grade.

With regard to Saxon I would like to point you to an old newspaper article by Debra Saunders in the San Fransisco chronicle. It gives a fair and friendly description of the program, but also points out that it is often met with hostility. The hostility towards Saxon is indeed remarkable, and I interpret it as a general hostility towards disciplined study and education. It is truly unfortunate. You would make an excellent choice to adopt Saxon mathematics K-5 at least.


The same theme of opposition to Saxon was addressed by Jay Mathews in the Washington post, also in 2001.


Yours Cordially,
Bas Braams

Bastiaan J. Braams
Emory University, Atlanta, GA

For the record, here follows the text of the Charleston Gazette March 29, 2006, item that precipitated my letter, and of a March 31 item that reported the Board's decision.

March 29, 2006
Board rethinks math decision

By Anna L. Mallory
Staff writer

Elementary teachers who expect to use the recently adopted math textbooks next year may need to stop planning their lessons.

The Kanawha County Board of Education plans to review its adoption of "Everyday Math" texts at its 3:30 p.m. meeting Thursday. The board voted to accept the new curriculum in grades K-5 less than two weeks ago.

Board member Becky Jordon said the board is hedging because some teachers believe a second method - Saxon math - would be better. Saxon is a scripted method, while Everyday Math focuses on teaching methods rather than formulas.

That debate is not a new one.

Jordon and board member Bill Raglin both expressed concerns about the adoption before joining the majority, and a panel of teachers countywide has been arguing the point for two years.

"I guess when I'm real torn on a vote, sometimes I look at [Superintendent Ron Duerring] and say, 'how do you feel,' and Ron said this is very good. He has the education background where I don't," Jordon said. "But, you know, after that vote that didn't settle with me. I didn't feel it was a good vote."

Any new series will be used for the next five years, per state regulation. Duerring said he backed the adoption of Everyday Math because it would introduce students to new ways of learning.

Duerring directed two committees in the last two years to select the county's new elementary math books. Last year, a committee could not reach a consensus and Duerring scrapped their ideas. This year, more than 40 teachers voted.

Teachers sometimes missed class to attend the meetings, but they eventually settled on a series.

Some still wanted to use Saxon, but most touted Everyday Math. Proponents told the board before their vote that Everyday Math would be a new wave in math instruction. They said it would help students cut down on the amount of worksheets for homework and memorization of formulas.

The board now proposes adopting the Saxon method in kindergarten, first and second grades. Everyday Math would remain in grades three, four and five.

Jordon agrees with the scripted method for younger students because her kindergartner daughter has begun learning certain math skills that her fourth-grade son has yet to do.

"We just have heard so many elementary teachers in the primary grades feel that the Saxon math is so successful," she said.

County teachers also are receiving math training that could accompany the newly adopted textbooks.

March 31, 2006
Board OKs text for math

By Anna L. Mallory
Staff writer
The Charleston [WV] Gazette

Kanawha County elementary students will be taught a new but highly debated philosophy of math for the next five years.

Teachers say children will learn the entire process involved while solving math problems through a series of textbooks named "Everyday Math."

Two weeks after Kanawha County school board members approved the books, they wavered this week. Board members proposed keeping "Everyday Math" in grades three through five, but requiring "Saxon Math" in kindergarten through second grade. The Saxon method is a scripted lesson that must be strictly followed. It is not based solely on standards that the state Board of Education suggests county schools follow. "Everyday Math" is based on those standards and is not completely scripted. Thirty-six of Kanawha's 45 elementary schools use the Saxon approach.

On Thursday, school board members heard from about 20 teachers, parents and administrators. The speakers overwhelmingly supported the "Everyday Math" curriculum.

Teachers spent two years on two different committees investigating the books. Some teachers said they spent as many as 76 hours outside of meetings examining 11 different textbook options. The county spent about $40,000 paying for the committees.

Teachers said the new method would show students more than one way to solve a problem. They say children will understand how they solved a problem, not just the formula used to solve it.

Superintendent Ron Duerring told the board he approved of the new approach.

Meanwhile, Duerring and a team of administrators are likely to travel to Maryland to study what one county there has done with Saxon Math. School board President Jim Crawford proposed the visit.

"There's nothing wrong with looking at something other than what's in your back yard," said member Bill Raglin.

He presented a group of slides outlining Anne Arundel County's progression in test scores since it adopted the Saxon approach in weaker schools there.

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