My experience with Everyday Mathematics

To Superintendent Franklin L. Till
Broward County, Florida

From Karen S. Jones-Budd
February 12, 2002
By Email

Superintendent Till,

I read about the issue with Everyday Math in Broward County in an education newsletter and felt compelled to send you my thoughts. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and did graduate work in structural engineering, both at the University of Pittsburgh. My children were introduced to Everyday Math (EM) at a private Episcopal school in Maryland. At first blush my instincts told me that it was not rigorous enough, nor content rich. However, I decided at the time to be deferential to the educators and accepted the program assuming that educators knew more about mathematics education than I. I rue the day that I accepted it without question and that I did not investigate further. My children's days were to be filled with counting on a scroll to 1,000,000 and playing games. Addition and subtraction facts were not emphasized properly. Fractions in the 5th grade were glossed over. These should have been major red flags to me as these skills are all very critical to success in algebra. It should have occurred to me that whoever wrote this program had a significant deficit in understanding or remembering advanced mathematics and in knowing what it takes for children to be successful in advanced mathematics.

I spent summers with my oldest (who had the program for 5 years) doing remedial work and trying to make the basics of math more automatic so that she would be successful with algebra. We left the school when my youngest was in the 2nd grade. The skills of my youngest are far more automatic and her experience with algebra will be far more successful for the following reason: She will not be laboring over the elements of algebra that should be reflexive in nature. My youngest will be able to concentrate on the new complex concepts of algebra that must be learned. She will not be struggling over manipulation of fractions and integers as my older daughter did. Fractions, integer manipulation and long division must be mastered by the time that you study algebra. Some children will appear to do reasonably well with the program either because they have mothers like me or because their parents send them to Kumon or Score!. What about the children who do not have those resources available to them? They will be most severely affected, although, the children doing remedial work at Kumon and Score! would much rather be enjoying their brief childhood.

Some elementary teachers and principals do not deeply understand the ramification of a math education that is poor in content and mastery. They see the warm, comfortable, group, discovery oriented nature of Everyday Math. They also see opportunities for them to be "creative". Most arguments you hear for programs of this nature are that the teachers feel comfortable with them. Little do they know that it will be no comfort to children who can not get by the gatekeeper that is algebra. Or, if they happen to make it through a less rigorous algebra, then college math stops them dead in their tracks. If you cannot do calculus, you can rule out math, engineering, pre-med, physics, chemistry, computer science...etc as majors. It is a door we can ill afford to hear closing on our children whose only sin was being stuck with a weak math curriculum. Knowing that the experiences of my children were simply anecdotal evidence, I began investigating other implementations of Everyday Math. My suspicions were backed by scores that are readily available on the internet. The Edison schools use Everyday Math. The singular Edison school in the San Francisco area scored dead last (within SFUSD) on the state's annual testing, with the math scores never exceeding an average NPR of 38 at any grade level. Reading, Mass has seen drops in standardized testing since the implementation of EM. Their math scores plummeted more than 12 percentage points in 4 short years.

You may have heard EM representatives boasting of some success. You hear them claiming success in the upscale community of Naperville, Ill, whose remarkable affluence says it all. Parents of means have chosen to supplement their child's education when it involves Everyday Math. In Washington, D.C., the exclusive Potomac School uses EM. It is my understanding the Kumon Centers are flush with "Potomac School" sweatshirts. The other somewhat claim to fame is in Pittsburgh and there the reporting of scores and the groups tracked by this are so contrived (they report a minute subset of fourth graders and report from only those classrooms with "strong implementers"), that they have very little significance. In addition the testing referred to in Pittsburgh is the PSSA, whose standards are weak and called into question by most scholarly reviews of state standards.

What follows are some of the specific deficits and problems with EM:

1. Calculators - In Everyday Math, calculators are put into the hands of kindergartners and become crutches for the students. Calculators should not be introduced until the seventh or eighth grade. The operation of a calculator can be learned in a few minutes, but can cause a lifetime of need for mathematical remediation if it is introduced too early and becomes a crutch. The mere introduction of calculators is a major risk.

2. Long Division - Standard long division, a bedrock concept for success in algebra and beyond is not stressed and barely taught. Introduced or exposed would be a more appropriate characterization. "The mathematical payoff is not worth the cost, particularly because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator," instructs an EM teacher's manual. That's a pretty cavalier statement to make considering that the standard long division algorithm is immeasurably critical to polynomial division in algebra. Polynomial division is necessary in calculus for factoring. It is used in power series expansion, Laplace Transforms and optimization problems.

3. General concerns - Multiplication with pencil and paper is de-emphasized. The ancient Egyptian algorithm for multiplication is held in as high an esteem as the standard algorithm. Fractions are not respected by the program such that one could expect children to master them well enough to carry it through to success in advanced math. Decimal division and multiplication are almost non-existent.

In conclusion, it seems that this program would be a good fit only to those children that at age 5 know they will be entering vocations that do not require the use or mastery of advanced mathematics. Programs like Everyday Math are well-intentioned, but represent a significant risk. Their methods are unproven, but most importantly their content is weak and does not serve to provide children with the kind of robust background that is required to move ahead successfully in mathematics. Children who are unfortunate enough to receive this curriculum who do not have their education supplemented will be shut out of many careers that depend on mastering the sequential elements of the hierarchy that is math.

Thank you,

Karen S. Jones-Budd
Oakton, Va.

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