To: New York City Panel for Educational Policy

From: Elizabeth Carson
Co-Founder, NYC HOLD

Re: Research and advice to a parent concerned with Everyday Mathematics

Cc: Mayor Bloomberg
NYC Council Speaker Gifford Miller
NYC Council Education Committee Chair, Eva Moskowitz and Members

December 18, 2003

NYC Educational Policy Panel Members:

I regularly answer requests for information and support from parents locally, outside NYC and in other states who find themselves in situations similar to ours, facing imposition of content deficient math programs and doctrinaire professional development, without community involvement in the program selection, or community approval of the choices made for them, growing parental concerns and dissatisfaction and growing senior classroom teacher concerns and dissatisfaction - which when voiced, is met with an unresponsive administration and board

Below is one of my replies from October of this school year, which I came across while filing correspondence this morning.

I thought I'd share it with you, since it contains a good amount of information relevant to NYC, in hopes it might inspire you to begin to provide real oversight, to begin to hold the Chancellor and high officials accountable for their decisions and actions - decided and expedited in secret, informed without adequate research, without the informed participation and consent of the community, and with some number of important decisions unduly influenced by the caprice and prejudice of corporate and philanthropic giving.

The writer (from upstate NY) requested some specific information to help her prepare for a local school board presentation.

Elizabeth Carson
Co-Founder, NYC HOLD

Original Message
From: Elizabeth Carson []
Sent: Monday, October 06, 2003 1:14 PM

Hi ---,

My advocacy began with well researched appeals to my local Manhattan school district regarding widespread parent concerns with another experimental math program, Investigations (TERC). Our district, like yours, is considered to have many excellent schools and students in those schools perform very well on standardized assessments. You'll find (as we did with TERC) that parents with the means will begin to supplement Everyday and hire tutors. While this is precisely what a responsible parent would and should do, the efforts mask the flaws and limitations of programs like TERC and Everyday. Implementing these programs in already successful middle class school districts where parents will tutor, is a fail safe means to another set of good test scores with which to sell the program elsewhere - UNLESS parents and the community are able to bring to public scrutiny the truth.

When I first became involved, other parent advocates and involved mathematicians and scientists already in the math wars trenches, were very supportive. The advice I was given then, I share with you: first and foremost you must assume the difficult task to ensure the proper education of your own child(ren). (See our Web site section: Advice for Parents at NYC HOLD)

If I had known when my son was in elementary school, what I do now about how little is actually taught in radically progressive math and reading classes and schools in District 2, and how much the oft boasted scores are a function on the home environment, I would have removed him then from such a 'learning' environment entirely and forever (as more astute parents have done and continue to do). The provision of outside instruction after a full day of school and around other activities (in my son's case, violin, gymnastics and Cub Scouts) is very difficult, robs the child of family time, time for other activities and just plain down time; and too often the tutoring does not successfully patch the content deficiencies in classroom programs, nor does it build the academic foundation hoped for. (But, I digress)

With the integrity of your own child's education safeguarded to your satisfaction, you may begin to consider helping others. Almost invariably parents find daunting the task to reach officials and the public with information beyond what they've heard, ie program sales pitches and evangelical presentations by program advocates, supporters who invariably have professional interests at stake and with ties to professional development contracts or research grants. Parents find their children's classroom teachers' perspectives often conflict with the district officials' public positions on the programs, and yet this information remains unknown, as teachers are very often intimidated, afraid to speak the truth for fear of professional reprisal.Teacher intimidation was rampant in District 2 and is becoming an issue citywide now under the new administration and implementation of EM.

Parent advocates find that their salient goal often seems well nigh impossible, that is, a desire to see democratic local decision making: informed by a broad range of perspectives, a comprehensive pool of expert opinions and recommendations, including that of classroom teachers and subject area experts, and expedited through a committee driven by reason and the best interests of the children, rather than ideology, the interests of ed school researchers, federal and private funding opportunities, or the "vision" of education reform driven by special interest, biased local education support groups (here in NYC, New Visions, foremost among them).

You're aware of the NYC HOLD page of critical references on EM. To answer most specifically your query about EM: The basic and (to my mind, damning) criticisms of Everyday Math are:

  1. omits entirely the standard algorithms (procedures which work in all cases) for column subtraction and long division while enouraging use of multiple alternative procedures. (For why this is a fatal EM flaw, see our Web site section, Why algorithms matter at NYC HOLD - left column.)

  2. the program manifests a method of teaching called spiraling, wherein students are introduced to material again and again and through the grades (and thus the term spiraling). Mastery is not expected at a prescribed time. The philosophy is that this fluid framework of repeated revisiting allows for more connections across topics, inspires deeper conceptual development, and the lack of rigidity engages more students. Spiraling eliminates prescription for mastery of skills and concepts at set times within a coherent framework that builds through the year and through the grades. Critics of spiraling say elementary mathematics can not be effectively taught this way, assert students need to learn skills and concepts in a coherent and ordered fashion precisely because: (a) to advance to a more sophisticated skill or concept requires knowledge and mastery of simpler skills and concepts. (not just familiarity as in the spiraling technique) Examples: to learn and to develop facility with division requires first, mastery of multiplication facts; to master the arithmetic of polynomials, requires first, mastery of long division ( There are many references on our Web site that speak to the requisite for coherence, and the systematic building of skills and understanding in school mathematics instruction. Here's one: The Role of Long Division in the K-12 Curriculum, Klein and Milgram) (b) spiraling too easily allows students to slip through the cracks. Without the standard checkpoints for understanding of skills and concepts inherent in a coherent ordered curriculum, monitoring students' progress to understanding becomes extremely messy, if not impossible. Also in a district like NYC, where student transience is high, the extremely flexible, fluid content framework of EM serves this population the least, since students will find different EM classes and schools, to be on widely varying skills levels.

  3. Everyday Math promotes the use of calculators and beginning in the earliest grades. The NCTM reform (in which all the controversial math programs are rooted) has promoted a dangerous and misinformed philosophical view that with the advent of calculators, mastery of elementary arithmetic is fast becoming obsolete. Meanwhile, the highest performing countries in the Third International Math and Science (TIMSS) studies (countries, which the US ranks far below) do not allow calculators to be used until after foundation skills are fully mastered, not earlier than the 6th grade, and then, judiciously. Two views on calculator use in elementary classroom are presented in Should we curb calculator use by younger students?, in American Teacher. See also Effect of K-12 Calculator Usage on College Grades, by W. Stephen Wilson and Daniel Q. Naiman (draft, 2003).

To argue the need for quality elementary mathematics in order to pursue high school and college level math and science courses, see our Web site section, "What Mathematics Do Students Need in College" and the section directly underneath "Why Algebra Matters" - left column.

In many districts where programs like EM and TERC are implemented, administrators and math staff developers (now called by the sporty term, 'coaches' here in NYC) insist on strict adherence to the programs. Doctrinaire policy can be for philosophical reasons, but usually is more basically a function of contracts and grants for implementation, and usually specifically for professional development, often tied to a research component. With funding for specific program implementations and/or research, administrators and schools, in a sense are contractually bound to strict use of the program (s) named in the contract or grant, and so insist teachers adhere to a strict policy forbidding use of other materials and approaches. As senior, most knowledgeable and skilled teachers inevitably find the programs deficient and limiting, many will quietly close their doors and (against policy and at risk of watchful 'coach' admonishment) divert instruction away from the mandated program and approaches, and use nonsanctioned materials and approaches they deem to better serve their students. As with tutoring, this data never makes the studies. In both cases, test scores are attributed to the program and not the actual (and very different) instruction the students received in and outside school.

Subjective data (eg How did you feel about the professional development you received?) is too often heavily relied on in mathematics education studies and often the studies are performed by those associated with the program or professional development studied. Annual standardized test scores are the prime objective data in studies of these programs' efficacy. Unfortunately next to no studies use value-added assessment and none include gathering data on outside tutoring or data on the phenomenon clandestine classroom teaching The results of the studies inform school adoptions, as well as future funding decisions by government agencies and philanthropic institutions. So, the funding of deficient programs like Everyday and TERC by government and philanthropic institutions, followed by mediocre advocacy research, begets more funding for the same. Evolution to improvements, to truly exemplary programs and best practices is effectively prohibited by the continued suppression of the truth.

In my home district (Manhattan #2) the so-called research on our math programs and the associated fuzzy New Standards Performance Standards was performed by associates of Lauren Resnick at the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC) at the University of Pittsburgh. The LRDC research is seriously flawed: (a) it is mostly advocacy research: eg: The LRDC developed the original and NYC Editions of the New Standards in collaboration with District 2 teachers and administrators. Fran Curcio (formerly at NYU, now at Queens College) was involved in the development of CMP and then hired by District 2 to evaluate the implementation. (b) too little quantitative data, (c) improper controls. (see Bas Braams' et al writing on the quality and extent of math education research in the US posted on our Web site under What Says the Research at NYC HOLD - left column).

NYC has now contracted with the LRDC to "study" the Children First initiative, the instructional reforms of which were heavily influenced by educators already working or closely associated with the LRDC.

You may encounter similar conflicts of interest as your district pilot proceeds.

Good luck on your presentation and advocacy. Please keep me apprised of your progress.

Elizabeth Carson

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