kitchen table math, the sequel: Having it both ways; Everyday Math Responds to NMP report

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Having it both ways; Everyday Math Responds to NMP report

I received a copy of a response that the good folks at Everyday Math prepared in response to the National Math Panel report. Cheryl Van Tilburg who lives in Singapore was kind enough to provide it to me. She got it from the curriculum head at the Singapore American School which her children attend. Yes, they use Everyday Math at that school. Right. "Water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink."

One of the authors was Jim Flanders who has been with EM for many years. It is too long to post the whole thing, so here are excerpts, plus some comments written by a math professor who is heavily involved in the issue of K-12 math education.

The basic message that EM puts forth is we do everything the NMP wants but we disagree with it all.


"For many reasons an Algebra course is a "gateway to later achievement", but for reasons we detail later the EM authors do not believe it is the gateway as the panel recommends. There is evidence, in fact, that the gateway is much more flexible than the panel maintains. For example, in the mid- 1990s the U.S. Military Academy changed its first (gateway) mathematics course for all freshmen from Calculus (a primary reason Algebra is so important) to a Modeling course based primarily on discrete mathematics and embedded in computing technology. In short, exactly what are the gateway or critical topics of a 21st-century mathematics education is a matter of considerable debate."
The mathematician's response: "They neglect to mention that as soon as the Military Academy students are done with their Modeling course they have to all take 2 or 3 semesters of Calculus, for which you need that algebra.


"The authors believe that a curriculum focused solely on the panels "Critical Foundations of Algebra" (i.e., arithmetic with whole numbers and fractions) would be a step backward and would not prepare students for success in tomorrow's world. Further, many of the parents of todays children had very unhappy experiences with the panels limited definition of mathematics. Most of them want their children to have the richer mathematical experience that EM has to offer."

Mathematician's response: "Here we have K-12 educators redefining mathematics, partially based on the logic that some parents had"very unhappy experiences" when they were kids learning math. "

"... the authors believe that the paper-and-pencil skills championed by the panel are simply the ones that students learned in the mid 1900s and are insufficient preparation for careers and daily life in the 21st century."."

Mathematician's response: "The necessary math hasn't changed or been redefined. If they were getting all kids to learn the basics, then this branching out might make sense, but such is not the case."

"EM also requires that students explore several computational algorithms. Knowing a variety of algorithms can (1) help with a variety of computational tasks, including estimation, in which a standard algorithm might be inefficient; and (2) help students better understand the concepts behind standard algorithms. Yet EM also encourages and supports teacher in being sensitive to individual differences. Some students may need to focus on one algorithm over all others and suggestions for how to identify such students are in the Teachers LessonGuides."

Mathematician's response:

"Note that like in TERC Investigations, there is no emphasis on learning efficient algorithms. Worse,note that it is what the students themselves "need tofocus on" that determines what a student uses. This student chosen algorithm might work well in an EM class in elementary school, but it ismy understanding that it is very difficult to get students to change once they are comfortable withan algorithm, and such an algorithm may not even be remotely comfortable when the student getsto college. This is a real, and unbelievable, disservice to students."

"They [fractions] are also represented in fraction-manipulating calculators, which are primarily tools for allowing students to do many more calculations with fractions than can be done on pencil-and-paper.

Mathematician's response: "Maybe so, but they won't get the "conceptual understanding of fractions" the NMP wants. "

Perhaps Andy Isaacs and Jim Flanders would care to offer their thoughts?

21 comments:

concerned said...

Oh My Gosh!!!

I can't believe the arrogance of EM!!

Colleges and universities need to start collecting data on districts that use EM and other fuzzy programs and report to the public where their students are placing with entrance exams. Maybe then there would be enough pressure to drop these programs.

Students and parents need to be aware that these programs are doing them no favors in the long run...

Many more students are placing into remedial math classes, paying much more in college tuition as a result, and spending much more time in undergraduate studies than they had anticipated.

These are the consequences of arrogance.
(difficult, but true...)
Sometimes reality is like that :D

Read the 1999 Toolbox Study
http://www.ed.gov/pubs/Toolbox/index.html
or the Toolbox Revisited 2006
http://www.aypf.org/forumbriefs/2006/fb031706.htm

SteveH said...

Is Everyday Math better or isn't it?

One developer of EM said once that it's not for the elite. Well, EM guarantees that, doesn't it? They define math in terms of what many adults might need later in life, thereby guaranteeing that EM kids will become those adults. Can you hear all of the doors slamming shut by 7th grade? On one hand they claim that kids don't need a rigorous introduction to algebra by 8th or 9th grade, and then on the other hand, they claim that EM is somehow better for careers and daily life in the 21st century. Unless, of course, you want to major in math, science, or engineering.


"In short, exactly what are the gateway or critical topics of a 21st-century mathematics education is a matter of considerable debate."

In which case parents, NOT schools, should have a choice in the matter. Amazing, incredible arrogance!

There should be no argument here. The goal should be school algebra by 8th or 9th grade. AFTER THAT, schools can offer any fuzzy, 21st century skill math track they want. Before that they are just slamming doors.

SteveH said...

"They [fractions] are also represented in fraction-manipulating calculators, which are primarily tools for allowing students to do many more calculations with fractions than can be done on pencil-and-paper."

But they don't do that. Calculators are used as avoidance tools, not magnifier tools. They use calculators to lower expectations, not increase them.

When I was in college and we changed from slide rules to calculators, the homework got a lot more difficult, not easier. Much more in-depth theory and applications could be covered. We had calculation assignments that covered 30+ pages.

Where are the assignments in EM that use the calculator to do more advanced problems? They don't exist. They still do statistics (?) problems with meaninglessly small data set sizes.

SteveH said...

Unfortunately, my son is now considered to be an Everyday Math student. He will probably end up taking calculus in high school. The schools don't want to know that I used Singapore Math for years at home. It would be an easy thing to find out, but they don't want to know. They like taking credit for what parents do.

Barry Garelick said...

On one hand they claim that kids don't need a rigorous introduction to algebra by 8th or 9th grade, and then on the other hand, they claim that EM is somehow better for careers and daily life in the 21st century.

I think what they're saying is you don't need algebra as a gateway course unless you do, in which case EM prepares you for it.

Do Andy Isaacs or Jim Flanders which to comment?

concernedCTparent said...

Can we update this with Instructivist's sugerencia too? I feel the same way about this response from the EM people.

Barry Garelick said...

I feel the same way about this response from the EM people.

I wonder if they have a Spanish translation of their response.

VickyS said...

Colleges and universities need to start collecting data on districts that use EM and other fuzzy programs and report to the public where their students are placing with entrance exams.

This is a fabulous idea. We need to convince someone to take this on. Sounds like a good thesis project.

SteveH said...

"Most of them want their children to have the richer mathematical experience that EM has to offer."

This rich mathematical experience includes cramming in tons of Math Boxes in 6th grade in a desperate attempt to fix five years of mastery neglect. The Math Box topics jump all over the place, kids will still not understand even though it's the 10th time they've seen it, and teachers have absolutly no time to assess and help any individual student.

EM is better just because they say so, and that's that.

Ross Isenegger said...

Is there a reason why the "mathematician" referred to throughout the post is not named?

Catherine Johnson said...

When I was in college and we changed from slide rules to calculators, the homework got a lot more difficult, not easier.

Interesting.

Catherine Johnson said...

Like Ed says, schools teach the 21st century skills so we have to teach the 19th century skills.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed's line on all this is that the 20th century was not a backwater. There was constant, accelerating change throughout.

All of that change and technological progress was created by people who had been traditionally educated in the liberal arts disciplines. PERIOD.

Ed says that if constructivists want to claim that the liberal arts disciplines are irrelevant to change in the 21st century, they need to explain why they weren't irrelevant to the 20th century.

Which they can't do.

SteveH said...

"Most of them want their children to have the richer mathematical experience that EM has to offer."

Most of these parents don't have a clue what would make a better math curriculum, but that doesn't stop EM from using them as justification. There is so much "stuff" in EM that most classes can't get through a lot of it, but it's apparently "rich". A mile wide and an inch deep, but it's "rich".

Blah, blah, woof, woof.

Barry Garelick said...

Is there a reason why the "mathematician" referred to throughout the post is not named?

Just waiting to get permission and then I will supply the name.

K9Sasha said...

The arrogance on the part of Everyday Math is astounding! And, not only is the content horrifying, the writing itself isn't very good. Maybe it's that "fuzzy writing" (aka writing workshop) they use in schools now?

Cheryl van Tilburg said...

Thanks for posting these snips of the EM response to the NMP report, Barry. Hopefully this will generate more dialog about "living in a post-NMP world."

And thanks to everyone who's commented on Barry's post -- your thoughts are very helpful to the parents here in Singapore who are working to have a meaningful dialog on math curriculum with our school administration and board.

If anyone would like to see the complete EM response, don't hesitate to send me an email at this address: nkf63-math [at] yahoo [dot] com. I'll send the document as an attachment.

Cheryl vT in Singapore

Doctor Pion said...

Fascinating. FYI, I am a PhD physicist teaching calc-based physics to future engineering students and (due to the nature of a community college teaching environment) also well aware of what our math people do. I was an undergrad with slide rules, and my teaching spans the calculator transition.

We definitely ask harder computation problems now. Indeed, I can go through a textbook and pick out the old "slide rule" problems. Our Calc III classes use MAPLE to attack problems we could never do in a week back in the day, but you can't use MAPLE if you can't think logically and symbolically. Random walk algorithms don't help this process.

In addition, many of the math faculty split exams into calculator and no-calculator parts. I do the same thing by having problems where symbols are given rather than numbers. The emphasis is on critical thinking and conceptual understanding, not numerology.

I really like the suggestion to link math curricula to schools so that our college placement data could be used to critique what goes on there, but it would be more efficient to analyze how 8th grade and HS exit exam math scores correlate to the K-6 curriculum used in the district (TAKS would be a great candidate for this). Dozens of EdD degrees could be earned studying that state's data alone.

A good question for EM would be whether their students learn synthetic division more easily than a student who learned Singapore math.

SteveH said...

A Singapore Math student can do everything better than an EM student.

As I mentioned above, my son is considered to be an EM student because that's what his schools teach. In reality, he is a Singapore Math (and father math) student, but our schools don't care about that. It's a fact that our K-8 schools only look at how "their" kids do in high school. Since enough (?) do well, they think they are doing a fine job.

We had a thread before about a school district that actually sent home a questionnaire asking about home and professional tutoring in math. The schools can then see how much extra help was needed to get to the AP calculus math track in high school.

You really shouldn't rely on statistics. You have to look at individual cases and figure out why certain kids are successful. Schools are afraid of what they will find out.

I wish I started in Kindergarten and logged all of the hours I spent. Even those stupid dioramas (that he still gets in sixth grade) where I had to explain to my son how to plan and do all sorts of details. The school is even bad at bad curricula.

Parents should ban together and boycott homework help. We should only provide a desk, a quiet environment, check to see that homework is done (no help!), go to a lousy 15 minute parent-teacher conference once a year, and talk about the importance of education. Teachers will then get to see some real crap coming in from the "good" students. I see it from my son a lot. The teachers don't see it. They don't see it because someone has to teach him something.

Last week, I didn't check one of his writing assignments and I think his teacher was rather surprised. Duh, well, does she have a clue about what goes on at home? The best that the school can do is to try to get kids to do some sort of "web" thing to organize their ideas - organized bad writing. That's when they do writing at all. Last night he (once again!) had to draw a picture of his favorite scene in a book they are reading.

At the beginning of the year, the teacher asked parents what goals they had for their kids. I said that I wanted to see tangible improvements in reading comprehension and writing. The year is almost over and what do I see? Nada. Why do they bother to ask?

Once again, what I see is not some sort of fancy approach to how the brain learns or "rich" math, but lack of basic competence in trying to achieve simple goals.

concerned said...

Dejavu...(I knew this wasn't an original idea!)

So why isn't anything happening???

This 2006 report identifies four state policy dimensions for improving college readiness opportunities for all high school students:

http://www.stanford.edu/group/bridgeproject/Claim%20Comm%20Grnd%20Rpt%20FINAL%2003%2029%2006.pdf

TRANSPARENCY IS THE KEY...

Once again, colleges and universities need to start collecting data on districts that use EM and other fuzzy programs and report to the public where their students are placing with entrance exams. Maybe then there would be enough pressure to drop these programs.

Mike said...

good post