I did this interview with my cousin in summer 2005 & posted it to the original kitchen table math on July 11,2005.
part 1: how Everyday Math came to my cousin's town
The 2nd grade teachers had a grant and were very excited. I think the teachers were turned on by the program. So they started introducing it in the 1st grade.
Nobody else liked it. I hated it, and many parents complained.
Teachers in the upper grades didn't like it, either. The district was always having these huge teacher-board meetings to convince the other teachers that they had to adopt it, too.
Eventually, when the grade school kids got to high school, the high school teachers were in horror because the kids coming in couldn't calculate. They complained that the Chicago Math students had to spend all this time guesstimating and figuring out what the answer was to one small step inside a complex problem. The students were too slow; they were hung up on the basics.
This war went on for a decade. I don't know how it came out. I do know that for at least the first couple of years after Chicago Math came in they were not getting lots of kids proficient on the state tests. I'll ask my friend who teaches at the high school whether they're still using the books. She had 3 kids who went through the system, and she hated Chicago Math.*
part 2: easier for mathematically talented kids?
One of my daughter's friends had a very easy time with it, and was successful at it. She really soaked it up. Someone told me that kids who are chronologically older and have math talent, maybe they respond to it better. My daughter was the youngest in the class.
My older daughter, though, had a babysitter who had Chicago Math at New Trier when we were living on the North Shore. She said it was a failure. The New Trier students were the first guinea pigs, because it was Chicago Math. She said Chicago Math came from a bunch of ivory tower people figuring the whole thing out and then trying to disseminate it to all these little children.
part 3: developmentally inappropriate
I once told the assistant principal that in the Saxon book, when you've done something wrong you go back. You can't advance until you get it right. I said that's what I like about the Saxon program.
He said, "Well children can do that with Chicago Math, too.' He was suggesting that my daughter had the ability to assess herself in Chicago Math, and that's what she should have done. She was a little adult who could self-assess.
But she couldn't. She was too young, and she didn't know enough about math to be able to assess how much she knew about math.
It's like driving. When you know how to drive, driving is built into your thinking process.
If you don't know how to drive, you're not going to have the confidence to figure out what your problem is. If you can't get from one corner to the next, you're not in a position to assess why not.
part 4: spiraling
Chicago Math gives you advanced math problems sprinkled in with the elementary math your child is learning. They slip it in.
They would have you guess at the answers for the advanced problems, but then they never gave you the answers so you didn't know if you guessed right or not. You're always a work in progress with Chicago Math. So you never get a definite answer. And you never had a sense of completion or success on a day-to-day basis.
But my pet peeve was that it sped you along at a rapid pace and you never mastered the material that you left the page before. When my daughter was in the 2nd grade one work page would be coins; the next day you'd be dealing with weather; the next day you'd be dealing with problem solving. My daughter had no sense of what a quarter or a dime was.
When I was taught math, each day you built on what you knew. When you did the coins you learned a penny, a nickel, a quarter. You kept going. Telling time, same thing. You work on time until you get it. You don't just have a flash of it one day.
In Chicago Math you had one page on one topic, then you went on to something completely different on the next page. There was no repetition. It was irresponsible, very ungrounded.
part 5: frustrating
They would want my daughter to guesstimate whether something was 50 or not, or 100 or not. And they wanted her to do that before she knew 25 and 25 was 50, before she knew what the building blocks that made a number were. It's hard to estimate something before you know that numbers are created.
To guesstimate is so frustrating. Math has a yes or no answer. And with math, when you go 5 x 7, it's 35. That's the answer. Children at a young age want to have something concrete. They learn from 'This is wrong' and 'This is right.' They like getting the right answer.
In Chicago Math, children don't get that reward.
part 6: demoralizing
First they give you an intuitive flash that of material that is above your level, that you aren't successful at. It's like a prelude.
The thinking is that when you get to the material for real, you've had a prelude. But on a day-to-day basis if you're always getting preludes, the child never has a sense of completion or success.
There was never a sense of mastery; there was never a sense of completing a task successfully before moving on to the new material that you were supposed to pick up intuitively.
Chicago Math was like trying to learn a foreign language by hearing tapes every day and intuiting what the words mean. Then 3 months later you're supposed to know what the tapes are saying.
Part 7: boring
It was too abstract and theoretical and boring. It's boring when you don't have the light bulb go off in your mind because, 'Oh! I got it right!'
The best you could think was, 'Well, maybe I got it right.
I think it's crippling.
Part 8: Saxon Math
I moved my daughter to private school after 4th grade. She's worked with the Saxon Math books ever since.
It took her awhile to get to a stable place in math because she had gaps in her knowledge, and because she didn't have confidence in the basics. She learned new concepts; she could understand them. But under testing she would crumble, because she didn't have confidence.
In Chicago Math, computation doesn't become second nature. I guess in new math they teach you all these steps you have to take. They make multiplication into 5 steps. Chicago Math makes learning to multiply real slow, and so damn confusing.
So she was bogged down in trying to do it in the new math way. It took her several years to overcome that, to get solid in the basics.
She improved greatly with the Saxon book. She's doing fine at the high school level. She just finished 9th grade, and she does well in math now.
*Everyday Math was developed by the University of Chicago. Everyone in my cousin's town in MA called it 'Chicago Math.'