Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Common Core Math Standards and Everyday Mathematics

By Pam Kenney

I spent much of last weekend reading and critiquing the new Common Core Math Standards (K-6 only) for the National Coalition for World Class Math. I must say I was surprised at and pleased with their thoroughness and rigor. My primary assignment was to analyze the standards’ sequence of skills. I had several suggestions to facilitate learning (teaching students to count by 5s and 10s, for example, before requiring them to count money), but for the most part the standards are presented with their delineated skills building on each other from grade to grade in a logical progression. I love the standards that require children to use mental math, the kindergarten one that ensures students are able to begin counting in the middle of a number sequence instead of always starting at 1, and the strong emphasis on understanding the “whys” of math. They require the memorization of math facts (although I’d like to see mastery at earlier grade levels than these standards mandate) and the use of the standard algorithm (again my preference would be for its introduction more quickly after understanding is achieved than it is now). The timetable for the mastery of concepts isn’t as clear as it could be, and I hope that need will be addressed as the comment period continues this month.

As I read the standards, I made an unexpected discovery. From the outset, I began noticing something interesting: Many of the skills and their attendant requirements reflect those taught within the Everyday Mathematics curriculum. At the fourth grade level, for example, standard #6 under “Number – Operations and the Problems They Solve,” states, “Compute products and whole number quotients of two-, three- or four-digit numbers and one-digit numbers, using strategies based on place value, the properties of operations, and/or the inverse relationships between multiplication and division; explain the reasoning used.” EDM is famous for, and often criticized for, the many methods (lattice, partial products, and partial quotients, e.g.) it expects children to learn to facilitate a thorough understanding of the “whys” of multiplication and division. This standard and many others like it throughout the standards document continue that emphasis. The new standards differ from EDM, though, because they include basic fact fluency requirements, the use of the standard algorithm, and at least an attempt to set mastery levels. What is not clear is how much of the spiraling that is peculiar to EDM will be eliminated if they’re adopted, and that is an important facet of the standards that needs to be analyzed.

I have been a critic of the Everyday Mathematics curriculum for years and have written about its shortcomings on this blog several times. However, I’ve amended my position somewhat after working with a fourth grader on her EDM assignments throughout this school year. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fault EDM’s basic goal, which is to help students understand what they are doing when they solve problems and why their answers to problems are reasonable or make sense mathematically. EDM is very good at helping children develop math reasoning skills. I still have problems with its de-emphasis on basic facts, its delayed use or elimination of the standard algorithm, and its spiraling of concepts that doesn’t pinpoint mastery expectation points. It appears that the Common Core standards have addressed fairly well these problems, as well as the vocal criticism that has stemmed from them from parents and teachers, and have provided a more balanced approach than EDM does.

Questions still linger, though. Here are two: Why are these national standards so reflective of Everyday Mathematics? What input into the development process, if any, did the University of Chicago Mathematics Project or the EDM publisher, Wright Group (a division of McGraw-Hill), have? I have read comments from a variety of sources stating that classroom teachers should have had more say than they did in the creation of the Common Core Standards. My hope is that their input didn’t get squeezed out by that of textbook publishers.

Coming soon: Part II – Common Core Elementary Math Standards and Teacher Competence


  1. Pam, thanks for a balanced view on the Common Core State Standards. :)

    An interesting McGraw-Hill connection is that Terry McGraw is the head of both McGraw-Hill and the Business Round Table. McGraw-Hill owns Business Week.

    Let's look at one Achieve board member: Edward Rust: CEO State Farm Insurance; Chair, Education Task Force, Business Roundtable; Co-Chair Business Coalition for Excellence in Education; Chair, National Alliance of Business; Co Chair, Subcommittee on Education Policy, Committee for Economic Development; Member of board, Achieve; member of board, McGraw-Hill; member, President-Elect Bush (the younger)Transition Advisory Team Committee on Education; board of trustees American Enterprise Institute.

    Working group member: David Coleman is the founder of the Grow Network, a part of McGraw-Hill Education.

  2. You've obviously done your homework. I think I need to do a more thorough comparison of the new standards and EDM.

  3. I guess, Pam, but I just realized I am guilty of the "guilt by association" logical fallacy that I so abhor when people who disagree with me make their arguments. Dang . . . have to watch myself.

    I do believe, however, that McGraw-Hill is one corporation that has a very powerful influence on educational policy. Not the only one, mind you.

    Who SHOULD be in charge? People or corporations? Should corporations (limited liability structures) have citizenship rights?

  4. Below are a few article links from large school districts outside of Maine. Each district is addressing the math standards. One district (Scottsdale) has chosen to dump EDM. The other (Seattle) will supplement EDM to meet the new standards and evaluate it again when it’s time to review the elementary math program.

    I like the transparency of these districts in regard to the curriculum decision process. Parents can follow (and participate) in math curriculum decisions.

    First example: 6/8/10 Scottsdale, AZ district scrambles to enact new math program

    "Scottsdale schools delayed adopting a new math program this spring to make sure it would align with the just-released Common Core State Standards"

    "The committee decided to switch from Everyday Mathematics, which the district adopted in 2003, to the 2009 edition of Math Connects, published by Glencoe/McGraw Hill, for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade"

    Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/community/scottsdale/articles/2010/06/08/20100608scottsdale-schools-math-program.html#ixzz0qfivL1C9

    Second: Frequently ask questions about Everyday Mathematics (Seattle Public Schools)


    Supplementing EDM at Seattle Public Schools:


    The new Common Core Standards require that the standard algorithms be mastered. I wonder if districts using EDM will add yet another algorithm to the EDM mix or consider dropping a few (such as the lattice method). My district hasn't taught the standard algorithms for many years.

  5. WA State district drops EDM:

    June 18th: Central Kitsap schools hope new curriculum, strategies will equal higher math scores (WA State)

    "Both school districts have used Everyday Mathematics as their curriculum of choice in their elementary schools for nearly 15 years.

    The books met criticism from teachers and parents who claimed that they didn’t spend enough time on individual topics and were too difficult to understand without a teacher’s explanation, making it nearly impossible for parents to help their children with homework. The books used in the both the districts’ secondary schools had the same problem."

    Read the entire article to see what they say about the text meeting WA state standards:


  6. July 14, 2010 Nashua, NH Telegraph: District seeking ideas from public (Math concerns w/EDM Curriculum)


    A steering committee is doing an analysis of the issues, including re-examining the curriculum the district uses. Nashua uses Everyday Math in its schools, which has drawn some criticism in the education community.

  7. Questions linger about learning initiative
    July 25, 2010 Nashua Telegraph


    From the article (regarding Common Core Standards and EDM):

    Leather said one of the issues that would have to be addressed with adoption of the new standards are conflicts with the popular Everyday Math curriculum, which Nashua and Milford use.
    Leather couldn’t provide specific examples of what those conflicts are, but in March, the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education, the maker of Everyday Math, made it clear it wasn’t happy with the proposed new standards.
    In a statement, the university said: “We believe that the proposed CCS standards for mathematics in grades K-6 would promote a back-to-basics curriculum that ignores the profound changes that have taken place in the last 50 years. CCS’s largely paper-and-pencil approach to mathematics in K-6 is obsolete.”
    The statement listed several shortcomings within the then-proposed standards, including “inadequate exposure to concepts of data and probability,” “an overemphasis on teaching by telling,” and a “disregard of existing and emerging technology.”
    It isn’t clear whether those concerns raised were ever addressed or led to any changes, but Leather said now that so many states are signing on, the makers of Everyday Math are working to adjust their curriculum.

  8. As a parent with a minor in Biology and dad who works remotely as an IT Security Consultant (and who sees many Asians blow our kids out of the water when it comes to mastering computer programming which uses not only math but "logic"). Both of us cannot comprehend Everyday Math.

    I can't help my son with his 6th grade homework because I do not understand half of it and neither does my husband.

    We learned math the old school way and are very proficient ~ I have even passed college level Calculus 2 and Statistics.

    My son is in 6th grade and I fear that he has never learned the basics. We are going to talk to the Principal of my son't school and beg for him to learn "Singapore Math". We pay enough in our property taxes and they should help us out here.

    Everyday math is fine if you want a nation of liberal arts degrees rather than science, computers and engineers.

    Kind regards,

    Violet J. Willis