'Reform Math'

Pay attention to what our children are being taught. Not even simple arithmetic is safe from progressive stupidity.

Apples and peaches make great neighbors. Here in "upper" Adams County, Pennsylvania (also the seat of Gettysburg and the battlefields), there are twenty thousand acres of fruit trees. Many businesses are closed on Sundays, and "traffic" consists of getting stuck behind a combine or waiting for the flock of mallards that live behind the 7-11 to finish crossing Route 394. I have often compared it to Mayberry.

We moved here in June of 2005, with the first of our four children entering kindergarten in 2007. Like many other conservatives who have been caught sleeping at philosophy's wheel, we stupidly assumed that those persons running the local school district would hold values roughly in line with our own. We could not have been more wrong.

By now our second child has entered kindergarten, and having done our homework, we have since learned that our school board is ideologically homogeneous, far-left, and directly tied to both Gettysburg College and the local chapter of Democracy for America. A relational diagram of the whole matter would use up an entire box of chalk.

Midway through the previous century, the United States had the best public schools in the world; now it ranks near the bottom of developed nations (not because of any conservative initiatives) despite massive infusions of federal cash. Cognizant of this fact, my wife and I have taken a highly proactive approach to the proper education of our children, often broaching various subject matter with them well before the school does. This yielded good results up until my 8-year-old daughter began second-grade arithmetic.

A few of the math worksheets she brought home initially confounded us, making use of "number stories," where math problems were presented in pyramids or in bidirectional horizontal rows. This week, she was informed at school that her parents had taught her math "the old way" and that it was "confusing and a step behind." (I have politely conveyed to the school, in writing, of my extreme displeasure with having my authority challenged.)

As it turns out, our school district is using a controversial math curriculum called Everyday Mathematics, also known as "Reform Math." EM, as Everyday Mathematics is referred to by teachers, was developed by the University of Chicago, and according to their website, it is in use by about three million students nationwide. Here is one example of how simple addition "can" be performed using EM:

An example of what EM calls the "lattice method" for performing multiplication:

What becomes immediately clear is that several extra steps are now necessary to accomplish simple beeline computations. More steps will result in more errors -- only an idiot would claim otherwise. Eventually, EM students are taught four ways to add, five ways to subtract, four ways to multiply, and two ways to divide (traditional long division has been eschewed completely). Rote memorization is de-emphasized, and calculators (as well as estimating) are introduced in grade two.

Here is the basic rationale behind EM, directly from the University of Chicago website: 

Research has shown that teaching the standard U.S. algorithms fails with large numbers of children, and that alternative algorithms are often easier for children to understand and learn. For this reason, Everyday Mathematics introduces children to a variety of alternative procedures in addition to the customary algorithms.

Links to or excerpts of said research are not provided -- we are to simply take these statements as fact. EM further claims to "make mathematics accessible to all students" by:

Incorporating individual, partner, and small group activities that make it possible for teachers to provide individualized feedback and assistance.

Encouraging risk-taking by establishing a learning environment that respects multiple problem solving strategies.

Building in multiple exposures to concepts and skills and providing frequent opportunities for review and practice.

Here is what the creators of EM have to say about calculators:

Based on research that has shown calculator use can enhance cognitive gains in the areas of number sense, conceptual development and visualization, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends the integration of calculators into mathematics programs for all grade levels.

Number sense? While there is such a thing (according to Wikipedia), its definition points more to the use of an abacus (which every grade school classroom should have) than a calculator. That researchers or professional educators could make a statement so meaningless and inconclusive is mortifying.

Additionally, here is what the EM teacher's guide has to say about estimating:

Remind children that one way to make a ballpark estimate is to change the numbers in the problem to close but easier numbers that can be added mentally. For example: 37 + 58 is close to 40 + 60, or 100, or 30 + 50, or 80. The exact answer to 37 + 58 should be close to 100.

Naturally, progressives will arrogantly foist this garbage upon their favorite groups of imaginary downtrodden. What's worse, the methods purportedly being used to convince school boards to adopt EM reek suspiciously of Rules for Radicals:

State that the traditional approach hasn't worked

Disparage testimony from those against the adoption as ideological and politically-motivated arguments

State that the success of any program depends on the teacher

Bring in teachers from affluent school districts as witnesses

Bring in a witness from a university

Few things could more useless than a system of math instruction concocted by developmental psychologists, and serious questions must be raised about the real effects (and intent) of EM. Human beings have been performing simple math since hunter-gatherers realized they had digits and things that needed to be counted. Only a starry-eyed progressive fool would attempt improvement upon methods of simple addition and subtraction, which were used by Franklin, Edison, and Einstein. After a dozen hazy summers, perhaps my children will be the only graduates here in Adams County who are able to figure out how many bushels of fruit can be had from twenty thousand acres of trees.

There are several very interesting videos about Everyday Mathematics on YouTube:

Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth

Everyday Math in Action: Calculators

Division the Everyday Mathematics way!!!

Jason McNew is a 37 year old IT professional.  He can be reached at jasond@mcnew.org.
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