Testimonies About Programs

This page is designed to present a collection of testimonies about various math programs.  Testimonies presented her are presented with permission of the author or are available elsewhere on the internet.

Everyday Math

Nicole Stouffer testified before the Medford (NJ) Township Public Schools Board of Education in December 2011. Nicole is the president of Stouffer & Associates Medical Research Support, a statistical consulting business.  A pdf of Nicole’s presentation can be downloaded by clicking here.

There is an urgent problem with the math curriculum in Medford schools. Children are not acquiring a solid foundation in math. The problem is the Everyday Math program in k-5 and the Connected Math program taught in 6-8. These are known as “Discovery-based”, “Reform” or “Constructivist” math programs. The inadequacies in Everyday math and Connected Math have been highly contested among both educators and parents nationwide for many years.

In Medford, many parents have recognized the failings of the curriculum since it has been implemented. These parents supplement at home, spending nights and weekends teaching their children traditional methods. Parents who can afford it, spend significant amounts of money to send their child to outside tutoring at centers like Kumon or Sylvan, or parents pay for private tutors, many of whom are teachers in this district, to fill in the gaps created by Medford’s math programs. And, many parents, because of their own demanding work lives and their blind trust in the education system, didn’t realize there was a problem until a few years passed and then, it seemed almost too late to rebuild their child’s math foundation as well as their child’s self-esteem.   The dire dysfunction of Everyday math and Connected math’s failings has gone unrecognized in the Medford school administration for 6 years. If the extent of the problem was known, there would have been a call to action years ago.

Medford parents need a voice in the choice of curriculum. The parents of Medford have not been asked if this math program is working for our children . No one has asked how many children in Medford use outside tutoring, or how many kids now hate math since we started this program, or ask how many hours parents spend at night re-teaching their children. This problem has gone un-recognized for years and I am here to give it the attention it deserves. The parents in this community are at a point where we realize that it is time for us to take action.

It is obvious to teachers and parents in Medford elementary schools that topics change so excessively in math that our children get lost and frustrated.  This type of topic change is called spiraling. Weekly and daily spiraling does not allow a child to master a concept or procedure before going on to the next one.   This is just one example of why our children are failing to learn mathematics in school.

In my previous discussion with Tom Olson, our curriculum director, he has agreed that the excessive spiraling in the Everyday math program is a problem.  Mathematicians and cognitive psychologists nationwide also agree that the excessive spiraling in reform programs such as Everyday Math is a problem.  There is not enough practice for mastery, and because there is no mastery of basic math facts and traditional algorithms, the children eventually are forced to rely on calculators.  Everyone agrees the math program is not effective, and yet tomorrow morning, when we send our kids to elementary school, the teachers will be forced to teach this failed method of instruction because we adopted this Everyday Math Program 6 years ago.

I have many 6th grade parents here today whose children are the first class to have completed the EDM program in grades 1 through 5. Many of these kids are struggling for two reasons. 1. Many 6th graders have not learned basic math facts and standard algorithms in elementary school so they struggle trying to learn what they have not been taught.  And 2. Connected Math, as well as Everyday Math has a controversial, Discovery Learning style that expects the children to figure out mathematical methods themselves with minimal direct, explicit instruction. When a parent spends the better part of the evening painfully going over homework, it doesn’t take long for one to realize that not only is discovery learning flawed and ineffective, it can also be detrimental, creating a hindrance to future learning by creating confusion, frustration and eroding the confidence in children. Research shows that direct instruction is more effective than discovery learning. We have talented teachers here in Medford, we should allow them to use the most effective teaching methods. But tomorrow morning, when we send our kids to school, teachers will be forced to use this failed form of instruction.

After in the 8th grade, after years of reform math, children are expected to take a traditional freshman Algebra course, and the parents here today can tell you that their children were NOT prepared. Any mathematician will tell you that computational fluency is a pre-requisite for Algebra. Without fluency in the computation of fractions and decimals, you WILL struggle with learning Algebra. EDM and Connected Math have a known reputation of not focusing on basic skills and not providing standard algorithms that are needed for success in Algebra and college mathematics.  Many other college courses besides college mathematics, such as chemistry, physics, nursing courses, and engineering courses expect students have a mastery of the foundational skills expected to be taught in K-12  If our children do not master basic skills in elementary school we are reducing their chances of obtaining a science degree in college.

There is a fundamental failing with the basic premise of reform math that cannot be revised or supplemented.  The order in which topics are provided, the excessive spiraling, the lack of focus of traditional algorithms, and the waste of classroom time on untraditional, cumbersome methods DOES NOT prepare a student for our traditional high school math program or a traditional college math program.

The fundamental failing of our current program is not only seen by Medford district parents, but in districts all over New Jersey and all over the nation. Boards of Education nationwide have voted to abandon these failed Everyday Math and Connected Math programs. I can list 9 New Jersey districts alone that have abandoned the exact same program we are still using. (Franklin Lakes, South Orange-Maplewood, Wayne, Mt. Olive, Bridgewater-Raritan, Bernards Township, Ridgewood, Readington, and Westwood ) There are even more New Jersey districts, who have abandoned similar reform programs. And yet tomorrow morning, when our children go to school, the teachers will be forced to use this failed and abandoned program on Medford students.

I have seen testing data from districts that have dropped these programs a couple of years ago, like Ridgewood and Bridgewater-Raritan and they have improved their test scores. Dropping everyday math and Connected Math has been extremely successful for these schools, such that, fewer children are testing Partially Proficient and more children are testing Advanced Proficient on the NJ ASK.

In Medford we are currently piloting the new 2012 Everyday Math program in K-2, which they say is aligned with new Core Curriculum State Standards that New Jersey has adopted. I can tell you by what I see coming home in the second grade, it is STILL the same failed program.  In addition, I have documented proof that the fundamental style of these programs does not meet these new Core Curriculum State Standards. I urge you, board members, to discontinue this pilot immediately and listen to parents’ concerns, and review and consider alternative math programs.

I have evidence that shows the damage of these failed programs, lack of adherence to the New Core Curriculum State Standards and the excessive financial expense of EDM. That is right, not only is this program failing, it is more expensive than other programs to maintain.

If you question the extent of unsatisfied parents in Medford, I will volunteer my services as a professional statistician, to develop and conduct anonymous parent/teacher surveys. The Medford School Board has a responsibility to create a fair, objective process where all stakeholders’ voices are heard (all stakeholders includes administrators, teachers, principals AND parents). You, the board, have the power to initiate this fair process by directing the administration to do the right thing and begin a fair and comprehensive evaluation that includes parent opinion. In fact, state code mandates that districts evaluate education programs every five years.

It is important at this time to examine other Math programs, such as Math in Focus, which is based on the highly successful Singapore Math program. The Singapore Math program was used to model the new CCSS that Medford must follow by New Jersey state law.

I am asking that you, the elected Board of Education members, to work towards passing a resolution to stop the EDM math pilot, to form a committee inclusive of parents, teachers and administrators, to replace the Everyday Math and Connected Math program and examine a more balanced program for our children. I will gladly volunteer to be one of the parents on the committee.  There are many parents in this community who are board certified teachers willing to dedicate their time to improve the math curriculum. Due to budget cuts, Tom Olson has told me, he is working with a reduced staff. He has so many other responsibilities with our schools; it would be unfair to ask him to tackle this Math problem alone. This is why I will, again, URGE the board to pass a resolution appointing a volunteer committee to research the benefit and cost of a new math program.

This newly appointed “special math curriculum committee” made up of all stakeholders should start a review of alternative textbooks immediately and they should work within a tight timeline setting objectives and milestones.  In addition, this special committee should be on the agenda at every board meeting until this math crisis is resolved. Our budget problems should not force us to push these failed methods on teachers while preventing our kids from acquiring basic skills in math and dooming kids to difficulty with high school and college math.  Budget issues are no excuse to continue to pay for a failed program, especially since taxpaying parents are also paying for tutoring.

As your constituents, we need to press upon you, the board of education, to honor the urgency of this request. Each day we do nothing, the children are in school getting behind other districts that have already recognized the failings of Everyday math and Connected Math. We need to discontinue these math programs immediately.

Thank you.

enVisionMath

A Parent’s Firsthand Experience with enVisionMath
Below are the relevant portions of an email from a parent of a 5th grader in Richland who has had direct experience with the recent adoption of EnVisions.
“Hi . . . ,
“ . . . My son was in the 4th grade when we started using Envision. At home, we were struck with the poor quality of the homework problems. It’s as if a completely different staff wrote the homework. This group of homework authors sometimes wrote unsolvable problems, made errors, were generally careless and not mathematical in their thought. We often sent our son’s homework back to school with a sticky note to the teacher, saying things like “this problem involves a negative number, which 4th graders can’t handle”. The extension homework problems were often totally unrelated to the lesson, and not at all useful in building a mathematical foundation. They were often brain teasers, which I found very irritating. I know that many if not most of the kids didn’t know their math facts and couldn’t do basic computations fluently and accurately, so there was no time for time-eating, sometimes unsolvable and usually frustrating brain teasers. When our adoption committee reviewed Envision, we did not see the homework materials, so this issue was a surprise to me.
“About halfway into the year (or maybe it was around March), parents of the second graders started coming to me complaining about the way EnVision teaches subtraction. Kids and parents alike were struggling with it. They use a strange system of a visual tool they created (gotta come up with something original, after all) that I think was called “10 cards” or “10 spot cards” or something of the sort. It’s positively awful. The parents were clueless. I struggled for quite some time to figure out what they were doing in the illustrations. I then compared it side-by-side with Singapore and the flaws in the Envision method were numerous and obvious.
“ Third grade teachers complained about the need for rampant photocopying (and we all know how budget cuts have affected copying!) because there are no consumables for 3rd grade. 3rd graders are still slow writers, so recopying is arduous and slows the math learning.
“The DVD materials got rave reviews from the teachers. They liked how it was organized and friendly to them. I know the kids loved the Smartboard lessons. There is an online component which our son’s teacher started to use but he later fizzled out on it. Not sure why.
“ . . . That’s my personal experience with Envision. Hope this helps.”

Parent letter to Principal about the enVision Math curriculum
Wed, January 20, 2010

Sent: Wed, January 20, 2010 8:01:29 PM
Subject: enVision Math curriculum

Dear Mr. Xxxxxx,

My husband and I have a lot of concerns with the new math program,
enVision Math. We had to look at it closely because our 3rd grader,
Xxxxxx, has Asperger’s syndrome and needs extra help in his work. He
has struggled this year with the all-word-problem format; we suspect
it is a problem for many other kids who otherwise might succeed in a
more traditional math program. We understand it is conceptually
oriented, and have heard that the district’s math state test scores
went up and is attributed to the new math. It is understandable that
state test scores are important to the district, having an impact on
perhaps both reputation and funding, but we would like to direct
attention to negative qualities of enVision Math in both content,
approach and its impact on special needs kids, and see if there can
be more balance and flexibility. We sense the teachers are
uncomfortable discussing the new math, and seem to be restricted in
that they must adhere to a strict schedule and
do not change the order of lessons or skip lessions.

While the focus on conceptual understanding may give the impression
of being more rigorous, we find enVision is lacking in depth in many
topics (e.g. multi-digit addition and subtraction) and does not
provide adequate practice to ensure procedural fluency (e.g. doing
multiplication and division word problems prior to mastering the
basic facts). Over the past 2 years, we have questioned how to do HW
and test problems, where the answers seem to disagree with our
calculations.

As we progressed, we realized that many of the enVision math topics
are being presented differently than we learned, such as multiplication as repeated addition and division as repeated  subtraction. While it is true that some multiplication problems happen to be repeated addition, this is not the main purpose or property of multiplication – proportion is the main idea, but enVision drums it into the kids’ minds to think of multiplication in this limited way. We have noticed with concern that there is a focus on how to think and not primarily how to solve math problems. Our problems are not limited to Xxxxx’s classes, but to other grades as
well, such as the pre-testing done at xxxxxx, which takes an entire class period to test the kids on topics they have not yet learned in order to place them in groups when you, the school/teachers, have enough data to predict who belongs in which level group. Some of these problems or errors could be the result of enVision being a very
new program and the bugs have not yet been discovered and corrected, and some the result of apparent disagreements among math professionals.

We found that many other parents have an awareness of problems with
the new math program. Until we started researching the new concepts
used in enVision (e.g compatible numbers) we did not realize there
were “math wars” going on between proponents of traditional and
progressive programs. There are implications of this progressive
enVision math for all the kids, not only special needs like Xxxxxxx,
in that they may not be prepared for the higher math courses later.
We are concerned that we have a new, expensive program that still
does not adequately address learning of the basic math facts, go deep
enough on primary subjects like adding/subtracting 3 digit nos., and
requires supplementation both in school (math rockets) and at home.
This is the nature of progressive or reform math, that mastery of
skills is not achieved or the focus of attention, and we suspect the
supplementation required is skewing the research to minimize the
impact of this type of math.

Also, there may be other areas besides basic facts that should be
supplemented, and there does not seem to be flexibility (for the
teachers) in eliminating the strange,errant or confusing lessons,
adding missing topics, or even spending extra time as needed on a
topic.

Here are a few articles by Stanford mathematics professor Keith
Devlin which I found to be useful. The first hits upon how
procedural fluency before conceptual is very helpful, which I
heartily agree with since I think its triply hard for the kids to do
all those word problems before they even learn the basic facts as
enVision requires; the second 2 go into depth on the multiplication
as repeated addition issue (he is very respectful of teachers and
makes a lot of sense, I think, explaining why multiplication should
not be thought about as repeated addition).

What is Conceptual Understanding? :
http://www.maa. org/devlin/ devlin_09_ 07.html
It Ain’t No Repeated Addition:
http://www.maa. org/devlin/ devlin_06_ 08.html
It Still Not Repeated Addition:
http://www.maa. org/devlin/ devlin_0708_ 08.html

With four children in the district, we have a vested interest in math
education. Thank you for taking the time to consider our concerns.

Sincerely,

Xxxxxx

One parent’s experience with enVisionMath…

I’ve experienced enVision for 3rd grade and 4th grade with my son. I’m not a fan. It’s better than Investigations but needs a lot of supplementing, especially in calculations. I have found it to go into more depth in some areas, exceeding standards in some cases but since there is not enough background to form a decent foundation, parents end up doing the homework. The workbook does not give examples and no support notes or text comes home – so if your kids needs help with prime and composite numbers and you don’t remember what that is, you will have to reference something else – maybe the online text (if you remember the logon and password) to figure it out and explain it (my friends just call me).

Even knowing the math and having a kid who is a year ahead in calculations (Kumon) it’s a frustrating curriculum. Here’s my favorite homework question this week: WRITE TO EXPLAIN. If a fraction has a prime number in the numerator, can it be reduced? Just what every 4th grader has the vocabulary and thought process to explain.

In the past 2 weeks, they have thrown the following math at my son – prime and composite numbers, factors, reducing fractions, converting fractions to equivalent fractions, comparing fractions with like and unlike denominators, adding fractions with like denominators, area and perimeter, as well as geometry concepts such as point, line, plane, parallel lines, intersecting lines, perpendicular lines and identifying various geometric figures. There is only one page of limited practice per area and my son only retains anything because I have pre-taught it to him.

Some areas on the NYS assessment regarding fractions –comparing UNIT fractions, decimal equivalents of a few fractions – have not been part of the materials. Again – I do it myself at home – only because I know about it.

I give enVision a thumbs down as a stand-alone math curriculum. I find the workbook homework to be an irritation and in our home we put the more logical Kumon math work and my own supplementing as the priority.

by Stefanie N.

Comments are closed.