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Topic: Responses to the WSJ Editorial - Everyday Math
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 13,020
Registered: 12/3/04
Responses to the WSJ Editorial - Everyday Math
Posted: Jan 15, 2000 8:52 PM
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From the Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2000. Thanks to several people
for bringing these letters to our attention.

Letters to the Editor


The new programs are not "horrifyingly short on basics." My child is in
the second grade of a California public school, and she is being taught by
a very talented and dedicated teacher, who uses one of the curriculum
textbooks you vilify. My child is learning her mathematics facts, her
2+2's very well, and she can explain all her answers in writing. She is
also having fun while learning. Once in awhile, she uses a calculator, not
as a substitute for computing, but for exploring large numbers.

Not everyone in California agrees with the retrograde curriculum policies
recently adopted by the State Board of Education. And the policies are not
law; they are voluntary. "Resource-rich families, too, one suspects, will
find ways to compensate for what trendy schools omit," you write. My wife
and I both have graduate degrees; we would probably meet the
"resource-rich" criteria. Our school is not "trendy." The teachers are
using materials that are effective.

John Jekabson
Berkeley, Calif.


It is not in the least surprising that 200 mathematicians and scientists,
including four Nobel Prize and two Fields Medal winners, deplore the
teaching reforms embodied in the Connected Math and Everyday Math
curricula, as pointed out in your Jan. 4 editorial. They represent
precisely the infinitesimal minority of the population who (a)
demonstrably learned math best the old way, and (b) are deeply
professionally invested in those teaching methods whose sole goal is to
reproduce their own scholarly selves and not incidentally to create yet
another generation of innumerate math-phobes out of the rest of us. The
interesting question is why these experts persist in believing that their
own personal learning experiences (all of them, you can be sure, leaped at
warp-speed over those rote blackboard drills) have any relevance
whatsoever to the task of teaching for understanding in today's schools.

Douglas T. Shapiro
(M.A., Mathematics)
Brooklyn, N.Y.


Our New Math Adds Up to Success

Your Jan. 4 editorial "Math Wars" and the Jan. 7 Letters to the Editor
criticized Everyday Mathematics, the elementary curriculum from the
University of Chicago School Mathematics Project (UCSMP). We would like to
clarify some details about this curriculum.

Everyday Mathematics is built on decades of research in mathematics
education, teaches much more mathematics than conventional programs, and
has been extensively field tested and revised by many fine teachers over
many years. And it is highly effective, as has been demonstrated in
student achievement studies over more than 10 years. The program
emphasizes memorizing basic arithmetic facts and using them both in paper
and pencil computation and in mental arithmetic. It then applies
computation in real-world situations, data analysis, algebra, measurement,
and geometry. It does not focus on building "self-esteem," except insofar
as knowing a lot of mathematics builds self-esteem. The "If math were a
color" exercise you cited as an example of an absence of serious content
comes at the end of the first unit in fifth grade. That unit is about
number theory, including factoring, divisibility, figurate numbers, and an
in-depth investigation of prime and composite numbers. The color exercise
is designed as a brief bit of reflection after an intensive first two
weeks of school.

In a special report on science and mathematics education in the January
2000 issue of Popular Science, Lauren Resnick, former president of the
American Educational Research Association, is quoted: "The National
Science Foundation-funded program Everyday Mathematics, which also
stresses understanding of concepts, produced a marked change in the
performance of Pittsburgh elementary and middle schoolers, with a three-
to four-time improvement in grades, especially for African-American

These remarkable results are not unique. In 1998, six of the 10
top-scoring schools on the Pennsylvania state test used Everyday
Mathematics. In 1999, four of the 10 top-scoring schools in Massachusetts
used the program. And 12 of the 25 top-scoring Chicago-area schools on the
1999 third-grade Illinois Standards Achievement Test used it. More than
half of the elementary school districts in the First in the World
Consortium of high-achieving schools outside the city of Chicago also use
Everyday Mathematics.

MAX BELL, PH.D. Professor Emeritus of Education, University of Chicago
Director, UCSMP Elementary Materials Component Chicago

(The letter is also signed by Andy Isaacs, D.A., director, UCSMP Everyday
Mathematics Center; James McBride, Ph.D., director, UCSMP K-6 Revisions;
and Zalman Usiskin, Ph.D., director, University of Chicago School
Mathematics Project.)

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618) 453-4244
Phone: (618) 453-4241 (office)
(618) 457-8903 (home)
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu


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