Monday, November 8, 2010

One More Reason to Homeschool: Everyday Mathematics

Remember when you were a kid and your parents complained about the "New Math" you were being taught in school?  I don't know about you, but honestly, I just thought my parents weren't all that smart.  How on earth they managed to do their jobs (my dad was an engineer and my mom was a nurse) with their incredibly limited math expertise was beyond me. 

Interestingly enough, my parent's intellectual capabilities grew by leaps and bounds as I got older. It's funny how that happens isn't it?

I was reminded of my own math education (and my parent's reaction to it) last week when a friend posted this video on Facebook.

In Math Education: An Inconvenient Truth, M.J. McDermott exposes some rather alarming trends in math education which are clearly demonstrated in two popular math programs. (The video is long, but well-worth the time spent watching it!)  Everyday Mathematics and Investigations in Numbers, Data, and Space are examples of "new-new math," or what has become more descriptively known as "fuzzy math".  I was first introduced to Everyday Mathematics (also known as Chicago Math) several years ago when I was substitute teaching in our local school district.  At first, some aspects of Everyday Mathematics seemed to make sense.  It made math fun.  And practical.  Great for use in...well...everyday life.  But then I started to notice how much in the book wasn't even really about math.  Huh?  And I began to notice language and methods that seemed completely ludicrous.

My initial exposure to Everyday Mathematics led me to a quick investigation which revealed a virtual boatload of negative "press" about this highly acclaimed curriculum.  I found numerous critical reviews written by everyone from math experts to parents to bloggers and journalists.  Even a number of system-bucking teachers jumped bravely into the fight.  Many of these critiques provide passionate testimony and firsthand knowledge of the damage that Everyday Mathematics has done (and continues to do.) In fact, just about the only vocal support I could find seemed to come from the program's own creators and from a few educational bureaucrats desperately trying to justify their own misguided decisions to inflict Everyday Mathematics on the unsuspecting parents and children in their districts. 

After this initial exposure to the world of "fuzzy math", I began to encounter something else that I found very interesting.  As a representative of a homeschool curriculum company, I attend about 10-12 homeschool conventions each year.  The company I represent publishes a spiral-based math program that is quite popular among homeschoolers.  Over the last several years, I've had a surprising number of parents indicate that the single most important factor in their decision to homeschool was Everyday Mathematics. More than once, a parent has done a double-take when I use the word "spiral-based" to describe our math program.  The concerned look was followed immediately by a question:  "If it's spiral-based, does that mean it's like Everyday Math?"

People homeschool for a lot of different reasons.  It turns out Everyday Mathematics is more than just a "highly acclaimed" math program.

It's also become a GREAT reason to homeschool.


  1. With respect to Linda and the company she represents, I have two words: SAXON MATH!

    Old school. Strong results!

  2. Kristy: I believe the best remedy for your headache is to do two multiplication problems using the "standard algorithm," then call me in the morning!!

    Arby: Them's fightin' words! :-) Actually, Saxon IS old school. AND it gets great results. And if it works for you and your children, stick with it!!

  3. That was agonizing watching the other methods of doing math. Good GRIEF!!

    Linda - I know that you lean to Saxon Math - but how does Teaching Textbooks compare? That's what Blondie is currently using.

    I'll be checking into Red's school to see what they use.

  4. Actually, Brownie, I've never used Saxon which is an "incremental", or short spiral approach. I actually prefer mastery-based math programs like Modern Curriculum Press, LIFEPACS, SOS, Singapore, or MathUSee. That's just a personal preference. There are excellent spiral programs that are extremely effective (like Saxon and Horizons). And really great programs (Saxon, Horizons, LIFEPAC, SOS) combine the best elements of both approaches to create really effective math instruction, whereas spiral programs like Everyday Mathematics pay ZERO attention to mastery!

    Teaching Textbooks is also a spiral-based program, but also one that requires mastery. My daughter used TT for Algebra and I loved it!!

  5. Can you define "spiral approach," "short spiral approach," and "mastery-based" for those of us unfamiliar with the terms? I'm reading them and thinking that I cannot see how anyone can complete Saxon math and NOT master the subject. I have no experience with other math programs because the one I'm using isn't broken, so I'm not trying to fix anything. And I'm certian that I'm missing something in the terminology.

  6. Spiral: A spiral learning program teaches a skill without initially requiring mastery. In subsequent lessons repeated review of the skill is provided. Each time a skill is "revisited" for review, the difficulty may increase slightly. Mastery (in theory) comes through repetition and review. Although mastery is usually expected (and often, though not always, assessed) mastery can be difficult to assess in some spiral-based programs. Saxon is an "incremental" or layered spiral program. As such it provides very short spirals with assessment provided and mastery expected. Many spiral programs are very weak in drilling of skills. Saxon is definitely an exception to this!

    Mastery A mastery-based math program teaches a skill and "camps" on it until mastery is gained. The goal of this approach is to ensure that mastery of prerequisite skills is gained before high level skills are attempted. Each skill is taught, practiced, drilled, and tested. When mastery is gained, the student moves on. Some mastery programs are very weak on review, assuming that if a skill is mastered, review is not necessary. They don't know my kids.

    So there you have it. Hope that makes more sense. Here is a GREAT chart that will make you feel even better about your use of Saxon Math!
    Curriculum Comparison Chart

  7. Just stumbled on this, made me laugh when I saw the title because of your statement about Saxon not being broken...I feel sorry for these teachers!
    If it isn't broken...

  8. Linda - I get all those math programs mixed up. LOL! If I had thought a bit I would realized what math you used :) Also your comment "them's fightin' words to Arby now makes sense.

    Blondie is doing TT pre-algebra. She complains that it goes over the same thing again and again! But she does need it.

    This was a great discussion. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for the explanation. Apparently, I didn't miss anything. Your answer is exactly what I suspected it would be. I make no apologies for my use of Saxon, and I get plenty of criticism for it both from local homeschoolers and at other online sources (not yours). What Saxon may not have in camping on a concept until mastery is achieved is made up for by a very strict mathematician mother and fairly demanding father. The most amusing part of teaching Saxon is MY advances in mathematics. I’m in year 7 of a from-the-ground-up math review, and my skills have increased greatly.

  10. It's funny how things have changed in the homeschool community regarding math. When I started homeschooling nearly a 1/4 century ago (yikes!), you couldn't be in the "cool club" if you didn't use Saxon. Never one to bow to peer pressure, I resisted the pressure and went with an incredibly bare-bones, classic mastery-based program...Modern Curriculum Press. It bored my girls to tears (literally), but built strong math foundations. It was only when they hit more "abstract" math concepts that two of them really started to struggle. I wish I had gone with a program that had a bit of both. I think MCP was a bit TOO old school...with little instruction in practical, everyday math application. Oh well. Live and learn. At least I have a second chance. I wonder if I can get it right this time?

  11. I fall into the "Whatever works for you" category. Saxon works for us. Cool. Whatever Math works for you, cool. I was unaware that any program was the "In" program in the homeschool community.

  12. Of course, I've been homeschooling for 1/3 of the time you have...

  13. Yeah. Sure. Rub it in.

    The "in" thing isn't so much a thing now. It definitely was then. Saxon was IT.

  14. Personally I use what I have been given - free. A friend of mine uses Sonlight and her son is a year ahead of Blondie. She has graciously handed over the whole curriculum to me on the condition that I return it to her when I'm done so she can then sell it :) Although, I will say that I don't appreciate their history books and I might be switching mid stream on that.

  15. So, what is it about Sonlight History that you do not like?

  16. Sonlight uses History of Us by Joy Hakim. I think it's just not my style. It is a series of books and sometimes seems a bit politically correct. I like to read history more like a novel. I had used This Country of Ours By Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall for two years. Blondie loved reading through that. But it ends with Woodrow Wilson. I recently bought A Patriots History of the United States - but I think it may be a bit above reading level right now. But it looks excellent.

    For now I'm having Blondie continue with the Sonlight history, it is easy reading and I'm having so much literature reading that I'm afraid I'd bog her down if I gave her heavier history. I think I might just start reading it and filling in the gaps for her.

  17. You didn't know there was an "In" crowd?? Hmmm. In my neck of the woods, the "with it" homeschoolers use either Saxon or MathUSee. I haven't seen much else. Of course, I'm in the "in" crowd, so how would I know what anyone else is using? ;)
    I subbed in a public school that used Everyday Mathematics also, and was so confused, felt slightly stupid, and felt like I wasn't trained to do my job. Aha! Now I know it wasn't me. My daughter went through first grade at that school, then I switched her to a school that uses Saxon. What a difference! However, I then brought her home, started with MathUSee, which I found to be too easy and single-minded FOR US (emphasis on US), and now happily use Saxon. It ain't broke, I ain't fixin' it!

  18. Reminds me of this: