PA Coalition for World Class Math

Everyday Math under fire in Medford, NJ (3/22/2012)

LETTER: Go traditional route with math

To the editor:

I’ve had four years of undergraduate math courses, two years of graduate math courses, and I have taught graduate level math courses, but I had never seen the lattice method, the Egyptian method, or any of these other alternative algorithms until last year when I looked at Everyday Math homework (in Medford). Do you know why? Students don’t need them. They are not taught in all other schools. Those methods will not help a student move onto higher mathematics.

I would have been laughed out of my college classes if I used the partial sums method to add. I wouldn’t have been able to take differential equations if I hadn’t mastered long division. There is a reason why traditional algorithms (the math methods you learned in school to add, subtract, multiply and divide) are needed. Traditional algorithms are needed to understand higher mathematics in college. It is extremely important that they are practiced until they are mastered. In fact, the new Common Core state math standards recommend teaching the standard algorithms.

You may think that there is no reason not to offer alternative algorithms as long as they teach the traditional methods, but I have three reasons why it is a problem. 1) It is a waste of classroom time. There are plenty of other items to be covered and practiced so students should avoid learning outdated, inefficient algorithms. 2) Offering children too many algorithm choices is confusing. I have seen kids straddle between two methods, not really understanding either of them and becoming frustrated. 3) Kids are not permitted to use these alternative algorithms in middle or high school.

In elementary school your child is told that they can choose whatever algorithm they like, but when your child gets to middle school they will be told that they should only use the traditional algorithms. Everyday Math does not prepare students for middle school math, just ask any math or science teacher at Memorial or Haines. There is a huge disconnect between Everyday Math and the rest of your child’s academic career.

My advice to parents ... work with your child to re-enforce the traditional math algorithms that you learned and email your principle and board of education members to urge them to stop teaching these alternative methods in school and start using a more up-to-date textbook that uses the most efficient algorithms recommend by the Common Core State Standards.

Nik Stouffer