PA Coalition for World Class Math

                              Everyday Math concerns in Oswego (11/17/2011)

Debate Continues in District 308 Over Everyday Math Curriculum

Some board members and parents want the curriculum gone, but the district's head of teaching and learning says now is not the time to replace it.

By Steven Jack

Oswego Patch

When it comes to the math curriculum taught to Oswego District 308 elementary students, there are two distinct schools of thought.

Some members of the School Board have made it clear they have no love for Everyday Math, the program that was brought into the district in 2008. Board President Bill Walsh has said, “I don’t get it,” and board member Alison Swanson, herself a science teacher at West Aurora High School, thinks it's time for a change in direction.

“I have deep concerns about Everyday Math on several levels. It spirals around concepts instead on focusing in-depth on mastery (multiplication and long division),” Swanson wrote in response to emailed questions. “When we ask students to apply it in later grades (high school physics for example) and they need a calculator to divide 54 by 9, it's a sign of a disconnect in mastery.”

Marsha Hollis, the district’s assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said now is not the time to change the curriculum for several reasons. The first, she said, is the district has just started the process of aligning all its curriculum to the new Common Core standards set out by the state. Those will need to be met by 2015.

Second, she said a change would cost the district about $2 million it doesn’t have, and finally, not enough time has passed to judge the program's effectiveness.

“I think we need to give the publishers (McGraw Hill) a little more time to modify their products,” Hollis said. “Remember, we’re only in the third year of this program.”

Aligning Everyday Math to the new Common Core Standards is not something Swanson supports, either. That process would require patches to the curriculum provided by the publishers.

“(I’m also concerned) about 'patching' the Everyday Math curriculum to align it to Common Core. For instance, the currently used Everyday Math needed to 'patch' traditional algorithms, because they were not part of the 2007 curriculum and are called for in Common Core,” Swanson wrote. “As a parent, I am thankful for our wonderful teachers who have recognized the shortcomings of Everyday Math and found a secondary curriculum to support times tables and division.”

The district adopted Everyday Math after a year-long math curriculum renewal process that began in the fall of 2007. A district-wide committee made up of parents, teachers and administrators selected three final programs from an original list of nine.

Carla Wood, the district’s elementary mathematics coordinator, worked with selected teachers across the district to evaluate each program. The committee approved the recommendation of Everyday Math in a 6-1 vote with board member Lynn Cullick stating she preferred another of the programs—EnVision Math.

Cullick, who still sits on the School Board, said this week that it might be premature to start considering a new math curriculum, given the upcoming Common Core requirements, the lack of available funding and the need for more pressing curriculum renewal in the district.

“I don’t think I can support dumping this curriculum and put everyone else on the back burner,” she said. “I think we need to let the dust settle on the Common Core and find out how Everyday Math aligns to that, and then maybe take another look, but not at this time.”

Perhaps the biggest complaint from parents about Everyday Math is that it teaches students multiple methods for arriving at the same answer—a concept that can be difficult to grasp for those who memorized their multiplication tables as a kid. Cullick and Swanson said they’ve both heard frustrations from parents.

“I have fielded so many complaints from parents on Everyday Math that I believe building up a new math curriculum already aligned within the confines of the new Common Core standards may be one way to garner more parent and community support,” Swanson wrote.

Hollis, who is set to retire in about eight months, said whatever happens with the district’s elementary math program needs to start from the bottom up, not the top down.

“The professional educators have to make these decisions,” she said. “While I value the input of the board, it ultimately comes down what the teachers deem appropriate. That’s always been the process we’ve used for curriculum renewal for the 18 years I’ve been here.”

An indication of whether Everyday Math is a valuable curriculum might come in the form of test scores. Illinois Standards Achievement Test math scores at the elementary level show a steady improvement in the third, fourth and fifth grade from 2008 to 2011.

This year, 94.5 percent of third-graders are meeting and exceeding state standards district-wide, as are 95 percent of fourth-graders and 93 percent of fifth-graders. 

While the numbers are not as robust at the junior high level, steady gains also have been made. Some 91.3 percent of sixth-graders, 89.5 percent of seventh-graders and 89.2 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded state standards this year.