2 + 2 = controversy

Sometimes, it just isn’t as simple as two plus two.  Case in point, the current brouhaha down in Texas, where the State Board of Education is rejecting the third grade Everyday Mathematics program.  The program currently has 20 percent marketshare in Texas, and its been credited with turning around the math scores in New York City’s public schools.  Despite that, Texas is expelling the program, citing its failure to prepare kids for college.

The full story is in the New York Sun — http://www.nysun.com/article/66711 — courtesy of <a href="http://www.educationnews.org.


Texas educators should be allowed to do what they think is right for Texas students.  Just because it works in New York or anywhere else doesn’t mean it will work in the Lone Star State.  Sometimes, what happens in New York needs to stay in New York.

Be clear, we do know it is working in New York City.  Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein will clearly tell you that, as will the folks who decided the Broad Prize this year.  And NYC’s math scores have improved since the curriculum was implemented almost five years.  Both opinion and the data seem to point to the effectiveness of the program, at least in the Big Apple.

What makes this interesting, particularly from a communications perspective, is WHY folks are standing up in opposition to Everyday Mathematics.  It comes down to two issues — rigor and readiness.

Rigor, of course, is the new buzz word.  Here at the end of 2007, it is now being used in place of scientifically or evidence based.  Called progressive or fuzzy, Everyday Math is getting caught in the crosshairs of the math wars (a far more dastardly battle than any reading war skirmish).  Funny that, since it comes from McGraw Hill, the publisher usually beaten up for its overemphasis on research and methodology for its Open Court reading programs.

Regardless, the U.S. Department of Education, according to the Sun, judged “Everyday Math more effective than some more traditional programs but calling its impact still just “potentially” positive.”  So it must have some rigor to pass IES’ WWC filters.

So we move on to readiness.  The public criticism is that Everyday Math is not preparing kids for college.  Some Texas officials rejected it because the book doesn’t include multiplication tables.  And an NYU computer science professor has attacked the curriculum for not preparing kids for the types of college courses he teaches.

Eduflack is the first to recognize that college readiness is all the rage these days.  But how many of our third graders are planning on matriculating to postsecondary institutions this coming fall?  Are third-grade math courses designed to prepare us for the rigors of college, or the rigors of middle school?

Yes, states and school districts should be given the flexibility to do what is best for their students.  Even in NYC, Klein has provided waivers to those schools looking to use an alternative elementary school math curriculum.  But when we attack third grade textbooks on the college readiness issue, aren’t we starting to play Chicken Little?

College readiness is an important, even a critical, issue for our nation’s public schools.  But if we use it as a rhetorical strawman to turn back each and every program, curriculum, and initiative we oppose, we remove the soul and value of the issue.  Sure, everything from preK on in some way gets our kids ready for college.  They are building blocks of learning.  Does this now mean that if don’t provide our kindergartners with phonics and phonemic awareness, we are not effectively preparing them for college?  Technically, yes, but rhetorically, of course not.

Students become math-ready for college by taking Algebra, Algebra II, geometry, and trig in their middle and high schools.  Third grade prepares some of the building blocks to get there, but even the most successful, beyond this world third-grade curriculum will not make today’s average nine-year-old college ready.  It doesn’t take a math Ph.D. to see that.

The Texas State Board of Education should be making sure that its elementary school mathbooks are providing the foundations every kid needs to succeed.  If not, stand up and say so and propose a better solution.  If Everyday Math isn’t cutting it for Texas kids, just say it isn’t the best choice for Texas classrooms.  That’s the Board’s prerogative and their responsibility.  But do it for the right reasons.  Otherwise, we aren’t too far from hearing that this Play-Doh may not be a college-ready supplemental learning tool.

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