· Assert their campaign is ideologically driven and that the school board’s is the only view
to be trusted.
Over the years, internet-based organizations have been formed (most of them started by
angry and concerned parents) to provide information to parents, teachers, school boards and
others on math education issues. One of the first such groups was formed in California and is
called Mathematically Correct; another, is NYC HOLD (New York City Honest Open Logical
Decisions on Mathematics Education Reform) to which I belong. Upon learning only a day
before the hearing that DCPS was planning to adopt the texts, several of us in NYC HOLD and
Mathematically Correct prepared testimony against the adoption of EM and CMP, and e-mailed
the testimony to the school board members.
Dr. Ortiz, in fact, took note of the e-mails and pointed out the existence of “national
groups of a variety of advocates, teachers, parents, some professors who really are very zealous in
their political causes, and which are based on ideologies.” She explained how she figured out
that all these e-mails from “outside of D.C., from different parts of the country” were from people
associated with NYC HOLD and Mathematically Correct. That established, she made sure
everyone knew the rules which are “to always start with good data and not raise ideologies, or
any assumptions.” Dr. Clifford Janey, Superintendent of the DC Public Schools then followed up
with his summation of the e-mailed testimony, declaring “I think they're short on research and
long on opinion.”
And just what did these idealogues say in their e-mails? Bastian Braams, visiting professor
of physics at Emory University provided links to analyses he has written of EM which provide
very careful, reasoned arguments (with many detailed examples) on why the spiral process and
other aspects of the program it employs are ineffective. Ralph Raimi, emeritus professor of
mathematics from the University of Rochester stated quite simply “In my experience with districts
afflicted with these programs, affluent parents have sent their children to private schools or hired
tutors, while the less privileged, even if they ‘succeeded’ in these programs, were forever cut off
from any further progress in mathematics or scientific professional education.”
Karen Budd, a parent in Fairfax County, Virginia, presented data showing how school test
scores in math in the 14 poorest schools of Anne Arundel County, Maryland rose dramatically
after one year, using the Saxon Math program. She also presented the test scores in math for the
Project Excel Schools in Fairfax County, Virginia—schools which used a similar pedagogy in
math as Everyday Math. These schools received an additional $60 million in their budget for 5
years to implement new programs, procedures, and lengthen the day so that students could
receive extra instruction in math and reading. Even with the considerable additional funds, longer
days and focused attention, there was little to no increase the first three years and an overall
decline the last year.
And Adele Hlasnik, a parent in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania stated that after 10 years of
Everyday Math in their schools test scores based on the Pennsylvania System of State
Assessments (PSSA) show “that the curricula are failing the most vulnerable students, those from
low-income, minority households. In the 2003-2004 testing year, over 70 percent of African
American fifth- and eighth-grade students failed to demonstrate proficiency on the PSSA with
some 50 percent measuring ‘Below Basic’ in each grade.”
Agreement with the choices of CMP and EM is typically described as "objective" or
"balanced," whereas disagreement is "ideological." In fact, the opposite is true. The criticisms
stated by the testimonies were based on objective mathematical shortcomings. On the other hand,
it’s the arguments promoting them that are consistently ideological. And of course, in the end,
according to school board tactics, the texts don’t matter at all. The teachers do, which brings us
to the next tactic.
Tactic 3: State that the success of any program depends on the teacher
Disparaging the testimony as ideological argument is only one step in the process. The next very
important step is downplaying the importance of a text. There is more to this tactic than meets
the eye. The first part of this tactic is that when parents or mathematicians criticize defective
textbooks, the response is that textbooks don't matter; teachers do.
Let’s see how this works. Dr. Janey made the following statement at the beginning of the
meeting after acknowledging the e-mailed testimony that criticized the textbooks: “I don't believe
it would be fair to make a causal relationship between any textbook series and mathematics,” he
said. “Other variables are much more important than just a particular set of materials.” This It’s-the-teacher-not-the-textbook argument sets up a barrier against criticism of any program. If a
school does poorly on standardized tests, the teachers are held accountable, not any textbook that
the school board had a hand in adopting.
The second part of the tactic covers the situation of someone asking “why change the
books if they don't matter”? The answer to be given is “of course they matter.” And sure enough,
later in the meeting, the question did indeed get asked, by board member Victor Reinoso: “If it
doesn't matter what textbooks we use to drive student achievement, then why are we changing
Dr. Janey responded: “I didn't say textbooks don't matter. I said be cautious about making
a causal relationship between the use of any print material and student achievement.” That
established, he then put on the finishing touch. “I was suggesting that we should not put too much
emphasis on any type of material because in the real research, it's teachers that matter most,” he
said, thus having it both ways. Which is good because in the case of EM, there is no
textbook—only a set of workbooks with problems that students work in every day, a Student’s
Reference Manual which students can read at their leisure to look up terms and concepts, and a
teacher’s manual. But that aside, Dr. Janey’s answer was so skillful that Victor Reinoso thanked
him for the clarification, and then asked what type of teacher training is going to take place, given
that it’s the teachers that matter.
As it turns out, the cost of the textbooks includes teacher training and professional
development, words that always sound good but which raise questions about what this training is
all about. If it’s the teachers that matter, training should be rather critical. But since EM is one of
several programs intended as a shortcut to higher-order thinking skills, it isn’t likely that training
will consist of helping teachers to structure new information and of helping students to relate it to
what they already know. Nor is it likely to be about instruction from the teacher nor about
mastery of basic facts and skills. More likely it will be about how to facilitate classes to work in
small groups (the mainstay of education school theory: students teach other students better than
teachers can), to not answer questions, or to direct information.
With teachers—and teacher training—being more important in the end than textless math
curricula, what could then be better at a school board hearing than testimony from teachers
Tactic 4: Bring in teachers from affluent school districts as witnesses
After acknowledging, and disparaging, criticism of the textbooks to be adopted, and after
maintaining that the textbook is not as important as the teachers, what makes more sense than
hearing from the teachers themselves? This is precisely what happened. EM has been piloted in
six schools in the District: John Eaton, Horace Mann, Murch, Bunker Hill, Janney, and Hearst.
With the exception of Bunker Hill, which is in Ward 5, all of these schools are in Ward 3. The
percent of students receiving free or reduced price lunches in the schools in Ward 3 range from 4
to 15 percent. This metric is considered an indicator of socio-economic status of the school.
Generally, at lower percentages, the more affluent the population, higher school test scores tend
to correlate well with affluence. The level for Bunker Hill was 48 percent.
Math test scores for the schools in Ward 3 tended to be high—more than 80 percent of
the students received passing scores on the SAT-9 tests for math. The Janney School has piloted
EM for 8 years, but the other schools have not used it as long. All math scores for schools in
Ward 3 were in the same general range. For Bunker Hill in Ward 5, however, the scores were
lower, ranging from 65 to 80 percent over a five year period.
Why this is important is that schools with a more affluent population will tend to do well
for any number of reasons, including students receiving tutoring, enrolling in learning centers
(e.g., Sylvan, Huntington, Kumon), obtaining help from parents, or having more experienced
teachers who supplement the material.
But the school board presented this as evidence of the effectiveness of EM. Sue White,
director of mathematics for DC Public Schools stated as a witness that: “We have, in the District,
six schools who are presently using EM and have topped out on mathematics scores.” They also
topped out on reading scores, which wasn’t mentioned. Also not mentioned was the fact that
Bunker Hill did not top out on math scores. Ms. White read a statement from a teacher at the
Hearst School, praising the program but also stating “Our school's population is 82 percent out of
boundary with the majority coming from Wards 7 and 8.” This statement supposedly gives
evidence that high test scores occurred even with a diverse population. But again, the percent of
students receiving free or reduced lunches is quite low—5 percent. So the students coming over
from Wards 7 and 8 do not appear to be poor.
With high test scores as the setting (except for the anomalous scores from Bunker Hill,
which weren’t mentioned), various teachers raved and told stories about the wonders of EM as
Betsy Kelly, a teacher, did in her concluding statement: “So if a student is not getting something
the first time, they will come around and they'll get it again. So in 4th grade, when they're
introduced to long division, which is a very abstract, very hard concept for kids in 4th grade, they
will get it again in 5th grade, they'll get it again in 6th grade, and they will master it. Believe me,
they will master it. But they get another chance at it.”
Ms. Kelly left out many details. I am familiar with Everyday Math and how long division
is taught since EM is used in Fairfax County, Virginia where I live. The traditional long division
algorithm is not taught in 4th grade; a rather cumbersome and inefficient method is used instead. In
one class I know the teacher forbid use of the long division algorithm among students who
happened to learn it. In 5th and 6th grades, the traditional method is introduced but they do not
work with it enough to gain proficiency in long division.
For those who are curious, this is what EM has to say about long division from the
Teacher’s Reference Manual: “The authors of Everyday Math do not believe it is worth the time
and effort to develop highly efficient paper-and-pencil algorithms for all possible whole number,
fractions and decimal division problems.…It is simply counterproductive to invest hours of
precious class time on such algorithms. The math payoff is not worth the cost, particularly
because quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator.”
Tactic 5: Bring in a witness from a university
At various times in the hearing, there was mention of a witness who would be talking. Sue White,
the DC Public Schools mathematics director referred to “Tom Bullock, an esteemed mathematics
professor from Georgetown” who would be talking later. There were other references to Bullock
as a professor from Georgetown. In fact, Mr. Bullock is not with the mathematics department of
Georgetown, nor is he a professor. He has a masters degree in mathematics and is Assistant to
the President for District of Columbia Education Initiatives. He directs the education outreach
initiatives of the university and as part of that works with K-12 schools within the District of
Columbia. It is hard to say whether referring to him as a professor was intentional, but I could not
find evidence of any correction of that in the transcript of the hearing.
What Mr. Bullock had to say referred to research from a Department of Education report
on the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). The report examined countries
outperforming U.S. students in math and identified what they were doing to achieve such success.
“The one approach is that they favor a spiral approach to teaching mathematics” he said.
While not precisely correct, it is not exactly wrong either. In short, a perfect statement
which can be read into any way one wants. There is spiral teaching as it is done in Singapore, and
there is the spiral method as done by EM. The two are very different. Singapore revisits older
material that has been mastered and builds upon it. EM’s “learn it later” spiraling is not used in
the highest performing nations. Also, not addressed in his statement is the fact that if EM omits
valuable material, no amount of spiraling will bring it in.
Tactic 6: Assemble your own expert panel and have an independent consultant summarize
The DCPS Board recently adopted mathematics standards that were modeled on those used in
Massachusetts. These standards are among the best in the country. It was therefore a surprise to
learn that DCPS was recommending the adoption of EM and Connected Math Program, given
such strict and demanding standards.
The DCPS put together a panel of teachers and personnel to evaluate the textbooks for
adoption (not just math, but literature, science and social studies). I obtained a list of the names
of the people on this panel from the DCPS through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request. I also requested the Curriculum Vitae of these people, but was told they would have to
go through everyone’s to determine what needed to be “redacted” (struck out) for confidentiality
reasons. I have never received any information on the personnel.
DCPS hired a firm called StandardsWork, a consulting firm in Washington DC that among
other things helps school districts evaluate textbook decisions with respect to standards. I
obtained a copy of their report through a FOIA request as well. At first reading I thought the
report was StandardsWork’s recommendation on what math texts should be adopted. But it is
not. It is a summary of the recommendation that the School Board’s hand-picked panel made. I
contacted someone at StandardsWork, who confirmed that this was indeed the case. The person
then intimated that had they made the recommendation, it would not have been EM and CMP.
The report cautions that EM and CMP require intensive professional development
programs for teachers and principals. It also recommends that the sequence of EM and CMP
would require supplementation with specific “skill and drill work” and “added emphasis on
procedural proficiency is essential”. Most interesting, however, was the statement of caution
about the “math wars” and that “if DCPS selects the non-traditional texts [i.e., EM and CMP] for
use district-wide, it must be prepared to withstand the ‘heat’, as it is likely to find itself in the
position of having to spend political capital, energy, and time, defending the choice.”
Apparently, the District was prepared for the resistance, but I can’t really say they have
spent an immense amount of energy and time “defending the choice”. The vote to adopt was
passed at the hearing on June 15, 2005 with no further discussion of the issue.
A never-ending story
I happened to talk to several parents who had kids in the Janney School; this was one of the
schools at which EM had been piloted. None of the parents had good things to say about the
program. The school has held parent meetings to help parents learn the math so they can help
their kids. For one parent, this didn’t work, because she couldn’t catch on. Neither could her
daughter who she said is two years behind her peers and finally was given an Individual Education
Another parent said she became suspicious when her son was in first grade. “There
seemed to be altogether too much emphasis on estimating and my son would ask to use a
calculator at home. Now that my son is finishing second grade, I have no doubt that the program
is awful,” she said. She has hired a tutor for the summer and may use the tutor into the school
year. She has instructed the tutor to teach her son standard algorithms.
In terms of teachers, I was only able to talk with a few. Many are afraid to come out with
anything negative about the school district. I found that experienced teachers did not take to the
program, and supplemented it with texts they had used in the past which they knew to work. In
general, I find this true all over; superlative teachers do more than supplement the material—they
supplant it. But such teachers have been around a while and do not fear for their jobs as newer
teachers do. One teacher told me that in some schools, teachers simply won’t use it. Principals
didn’t have enough control to stop it in those schools. “It reminds me of an arranged marriage,”
this teacher said. “Many teachers don’t like it.”
Since EM emphasizes group work, teachers have had to facilitate small groups in their
classes. One first grade teacher said this hasn’t worked well because at that age some children
lack socialization skills and can't sit next to each other without grabbing others' belongings. Not to
worry, though; the school is now going to teach socialization skills next year
Newer teachers thought that the program had merit, probably because it matched the
theories they had been hearing about in ed school, which promote things like child-centered
curriculum, discovery learning, working in groups, and spiral process. Some of the newer
teachers confessed at being confused over how to teach the various algorithms for multiplication,
addition and subtraction. One can only imagine how their students felt.
I have seen the effects of the “spiral” in my own experience with EM tutoring several sixth
grade students whose school used the program. I needed to get them up to speed on fractions in
order to keep these kids ahead of what I saw as an oncoming train wreck with upcoming
worksheets on multiplication and division of fractions in their EM workbooks. I used the
Singapore Math texts which present distinct information in a logical sequence. I thought that I
would be able to zoom through the beginning exercises which I took from the Singapore 4th grade
text and quickly get up to multiplication and division. I was totally surprised, however, when I
saw that they reacted to the basic concepts such as equivalent fractions and addition and
subtraction of fractions as if it they had been seeing these things for the first time.
I was therefore curious to know teachers’ views about the aspect of EM in which students
are given a problem for which there has been no prior explanation or similar problems. For
example, in a set of exercises involving division by whole numbers, there may be one problem
asking students to solve 20 divided by 0.5. I asked one teacher how he handles that.
He defended the practice, stating “In real life the application of math does not occur in a
box. This is one of those examples in which the child is sent into disequilibrium as Piaget might
say.” After he got the ed school jargon out of the way, he admitted that in problems like that,
“some students get it, others don’t.” He said sometimes it could be resolved in group work,
where one student “already knew it from home and shared it with the other student.
Finally I asked him what he tells a student who says "I don't understand the problem 20
divided by 0.5." He explained that if you want the child to explore the answer you may ask the
child to think about money as a way to explain the problem but then pointed out that students
who don't understand place value clearly misinterpret 0.5 and 0.05. I would agree with that;
particularly if the only prior work in decimals came some time last year on the “spiral”, and there
has been no discussion of decimal division.
The teacher’s bottom line was “If you have been teaching for a while you probably have
the lines down.” In other words, in an echo of the “It’s the teacher not the text” motif, he didn’t
feel he had enough teaching experience to know. I find it sad that he would have “the lines down”
if he were using traditional texts like Saxon, Singapore, or others.
The teachers clearly bear an unfair burden in all this. So do the students who don’t have
access to tutors or learning centers or parents who can teach them what they’re not being taught.
In the meantime, the school boards go on with their business, buying into the next educational fad
that comes along, ignoring parents and expert opinions, and adopting programs that are short on
content, and long on deception.
*Barry Garelick is an analyst for the federal government and lives in Fairfax County, Virginia.
He is a national advisor to NYC HOLD, an education advocacy organization that addresses
mathematics education in schools throughout the United States. Acknowledgement to Elizabeth Carson of NYC HOLD for her definition of the 'script' that is used in school board meetings and on which I based my article.
Citation: Garelick, B. (2006). A Textbook Case in Textbook Adoption, Nonpartisan Education Review / Essays, 2(6). Retrieved [date] from
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