By Pam Kenney
Over the last few years, many school districts across Maine have adopted Everyday Mathematics as the math curriculum for their kindergarten through sixth grade students. The program's development by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project began more than 20 years ago, and the first textbooks were published in 1998. Since then it has been implemented, then rejected, in school systems across the country, often because children taught using Everyday Mathematics consistently fail to meet state math standards. Frequently called "fuzzy math", it eschews rote learning and relies on spiraling, a method that introduces children to a concept but quickly moves on to another concept before mastery is achieved. Concepts are re-introduced throughout the school year with the hope that, through repetition, the kids will learn them. Unfortunately, spiraling doesn't work very well. Top math students are bored, average learners are frustrated because, just when they are starting to "get it", another topic is introduced, and children who are struggling in math are overwhelmed and give up in despair.
The seeds of Everyday Mathematics and other programs like it started to sprout more than 50 years ago with the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union and the subsequent realization by U.S. educators that our students needed more difficult math and science courses to help the country excel globally. One result of that decision was that the rote-learning focus of math instruction at the time was replaced by one that emphasized the "whys" of math. "Carrying" and "borrowing", for example, were replaced by lessons on re-grouping and learning about ones, tens, and hundreds. That shift was needed and changed how math was taught for years. The problem now is that we've made the "hows" and "whys" of math so important that we've relegated concept mastery and computing skills to secondary, undervalued positions in some math curricula. Everyday Mathematics is a prime example of the new philosophy, and its inherent spiraling and neglect of mastery have had a negative effect on learning. I think many Maine schools jumped on the Everyday Mathematics band wagon without researching its many drawbacks thoroughly enough; and math programs are so expensive, it will be a long time before these schools can afford to replace it.