The sad legacy of Everyday Math, II Here’s a more personal follow-up to the topic of educational malpractice. A couple of months ago, I wrote about working with a group of French African immigrant children whose school-based math education consists of Everyday Math. I noted how they weren’t able to subtract 91 from 1000 because they didn’t know how to borrow (regroup) across multiple digits.

As I noted then, You can’t blame the mathematical deficiencies of these 4th and 5th graders on their parents: both the private school and the after school program select for parents who care about education. You can’t blame it on the kids: my kids, who clearly wanted to learn, had been admitted [to our after school program] in part based on their behavior. You also can’t blame it on language problems; these kids are fluent in English. In fact, there’s really only one thing outside the Everyday Math curriculum that one can possibly point a finger to, and that is that these immigrant parents (many of them don’t speak English) don’t realize what many native-born parents already know: namely, that they can’t count on the schools to fully educate their children.

So these kids are a case study in what happens when you leave math instruction entirely up to Everyday Math practitioners. And the answers to this question are slowly coming in. For several of the 5th graders I work with, it turns out that not only do they not know how to borrow across multiple digits; they also don’t know their basic addition and subtraction “facts.” In other words, they don’t automatically know that, say 5 plus 7 is 12, or that 15 – 8 is 7; instead they count on their fingers.

This got me thinking about addition and subtraction “facts.” Back in my day, there was no issue of kids learning these facts as such. Yes, we memorized our multiplication tables. But we never set about deliberately memorizing that 5 plus 7 is 12. Why? Because the frequency of the much-maligned “rote” calculations we did ensured that we, in today’s lingo, constructed this knowledge on our own. Back in my day, a typical third grade arithmetic sheet looked something like this: And a typical fourth grade arithmetic sheet looked something like this: But in Reform Math programs like Everyday Math, such pages filled with calculations are only occasional, and each problem involves a much shorter series of calculations.