January 02, 2014

Seattle Public Schools Faces A Critical Decision on a New K-5 Math Curriculum

Most Seattle Public School students in the elementary grades have been forced to use a highly inferior math curriculum during the past several years:  Everyday Math (EM).   EM is a classic "discovery" math textbook that downplays (or ignores) the use of standard algorithms (like multiplication and division), includes lots of group work and writing, and does not provide enough practice for student's to achieve mastery..  It encourages a heavy use of calculators in early grades and does a poor job of preparing children for more advanced mathematics (see my previous blog for some documentation of this).  Some Seattle schools have gotten permission to use other mathematics curriculum and performance in these schools has greatly improved (see the same blog for information about this).  Everyday Math has damaged a generation of  Seattle School children.

But now the good news.   Resources are now available to replace Seattle's K-5 math textbooks and associated materials with something much better.  And if you are a Seattle resident, you can help ensure that a superior math program will be selected.

Here is the deal.  Seattle Public Schools has set up a web site (here) describing the math material selection process including access to the 8 contenders (here).  Seattle residents have until January 8th to provide input on their preferences by emailing or faxing a form found here.   You can also look at the books in person and submit forms at the Seattle Public Schools office (John Stanford Center) in Seattle. If you are the parent of a child in Seattle Public Schools, will be a parent in SPS, or believe good math is critical for the future of our city and nation, please express you opinions by sending in the form by January 8th.

These recommendations will go to a curriculum review committee comprised of teachers, staff, parents and community members for narrowing down the list to three.

Which are best math books?

I have looked at all these books, as have math experts in the Seattle Math Coalition and Wheresthemath.com.   The bottom line is that there are only two viable selections in the list of 8:

Jump Math
Math In Focus.

Let's talk about what we want in a math curriculum:

  • A curriculum that will ensure all students gain a mastery of key algorithms and concepts.
  • A curriculum that allows parents to help their child.
  • A curriculum that allows kids to be creative with math once they have the basic skills.
  • A curriculum that is accessible to all kids, including children for which English is not their primary language.
  • A curriculum that allows teachers that are weak in math to still ensure solid learning amount in their classrooms.
  • A curriculum that prepares students to move on to more advanced mathematics in middle and high schools.
Both Jump Math and Math in Focus do this.  I believe Jump Math is the best choice, but Math in Focus (the Americanized version of Singapore Math) would be fine.

Let's talk a bit more about Jump Math.

   Developed in Canada by John Mighton, (Ph.D., mathematics), JUMP math uses an incremental approach that explicitly takes the student through every single step in the thought process.  That is crucial...most math textbooks/workbook leave out steps, leading to confusion.  Not JUMP MATH. The content is rich, deep, and contains considerably more mathematical insight than the other programs.  The NY Times did a story on JUMP MATH that was very positive.  JUMP MATH is also inexpensive, without the often extraneous color images and photos in the more expensive books.  Perhaps Seattle could save enough money to replace the terrible books Seattle is using in middle school (CMP).

Math in Focus

 Math in Focus is the Americanized version of the highly acclaimed and very effective Singapore Math program (Singapore students have some of the best math performance in the world). 

Reasonably clear exposition of elementary math in a solid, well-designed package.  Highline Schools adopted Math in Focus a few years ago, with substantial improvements in standardized math tests.  A NY Times story on Singapore Math, including its MIF version, is very positive, with parents suggesting it to be far superior to Everyday Math.

If you are a Seattle resident, please take a look at the materials and let the curriculum committee know what you prefer.  We don't want another generation of Seattle Public School students receiving a crippling math education.  It would be a tragedy if a weak math curriculum is selected again.  And completely unneccessary.


  1. I don't live in Seattle area, but I do have young kids that will enter grade school soon.

    I find your posts on math education just as interesting as your weather posts. Keep it up, please!

  2. I was a teacher for 8 years in the Kent School District, where we also used Every Day Math. I found this curriculum very frustrating since I could finish a unit and give the test, and very few students showed what I would consider an acceptable score. When talking with administration about this, they told me that it was expected, since the students would get the same material the next year. However, the students coming to me often didn't have the basic abilities needed for even starting the first lesson.

    I eventually took to supplementing my math curriculum with worksheets and tests that I created, and noticed a marked improvement on independent math assessments.

    I have not reviewed the other math curricula being offered, but can attest to EDM being a bad choice.

  3. I think the students using the Every Day Math series will be in for a startling discovery when they reach higher math courses. I had a very rigorous math curriculum, with additional tutelage, all the way through AP Calculus, but not even that prepared me for the rigors of the UW Mathematics Department.

    Let's get these problems corrected before my child reaches the public education pipeline. Many thanks for your advocacy on this very important subject!

  4. The criteria for selection surprised me. It does not appear to be which one will teach math most effectively (measured by some objective measurement like math test scores) or information from other districts showing which of these curriculum has yielded measurable improvements in student math performance. Am I alone in being surprised by that?

  5. While I think it is wonderful that so many folks are recognizing the flaws in this math textbook for Seattle's students and participating in a dialogue about it, I find it slightly alarming that decisions are once again being made by those that are not teachers or studied in the area of child development. We want students to be prepared. What are we preparing them for? More tests? Why can't our teachers teach instead of handing out math sheets and leaning on textbooks?

  6. One of the interesting things about textbook adoption with SPS is that, like other kinds of RFPs, we are left to whichever companies submit books when the call goes out. Publishers look to a website where the textbook adoptions processes of districts are announced. Since "Common Core" alignment was a requirement, solid curricula like Saxon could not submit as they haven't "aligned" yet. I liked Jump Math because the workbook had a clear example worked through before the problems which would help students and parents remember/review what was taught in class.

  7. Thank you Professor Mass for your continued advocacy for better(best) math and science curriculum's in our public schools, especially in the disaster of a district that is SPS.

    My daughter is a 2nd grader at Arbor Heights in West Seattle, she LOVES math and science but struggles with the program they currently use b/c it is all over the map from day to day, lesson to lesson. Nothing builds upon prior fundamentals. And she's starting to lose hope/interest, which worries me to no end, because as someone who has a BA in social science (useless unless you want to be a PhD and teach) but who works in Tech and sees every.single.day just how beneficial math and science can be for having a career, income, etc. I want her to love math ALL HER LIFE.

    Please keep up the pressure and keep educating your readers and fans. Something's gotta give if we're to remain competitive in the future as a nation.

  8. Cliff,

    thanks for working on this critical issue. I am a working engineer and have taught calculus, Differential equations, etc. Now, as a dad, I am trying to teach a 5 year old how to count. Much harder! I took a look at the Jump curricula. I was impressed. They had a great teacher worksheet on adding and subtracting with fingers. Very smart and well written, so that I could easily understand what they were getting at. More importantly, it is just the sort of thing that kids would be interested in. I have found that my son needs very small bites, but he also likes a challenge.

    by contrast, I also checked out the "my math" material and I was dismayed. The presented me with a long video, 90% of which were irrelevant pictures of happy people and corporate logos. They then went on to show colored dots moving on a screen. It is hard to imagine a child learning at the pass they set.

    Thanks for reviewing all this material and pointing out the good choices.

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