The Debate about Everyday Math


Everyday Math is a curriculum that has sparked considerable debate among parents, educators, and mathematicians. Whether the curriculum is good or bad depends entirely on who you ask.

What is Everyday Math?

Everyday Math is a pre-k and elementary school math curriculum developed by the University of Chicago’s School Mathematics Project in the early ‘80s. It is important to understand the context of its development; this curriculum was created during the Cold War when America was losing on the education (specifically math/science) front. This led to the development of innovative ways to educate students in key subjects for the purpose of strengthening America’s ability to compete technologically.

The idea of Everyday Math is to make studying math as relevant to the real world as possible, as hinted by the name. The curriculum emphasizes concepts using practical problems such as sharing a bag of M&Ms to demonstrate division. The idea is to avoid a commitment to rote memorization and, instead, help students understand the way math is used each and every day in life. When students are introduced to new problems, they are encouraged to try to use what they know find solutions instead of simply being told the correct method.

Criticisms of Everyday Math

This might sound like a great way to make math relevant, fun, and interesting to students who may be averse to memorizing methods and formulas. Well, again, it depends who you ask. Critics argue that while the intentions of the program are good, the result is that students never learn concrete concepts and leave the curriculum without a solid foundation upon which to learn more advanced mathematics. Additionally, Everyday Math takes a much more methodical, slow approach to problem-solving, which can be problematic in today’s fast-paced world that rewards efficiency. For example, Everyday Math’s technique for long division uses a method called “partial-quotient division” where students break up the dividend (number being divided) into big chunks, or partial quotients, until the answer is found. For an example, see the video.

Proponents of Everyday Math

In 1999, the U.S. Department of Education called Everyday Math a promising new math curriculum. Although a group of mathematicians, scientists, and educators signed a letter of protest, demanding that the department withdraw the report, the Department of Education has refused to denounce the curriculum. A later report sanctioned by the department gave Everyday Math the rating of “potentially positive.” While this may not sound very good, it was the highest rating received of the five curricula examined in the study. Additionally, this demonstrates that of the studies examined when determining this rating, there was little or no evidence that Everyday Math had an adverse effect on student achievement.

So Is Everyday Math Good or Bad?

Everyday Math, like any curriculum, has its critics and its proponents. While some teaching methods are widely considered to be effective (using phonics in reading, for example), the heated debate surrounding Everyday Math proves that most curricula work for some students but not others. Since students learn so many different ways, it is difficult to argue that a curriculum is absolutely wrong or absolutely right. As more and more studies are published about the effectiveness of Everyday Math, parents and educators will need to make a decision about which side of the fence they fall when it comes to educating their students.