**(Note updated 3/21/2018 – this article, more than any other, gets non-stop daily traffic on my blog from around the country and is now the most read article on the blog. It’s AP ex(sc)am time again! is number two. I’d appreciate it if readers would leave a comment below about what prompted them to search for and read this article. Thank you! I am also open to suggestions for additions or clarifications to the material contained herein.)**

This article was prompted by the comments of a parent to my last blog article. Those comments were made on Nextdoor, not on this site. (The Nextdoor link will only work for local residents who have Nextdoor accounts.)

Referring to the new math curriculum “pathways” or course sequences from 6th through 8th grades, the parent said:

I would add that these new pathways and CPM curriculum (2014) were unveiled with promises that they would provide a deeper and more comprehensive math program. My observation is that this curriculum is more confusing and less comprehensive. I have two daughters who enthusiastically take Math at RSM and who can explain how little material is covered in CPM textbooks and what a superficial foundation they provide in math.

RSM is “The Russian School of Math,” a private organization with an office in San Mateo and many other locations across the U.S.

The CPM (College Preparatory Math, www.cpm.org) mathematics textbook series is used in many classes at Aragon High School (as well as some other SMUHSD schools such as Hillsdale HS). According to Superintendent Dr. Joan Rosas, it was also adopted by SMFCSD middle schools to align their curriculum with the high school curriculum.

I first used this math series when I taught 9th and 10th graders at George Washington High School in San Francisco, and have tutored many local students who are using these textbooks in class. I should also note that the unfortunate CPM precalculus textbook trial two years ago at Aragon was the motivation for my starting to blog, first on Nextdoor.com, and then at this site.

Although many teachers will say that CPM is the best mathematics series that they have used, I have very mixed opinions about it and am NOT an unabashed fan of the program as I will detail below.

A Google search on “opinions on CPM math” may interest you and will display the experiences of many other communities.

**The CPM Math Program**

CPM spans middle school to high school math, previously stopping at precalculus, but lately including Calculus AB and BC textbooks. The program strongly encourages group work over individual study.

Students are typically placed in groups of four in their classroom and are given defined roles within their group: “Resource Manager,” “Facilitator,” “Recorder/Reporter,” and “Task Manager” (see the beginning of any CPM textbook for details if you are interested in what these roles entail).

CPM literature frequently mentions that in the “real world” people work in teams, and therefore CPM aims to teach and facilitate collaborative learning. Many teachers have told me that students are more engaged with the CPM math curriculum than with any other series that they have tried. Students have active discussions about the material and work on group problems in class versus passively listening to lectures, taking notes, and only working actively when they do homework alone after school.

As long as the program works in this manner this is definitely a strong positive in its favor. Mathematics is definitely learned by working problems actively rather than watching a teacher do them on the board. It is also a major plus to work problems in class, when others are around to offer a helping hand, instead of finding later, when starting the homework at home alone, that one didn’t understand the material.

A typical CPM lesson works as follows. Each textbook section begins with a series of guided questions that lead students to discover a new math concept if they answer the questions correctly and in order. Often these guided questions are quite clever and well-designed. The books do not simply explain a math idea and and then provide worked examples to imitate, as do traditional math texts. Students work with their groups to solve the set of problems and learn the lesson that the section intends to teach.

Teachers are supposed to move around the class from group to group, answering questions from each group and making sure that students are on task. Lecturing is kept to a minimum. This is in agreement with the “learning by doing” philosophy. Current teaching practice tends to denigrate lecturing, calling a lecturer a “sage on the stage,” with the implication that lecturing stokes the ego of the teacher instead of really instructing the student.

As I have found with many ideas in education, such theories work great when one has motivated students who actually do the work. If the student groups are well-structured, the better students help those in their group who struggle with math, and everyone benefits. The good students benefit because, paradoxically, there is no better way to learn a subject than to teach it. The less mathematically-inclined students get help from their peers, which is often less intimidating than asking a question from the teacher.

However, if a teacher has a class of mainly lower level students who have not done well in math previously, the CPM method can become problematic. Putting pre-teens or teens who “hate math” into groups results in a major “classroom management” challenge for a teacher. The group conversation is often on any popular teenage topic other than mathematics when the teacher is not watching!

Again, if a group is able to finish the guided questions, then they learn the lesson for the day. In a poorer class, however, the teacher often has to answer the same questions repeatedly for each group and may eventually decide to stop the class and lecture for a while on the topic.

During the one-year CPM precalculus trial at Aragon, two school years back, one of the teachers tended to lecture at the beginning of each class. That teacher’s students were appreciative of this lecture effort while those in classes where the teachers followed the standard self-discovery prescription were often frustrated. In fact I had one student, who was totally upset with a teacher’s “hands-off” approach, comment to me, “Don’t they get paid to teach??!!??”

CPM basically is a set of pre-made math lessons which alleviates a lot of lesson planning for teachers. A motivated teacher can use these lessons as PART of a good curriculum as I will explain further below. Unfortunately this also means that a burned out teacher can use the CPM program as an excuse to coast. The lessons are spelled out in the book, the students are supposed to do the work themselves, so “get in your groups, open your book to section X, and do problems Y to Z” is the very minimal teaching effort required.

Typically, the group problems in the first part of each section take up most, if not all, of a class period. The second part of each textbook section is a set of problems (with no additional explanatory material) entitled “Review and Preview.” These “review” problems are typically assigned for homework. Hints for the homework problems are online at the CPM website, and Aragon teachers frequently post answers online. The “review” problems include some additional practice on the ideas just learned in the guided questions section, but also include review problems from earlier textbook sections. This practice of frequently returning to older topics in each new section is called “spiraling.”

*[Aside: The spiraling concept can also come into play on CPM chapter tests, i.e., the chapter 4 test will include problems not only from chapter 4, but also from chapters 1, 2, and/or 3. This can turn a chapter test into what is basically a mid-term or final exam. On the plus side, the constant cycling back can really reinforce the material. On the minus side, students can feel really stressed as the tests can cover much more material than traditional chapter tests.]*

The “Review and Preview” homework section may also include “thought” problems (called “preview” problems) on topics that students have not even encountered yet. The purpose of such questions is probably to see if a student can discover the solution to a completely new, challenging problem on his/her own. Unfortunately, “preview” questions tend to confuse all but the very best students.

**Critique of CPM**

Having now described how the “Review and Preview” section works, I must next note its most serious drawback. I have seen many instances where the “Review and Preview” section offers only minimal additional homework practice on the lesson just learned and then “spirals” back to problems from earlier sections picked in a rather random fashion.

Too often I have tutored students who are just beginning to master a new concept when the homework diverts them back to earlier topics without cementing the knowledge just learned. I then have to use other sources or make up my own problems to help the student.

Traditional texts give a far greater number of practice problems than CPM. They usually have solutions readily available to odd-numbered problems and have worked examples, both of which allow a motivated student to do extra work if they still don’t understand a concept.

This is much harder to do using the CPM series. In my experience a teacher who decides to use CPM needs to give students supplemental practice problems. If one has to find this extra material, then one needs to be convinced that the CPM guided questions are so good that it is worth this extra trouble, instead of simply using a different textbook.

One must also strongly believe in the value of the self-discovery process. “Self-discovery” as a teaching method is not universally accepted, and I address the issue of self-discovery versus fully guided instruction further below.

In summary, the biggest problems with CPM are the lack of explanations, worked example problems in the textbooks, and insufficient practice problems. The first two omissions are by design because each group is supposed to discover the concepts through the guided questions. Worked examples would circumvent this process.

However, if a group does not “get” the topic and fails to complete the guided problems in class, they are left with nothing to explain how they should do the homework! Essentially the student has a textbook with only questions and little or no explanations. This is a significant problem in classes with weaker math students and with students who are absent from class. They have nothing to refer to at home unless the teacher puts additional material on the Web. However, this means the students have to navigate to other sources instead of just being able to use their textbook.

The CPM books do have small boxed highlight sections called “Math Notes,” usually in sections of the book beyond the section being studied that day, that try to summarize the important points. These sections are very concise and also do not contain worked examples as do traditional math texts.

Another learning problem can arise because many schools use the cheaper paperback version of the CPM books which are split into two volumes. The index is in the second of two books, and the student may not have book 2 during the first part of the year. Only the hardback version is a single volume. Lack of an index makes it difficult to look up particular concepts when one is “stuck.”

**Critique of the Self-discovery Methodology**

**Finally, and the most important learning issue in my opinion, the self-discovery method tends to work better on easier concepts such as Algebra 1. As one moves up the math hierarchy and ideas become more complex, self-discovery becomes increasingly time-consuming and inefficient.**

I think this was a major reason why the CPM precalculus experiment at Aragon failed, and why at least one of the teachers had to revert to lecturing.

In fact I presented the teachers at Aragon with an article from an American Federation of Teachers journal critiquing “self-discovery” methods when I met with them early in the 2014-2015. I warned them early in the school year, first by emails and then in a face-to-face meeting with math department staff, the principal, and a vice-principal, that the CPM experiment was in grave danger of running off the rails. I believe the principal had evidence of this too, which is one reason why the meeting took place. The precalculus students that I tutored that year were clearly struggling significantly more than in years past when a traditional textbook was used.

The article I gave Aragon staff was the in Spring 2012 issue of American Educator, vol. 36, no. 1 and it was a through review of numerous educational research studies including academic references. The article concluded:

Research has provided overwhelming evidence that, for everyone but experts, partial guidance during instruction is significantly less effective than full guidance.

To date, I have no indication that anyone at the school ever took the time to read this article unfortunately. If the article’s conclusion is true (I think it is, and the research in this article has the great advantage of correlating closely with common sense unlike many teaching fads), this is a damning condemnation of the CPM methodology.

The fact that CPM now has textbooks for Calculus AB and BC makes me shudder. This would raise self-discovery to the highest level of complexity in high school math. I would be extremely concerned if any of the SMUHSD schools adopted those books.

**Research Supporting CPM**

Having discussed the CPM methodology and its pros and cons, one might still wonder what kind of research does CPM tout to promote their program? If one takes the time to navigate through the cpm.org website, one can find a section detailing research studies behind the CPM program.

Much of the research is older, probably in part because the standardized STAR test base was discontinued with the adoption of Common Core. However it is interesting to look at one of the later studies from 2013 in 8th grade and high school.

The methodology of this study is very flawed, however, because it appears to only take the results of school districts that CPM knew used their books and compare them to statewide averages. There is no controlling for differences in, e.g., demographics between districts that adopted CPM and the state as a whole. **Nevertheless, there is no indication that schools using the CPM series did any better (or worse) than the STAR test state averages in Algebra 1 and Geometry and only slightly better in Algebra 2.**

This might not seem too bad until one realizes that our local schools have always prided themselves on scoring significantly ABOVE the state average! Why would they want to adopt a series that only delivers average state test scores, particularly when we know how pathetic state math scores have been??

The illustration below shows California STAR math scores (% scoring proficient or above) from Grade 2 up through Algebra 2 for years up through 2012 before the state terminated this test in favor of newer Common Core testing. As one can see, there was a downward slide in math scores from 4th grade through high school in 2012.

Passing rates of 35%, 32%, and 34% are not benchmarks that I would want to use for marketing any product that I developed!!! Why would one adopt a program if this is the research used to promote it??

In fact, I learned from an administrator that CPM was tried in the SMUHSD years ago, long before Common Core was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, and was abandoned by all high schools except Hillsdale! The group work encouraged by Common Core appears to be resurrecting it from the dead.

**Postscript**

One final aside which I did not mention earlier as it is a lesser, but persistent, irritant for many parents: students in CPM classes also engage in a practice called “group tests.” All four students in a group work collaboratively on a test. At the end of the period, the teacher randomly picks one of the group’s four test papers, grades it later, and then assigns that grade to everyone in the group.

The first time this happens during the school year, some of the groups will have a paper selected from the weakest student in the group, and everyone in that group might end up with a bad grade. During subsequent group tests, the better students in the group will frantically check that everyone’s test papers have the same answers, so that they do not “get screwed over” a second time. Parents tend to shake their heads incredulously when they learn about this practice, and I can’t blame them.

However, I don’t see that this has to be an essential part of a CPM class and could be eliminated if a teacher so desired. Of course, this would require grading four times as many tests… However, I always thought that the purpose of a test was to assess what a student knew, not what his/her group can gin up and copy in a hurry…

**NOTE: If you found this article to be of interest, you may also want to read Why Can’t We Teach Mathematics Properly?**

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**Thanks as always for your participation!**

I have used two “discovery” programs. Neither was effective in comnprehensive, deep study , college prep settings because the students do not get enough information, skills,etc to be ready for calculus, nor were they effective with non-college bound who could care less about math and were more interested in mechanics, plumbing, electrical, cowboying, football, or anything else except math. Reading challenged students also struggle if they try at all. Not just a bad choice, but a serious mistake. What blows me away after teaching math for 45 years is that many think that students cannot “discover” discuss, work together, and a pile of other things if they are in a traditional math class. I have seen all of those things in traditional classes and have had great success in sending student into the scientific world.One of the last I taught is now an MIT graduate. His class did all of the things discussed above, BUT A TEACHER HAS TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHEN AND HOW MUCH FOR ANY PARTICULAR CLASS.

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Thanks very much for your comments. I have been getting a lot of traffic on this article recently and have been curious how people are finding it. The “referrer” stats on WordPress don’t seem to work very well. Would you mind telling me how you discovered it?

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Hi David,

Thank you for your article. I found it by doing a google search of CPM + tests + math. Your article was the second listing.

Sara

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You’re welcome. Thanks for letting me know!

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I Googled “Math CPM” to learn more about what a district was using. As a former math teacher (including of IMP), I understand your concerns (and the positives)

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I personally found your article by googling “CPM math reviews” 🙂 Thank you for your article; it is very helpful to me as a parent as both my sons have struggled with this math.

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You’re very welcome, Jaime! This article is the most popular one on my blog because many other children are unfortunately in the same situation.

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I entered “Opinions on CPM math” into Google.

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Google searches; “CPM Math Does Not Teach Students” “Frustrated Parents with CPM Math” “High School Kids Hate CPM Math” “Parents must tutor kids with CPM Math”……any of the above.

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David, Thank you for this post!

I’m a 27 year veteran math teacher. Unfortunately the district where I teach is “piloting” CPM in Algebra I and already considering it for geometry and algebra 2. There hasn’t even been enough time to collect, let alone analyze data from the supposed “pilot” but here we go forging ahead with dataless decision making.

I think you hit the nail on the head in observing that “The group work encouraged by Common Core appears to be resurrecting [CPM} from the dead.” I’m SO glad that I began my career years ago, but I am still very concerned about opportunities for students in the future.

The tutoring boom will surely continue as long as CPM is keeps creeping in…

Thanks again

and best wishes!

Lisa Jones

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You’re welcome, Lisa. I hope the article will be of use to you!

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This is a wonderful write up of all the issues I have with CPM.

I’m a 17 year old junior going through pre-cal right now. I’ve never been extraordinary at math, but I rarely got anything below a B. I always understood all the concepts and by the time finals arrived, I was confident I would pass.

However my pre-cal class uses the CPM textbook, and I simply cannot deal with the level of confusion I go through every day in that class. I feel like I’m getting no guidance whatsoever, and my only option is to get a math tutor, which is something I’ve never had to do. One of my best friends who’s now attending NCSSM had to retake precal because he simply couldn’t grasp the concepts she was teaching.

My teacher is also quick to assume I’m simply slower when compared to the rest of the class. She’s constantly singling me out, asking if I’m doing alright and if I need help. Besides being embarrassing, it just feels insulting. I just want one day where I can sit alone and take notes to study later.

And I can’t turn to my classmates for help either. They’re either way ahead of me and just give me answers so they can move on to the homework for that night, or stutter over themselves trying to explain a concept. Which isn’t their fault, they’re certainly now the ones expected to know how to teach.

To top it off tests make up 65 or 75 percent of our grade, and they’re some of the hardest tests I’ve ever taken, compounded by CPM. Luckily we’ve done one of the group tests, but I’m sure there will be more.

I’m not really sure how to express the problems I have with CPM to the school admin. Of course they’re not going to rollback a program they spent money on to train teachers and buy textbooks. So I feel like I’m just doomed at this point.

Thanks again for writing this.

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Danny,

I really sympathize with your situation as I have seen students in my location in similar situations.

Even though I work as a tutor and am essentially arguing against my own business, not only CPM, but much of the AP curriculum almost forces students to get tutors to survive. This gives yet another advantage to students from wealthier families which runs counter to the public school idea of equal opportunity.

When I went to high school back in the late 60s and early 70s, tutoring was almost unheard of. The curriculum was such that a good teacher could explain it well and students could master it without resorting to expensive after school fixes.

I hope you can find some help, but you might also consider getting your parents and other parents in your area to read my article. If enough of them get upset and complain to your school district, perhaps the system can be changed?!??

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Mr Kristofferson,

Thanks for taking the time to so lucidly explain your thoughts and concerns with this teaching approach. I suspect that the reason you are getting so much traffic is because concerned parents, including me, are looking to combat the “kool-aid” tainted view presented by school administrators when they embark on this social experiment.

In our case, the Birmingham (MI) Public School district has decided to roll this out despite the unequivocally dismal responses from students in the pilot(s) over the last year. Parents are justifiably irate because our schools consistently rank at the top within Michigan and this clearly does not advance learning as purported.

We are fighting. Parents are rallying to reverse this, but at this point the outcome is unclear.

Thanks for the well thought out and insightful perspective.

Steve

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Thanks for taking the time to write your comments above, Steve. Glad that I can be of assistance. You might be interested in another article on my blog in a similar vein entitled “Never Trust Educational Experts (or Me)! It details my local struggles with the education system.

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Hi David! I am part of the Birmingham (MI) parents that are fighting the administration. I, along with 4 other moms, started a FB group titled Concerned Birmingham Parents, please check it out. Have you found, in your research, any other states in recent years that students have been negatively affected by the CPM program. We appreciate your blog and quoted some of your research in our presentation to the board. Thank you for your hard work. Ashley

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Thanks for your comments, Ashley. Unfortunately, I do not use FaceBook for a variety of reasons which I will not elaborate on here.

In the 8th paragraph of my article there is a hyperlink in the following text:

“A Google search on “opinions on CPM math” may interest you and will display the experiences of many other communities.”

That link should lead you to other communities’ experiences, and I would not be surprised if variants on that Google search might uncover more.

Best of luck with your efforts!

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PS – What grades/math classes is the CPM series being considered for?

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Hey there I recently read your article and it perfectly describes my feelings about CPM am currently taking geometry again this time using CPM curriculum. I failed geometry last year as a result of being hospitalized for most of the past school year. CPM has confused and has left me feeling so disappointed with myself that I have cried in my geometry class because of my grade in that class. Reading your article has provided some reassurance. Thank you for writing this article I would really appreciate some advice.

Sincerely a student :^D

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Hi Angel,

Sorry to hear about your frustration. I have seen similar issues with students that I have tutored in the past.

If you can’t get a teacher, friend, or a tutor to help you catch up, you might consider looking for a cheap used traditional geometry textbook on Amazon or at a used bookstore that would provide you with instructions and worked examples often lacking in CPM. There is also the paperback Schaum’s Outlines series that have worked examples. You’ll have to try to find the sections in a supplementary book that correlate with your current class topic, however.

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Your article is awesome. It explained most of my concerns about CPM! CPM is a terrible curriculum!

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Thank you!

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Mr. Kristofferson,

Thanks for you analysis of CPM. I have taught it for the last 10 years and have been teaching math for over 20+ years, so I have experience with traditional text also. Tustin Unified School District in Southern California is considering adoption for middle and high schools within the next week, with the board voting on it by april 9, 2018. This will effect my 2 young kids who are starting middle school.

If you could reach out to the district or powers in place, it would be greatly appreciated. Or if the other parents could be better educated, that would be a plus.

Teacher and DAD

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Dear Mr. Liskey,

Please feel free to distribute my article to your Board members. Unfortunately I can not get involved in other districts’ battles. I have more than enough to do trying to win policy changes in my own locale.

It is my philosophy to focus my efforts locally and provide access to my experience in case it might be of benefit elsewhere. Given your level of teaching experience, one would hope that your local Board will listen to you respectfully. However, it is a battle that you along with others in your district will have to undertake. If you search on Google, you will find enough other districts where this battle has also been fought that there should be no shortage of supporting arguments for your side.

Sincerely,

Dr. David Kristofferson

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Thank you for this article. You asked how people are finding your article- I googled “CPM is a horrible math book” and your article was the second search result. I’m beyond frustrated for my kid, a freshman in honors Alg 2 in a hyper competitive east bay town. My kid once loved math regardless of the subject or grade, but now feels despondent and left behind. Getting help from the group- laughable, you’re better off asking Jack from Lord of the Flies for help.

Any suggestions for a decent alternate text book, for Alg 2 and pre-calc?

Our district is considering doing away with higher math in middle school because they argue kids drop out of higher math at too high a rate in high school- yet have they stopped to consider it’s the text books they adopted a few years ago- nope!

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Thanks for your note, Sarah. Just out of curiosity I googled “CPM is a wonderful math book” and my article also came up 3rd from the top 😉! Nice to see that Google is “fair and balanced!”

Regarding alternate textbooks, after our local high school tried and abandoned CPM precalculus,they switched to Demana et al. “Precalculus – Graphical, Numerical, Algebraic Common Core” published by Pearson. I have also used Stewart, Redlin and Watson’s “Precalculus – Mathematics for Calculus” which is a bit more rigorous.

I don’t have specific recommendations for Algebra 2; the Algebra 2 students that I tutor continue to use CPM. As I said, CPM can work **if used by a good teacher** in the lower grades, but I think that the method becomes increasingly problematic as one advances in math.

In general, I think a good textbook should have the following minimum features:

1) worked examples – this runs counter to the CPM methodology

2) a reference after each worked example to a similar odd-numbered problem in the Exercises section so that a student can immediately try the skill and check their answer in the back of the book

3) answers to odd-numbered problems.

CPM aficionados will immediately reply that the above means that students will simply be parroting the material instead of thinking about it, but, as I said in the article, guided instruction usually seems to work better than self-discovery for most people.

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Hi David,

Parents and students can use the Parent Guide–an online resource free to anyone–which has worked examples for the topics in each chapter followed by 20 practice problems with answers included to all of them.

Sincerely,

Sara

P.S. Just google CPM + Parent Guide

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Thank you for your article. My children’s school district adopted CPM a few years ago. For the second year in a row, the district will not offer AP Calculus because the students aren’t ready. I am part of a parents group organizing to try to convince the school board to use a different curriculum.

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Thanks, Jane. What school district are you referring to?

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I enjoyed reading your articulate and thorough article on this topic. I found it by searching Google for “CPM Math” and it was the 5th search result. Not bad! 🙂

I am a parent in southern CA. My oldest child is in the 6th grade. This year, our district piloted CPM vs. Pearson EnVision 2.0 for grades 6-8, and CPM vs. HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) for High School Integrated Math 1, 2, and 3. This meant that my child’s class used CPM for the first half of the year, and then switched to Pearson for the second half of the year. (Switching mid year posed its own struggles.) So my experience with CPM was limited to seeing the 6th grade book she brought home, comparing it to Pearson, and talking with her about her preferences. She and I both preferred CPM over Pearson because the CPM book is laid out in a more clear and direct way. Pearson is cluttered with illustrations which we find distracting and the instruction seems more convoluted. Also my daughter at this age enjoyed the group work and self-discovery method, however she did say that the teacher also explained things to the whole class. At any rate, the district decided to adopt Pearson.

Meanwhile the debate over CPM for high school has been raging. Parents were complaining about CPM on a Facebook page so I have been trying to understand why. The most common complaints seem to be about the kids having to do group work and also that the teacher isn’t teaching. This wasn’t our experience and I didn’t understand what was wrong with group work, but now that I have read your article I think I have a clearer picture of what some of the concerns are. However I am hoping for the best because just yesterday the district announced they will adopt CPM for high school for the next 3 years. This was despite a lot of parents being against it. Here is an article about it: http://www.latimes.com/socal/glendale-news-press/news/tn-gnp-me-gusdmath-20180505-story.html

It occurred to me that my now 6th grader has had 5 or 6 different math curriculums tried out on her during her elementary school career with this district. Her class came of age just as they were starting to implement common core. Sometimes I wonder if this generation has a solid foundation to move forward with. It looks like she will use Pearson for the next 2 years, then CPM for a year, and then they may or may not change the curriculum yet again.

I’m curious if you have any thoughts on CPM being from a nonprofit, versus these large for-profit corporations like Pearson and HMH.

Thanks!

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Thanks for your detailed comments, Jessica, and the link to the Glendale News story. Several of the points on both sides in that story correlate with those in my article above, but the newspaper coverage does not go into as much detail (as expected in a newspaper).

I have been a persistent critic of California’s constant educational experiments using our children as guinea pigs. Please see my article at https://eduissues.com/2018/01/29/never-believe-educational-experts-or-me which focuses on this problem. Personally I think the points that I make in that article are even more important than my review of CPM, though the CPM article is the most frequently read on my blog.

Math is clearly a cumulative subject, and when one of these experiments backfires, whole groups of children are negatively impacted. Clearly each district has to go through some kind of review process to select a book, but California seems to “refresh” its curriculum way too frequently. This disrupts lesson plans that teachers have developed over years. I suspect that part of the reason for this is the constant lobbying from textbook publishers. We are the largest textbook market in the country and what we adopt tends to influence others.

Regarding your non-profit versus for profit question, I do not think that CPM’s non-profit status gives it any kind of moral superiority by default. The College Board which runs the SAT and AP tests is non-profit, and they are doing quite well for themselves, hitting up American students for a considerable sum of money in test fees. “Non-profit” does not mean that people at these organizations are not paying themselves princely salaries which then go into the “Expense” category. The important consideration is which textbook and instructional method produces better learning outcomes; other considerations are secondary.

Because CPM’s textbooks are frequently purchased in paperback format, they may save school districts money compared to more traditional hardcover books, but one would also have to factor in how long a paperback lasts versus a hardcover in the rough and tumble environment that school books encounter. When the Glendale News story said that principals were favoring CPM, I wondered if this cost issue might be one of the reasons. You might want to inquire further on this point.

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Thanks for your replies! This report from the district does say that CPM is $85 per student, while HMH is $125 per student. For what it’s worth, my daughter had a hardcover book and an accompanying consumable “toolkit.” https://www.gusd.net/cms/lib/CA01000648/Centricity/domain/6/board%20meeting%20presentations/2018-05-15.PrpsdMthTxtbk.pdf

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Thanks again, Jessica. In some of our local classes paperback copies are used. These are unfortunately split into two volumes. When the kids are working on volume one, they don’t have access to the book index which is in volume two, and they often don’t get volume two until the latter part of the year.

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Hello again, Jessica. I was intrigued by the reference to Edreports.org in one of the slides (#11) in the Board presentation that you provided. I investigated further and saw that slide presented the data for the high school version of CPM. If you go to their site you will see that the ratings for the 6-8th grade material are not as high: https://www.edreports.org/math/reports/compare-k8.html

One also must be aware of who is publishing the data and what are their financial interests. I have seen a lot of shenanigans in the textbook promotion arena. I would recommend reading Edreports.org About page and the various staff Bios. From an initial read the organization looks legitimate, but it is hard to tell if they are enamored of a particular teaching philosophy that guides their reviews.

The US Department of Education also has a database called the “What Works Clearinghouse.” The math section is at

https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/FWW/Results?filters=,Math

Unfortunately I do not see CPM in the list of math programs there. That surprises me greatly since the program seems to be under consideration in many districts across the nation.

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P.S. to Jessica – As I also mentioned in my article, I think CPM has a better chance of working at lower levels of math, so the fact that you prefer it for your 6th grader does not surprise me. However, once one gets past the Algebra 1 and possibly geometry level my doubts about the program increase dramatically. It will be interesting to see if CPM is still used in your district by the time your daughter reaches high school…

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Thank you for your article. I came here by googling “CPM Curriculum.” I used this text last year because of its group work aspect. It offered some excellent problems that the students enjoyed and some odd ways of teaching negative numbers (which I am abandoning this year). There are some excellent modeling techniques for introducing algebra. But they overcomplicated modeling for negative numbers. I used it for 1/2 a year and switched to a combo of traditional text and CPM because the pros did not outweigh the con that we were not covering enough material. This year I will be using several resources to patch up where CPM doesn’t deliver. I’m keeping the group work and examples that were creative and interesting. It also requires too much time, and they expect teachers to just move on stating that the students will see the topic later. I ended up using direct-instruction when needed. I am seeking balance this year between direct instruction and group work and between fluency and understanding. I never used the group test approach. CPM has some great goals but it’s not balanced enough for me.

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Thank you for your detailed comments. It sounds like you are trying hard to do a good job for your students and your approach sounds eminently reasonable. Was CPM introduced by your district or did you run across it on your own?

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Thank so so much for this comprehensive and thoughtful analysis. My daughter’s school just switched to CPM this year, and she’s gone from “A” in math in 6th grade to a clueless ball of math-ridden anxiety in 7th. She is not doing well at all with the “no instruction” thing.

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Thanks for you comment, Jon. I hope parents in your area are successful if they protest. In some places parents face a “we know better” attitude from the education establishment. The establishment needs to hear if things are not working out the way “research says” they should. Do you mind disclosing your location and what justification was given for adopting CPM?

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Thank you for explaining the CPM program. My daughter just started her freshman year and math has always been a struggle for her. She kept telling me that her teacher “doesn’t teach” and that they spend their class time in groups trying to figure out the problems. I found this hard to believe until I came across your article and did some further research. Apparently, my daughter is correct. Her teacher doesn’t teach and mainly answers questions should any group have them.

Since my daughter has a diagnosed learning disorder in Math, she is in a slower paced math group, with others who find math challenging. This program is a disaster for kids who already struggle in math. She is currently being tutored privately a few times a week, costing us $$$. Her tutor actually teaches her the concepts. Luckily for her class group, my daughter shares what her tutor has taught her. I’m at a total loss as to why her teacher is getting paid or why he is needed if he is not teaching.

Thankfully, my daughter is doing well, only because of her tutor. We attend a small private school so I am hesitant to rock the boat with the administration. However, I will share your post with other frustrated parents.

Thank you for your thoughtful and thorough explanation of CPM.

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Forgot to mention: I found your article because my daughter’s math class uses an online version of the text book so I googled the CPM Core Connections Algebra to see if I could purchase a physical text book. I scrolled down to see various links expressing dissatisfaction with the program. Your link was about 5 or 6 down the page.

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Thanks very much for your comments. I agree completely that the CPM approach is most problematic if a group of kids has a hard time and/or no interest in math. Grouping them together will not magically solve this problem, and the teacher should obviously not just leave these kids to their own devices.

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Last year was my 8th and last year hired at my charter school as a Saxon math teacher- awesome year as I grew so much learning how to enhance the program with more hands on and some common core ideas kids could “see” the math. Well little did I know my contract along with the other 3 middle school math teachers’ contracts were not renewed….. hm. Only to find out that the principal, in private, all by herself with no info to parents or the board, made the decision to go with CPM (she found 3 teachers who already teach it )

As the school year is underway more of what the principal’s vision of what a great math program is is coming to light. Despite being treated so poorly and lied to by my principal , I’ve been trying to be open to this new curriculum and just checked your article to find out more about what CPM is all about.

The history of math fads is interesting. And it’s also interesting that the people in charge won’t have discussions with those of us with degrees and teaching experience in the field – I guess authority gives you insight I’m lacking.

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When I read the title of this blog, I was interested in hearing an unbiased teacher evaluation of CPM. I wonder if you did see some positives to the resource? The developers of CPM have stated that ongoing professional learning is critical for implementation. I wonder if many of the schools/districts were not able to sustain that piece in order to help teachers implement and supplement for learners appropriately? CPM assumes that teachers have a strong workshop model structure at all levels…if they don’t, that is a set-up for failure. It is a viable resource, given that all the cards are in place. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on Integrated vs Traditional pathways in high school math…(regardless of discovery/constructivist model that is in CPM). Thank you for opening conversations and for your honesty. (20-year, 8-12th math teacher, currently a math content specialist)

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Thanks for your comment/questions, Tracy.

I listed several of the “pros” right up front in my article, but then went on to the “cons” which predominated the latter part of the article. I don’t think this *necessarily* means that my article is biased, using the mathematical sense of the word. It is very rare to have an equivalent number of pros and cons on any question, and I believe that there are more cons than pros in this particular case.

Many districts do not have the resources for extensive professional development, and that is a BIG red flag for any program that requires it. In engineering there is an acronym “KISS” which stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”

Our local K-8 district adopted Everyday Mathematics several years back and abandoned it several years later when it was clearly failing. The publisher called it the best researched elementary math program available! I see daily the ill effects of that program on those kids who are now in high school.

When discussing this debacle with our local high school district assistant superintendent of curriculum a few weeks back, she tried to defend that program by saying that it was a “complex curriculum” which probably required more teacher support than was given. Sorry, but I can not accept these kind of rationales. Particularly in K-8, anyone who adopts a “complex curriculum” that requires a lot of support should realize in advance that they are gambling with kids’ education. When the program fails, it is cold comfort to the children that the professional support was inadequate. A complex program, particularly for elementary math where many K-5 teachers have math phobias as mentioned recently on EdWeek (see http://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2018/11/06/how-to-help-students-heal-from-math.html?cmp=eml-contshr-shr and https://scholarcommons.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1058&context=tepas ), should never be chosen.

I will also note that the “research” base behind CPM strikes me as being very weak. I have intended for some time to write critiques of some of those papers in their bibliography, but have not yet had time to do so. The CPM publisher takes weakly supported claims in some of those papers and grossly over-interprets them to support their practice.

As I also indicate in my article, CPM’s own comments about the results of their in-house research do not overwhelm. From https://pdfs.cpm.org/research/CA%20CST%208th-11th%20Grade%20Results%202011-13.pdf :

“Of the 33 comparisons in the tables on the following pages, CPM schools scored equal to or higher than the state average on 27 of them. Since the CST measures knowledge of basic skills and procedures, these results demonstrate that the CPM program is one effective way to teach this part of a complete mathematics program.”

The state averages on the old standardized tests were pathetic (often between only 30-40% “proficient or above” in algebra and geometry), so saying that CPM’s results are equal to or higher the state averages is very faint praise. You can refer to the actual numbers in the link above and see that the results vary only by about 4% from the state averages in the better cases, and several instances are below the state averages.

Finally, regarding Integrated versus Traditional pathways, I do not have any significant input here. I have read that Integrated pathways have been used with great success in other countries. During the last six years most of my time has been spent on precalculus, and AP courses such as Calculus AB, BC, and Physics, so I no longer have a personal horse in the Integrated vs. Traditional pathways race.

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Tracy, I edited my earlier comments to include responses to the other questions that you asked. Please check back in the Comments section of the CPM article on my blog. Thank you!

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David,

Thank you for your article. I found this blog via google search of Opinions of CPM.

In the 13 years since our district in Wi adopted CPM our district is as committed as ever. Yet, students and parents have to to find other means to get our kids college ready. The irony is not lost that CPM did not prepare our elder son for college. I agree that for elementary grades up through 6th it can be fine. Anything beyond pre-algebra needs to be taught not experienced. Math is like learning a language it requires instruction and practice. Math is central to chemistry, physics, statistics, lab reports.

CPM relies on group learning. The premise is that all kids are invested and mature enough to meet the expectation. It also assumes that the teachers are supported and invested too. We experienced a different reality.

Our son learned math from his physics and chemistry teachers. -For that we are grateful. CPM teachers are taught to not answer the students questions but to ask questions in return. Eventually, our son chose not to ask questions. When students bombed the test, then the teachers would go over the exam question by question and teach. Then the kids were to take the test again. This time most passed.

In my opinion and experience, CPM does not deliver on higher level math, which prepares kids for STEM careers, And AP calc ,which son took, was not rigorous enough for the AP exam. He retook calculus in college. Many of his peers that went onto study engineering, physics and math also had to redo calculus at the university level. Our son is currently a junior pursuing a degree in Biochemistry. He said he would give the same advice he was given – redo calculus. He also has struggled with Physics as the geometry was not thorough enough and there was no trig at our school.

His cohort, who did not have CPM , were able to advance quickly to other course work and test out of their first semester or year.

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Thanks, Danielle, for relating your family’s experience with CPM. Your experience parallels mine.

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My 8th grade Algebra students class is switching to CPM at semester. The High School math curriculum is staying traditional. So we are concerned that he will not be prepared for the high schools rigor

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Todd, where are you located? It’s surprising that a school district would change curriculum mid-year.

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Thank you for sharing all your expertise, informed opinions and research. I appreciate it greatly. Our school district, Klamath Falls City Schools, also uses CPM. Recently, the high school and middle school hosted a Parent Math Night event, and even had a CPM representative on hand. Sadly, there was nearly no opportunity for parents to articulate concerns and it smacked of used-car salesmanship ethos more than anything. I plan to reference your information with the principals and high school math department head at a closed meeting I have been invited to. Note: the closed meeting – not my idea, and I hope to convince them to hear from more concerned parents.

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Good luck!!

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Very likely you will be fighting against philosophies that are entrenched in the graduate education schools.

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Hello,

Thank you so much for explaining CPM and analyzing why it is not effective at times. I am both a frustrated parent and educator. My son who is Gifted was recently placed in an accelerated Math class at his middle school. He is a 6th grade student. Math was always his strength and he excelled and enjoyed being challenged by his teachers. This has changed during this school year. My son is basically frustrated with CPM. He does well with his homework but when he takes the chapter tests he has gotten 56%, 42% and even 23%. This doesn’t make sense to me. On top of this his teacher does not allow the students to take the tests home because she claims she created the test herself and doesn’t want students posting the past test. I don’t agree with this reasoning but after speaking to the admin they can’t change her decision. I have to go and see the test on my own and write down the mistakes my son did. I know my son is capable of achieving higher, and I think something is missing that is not allowing him to succeed. On top of this, she says she will not recommend anyone for accelerated 7th grade Math next year if the student didn’t achieve 87% both semesters. My son has only achieved 82%. I don’t think it’s fair or right that my son is stopped from going to a higher class because of his outcome in CPM. My son has always received a 4 in the CAASPP and was points from achieving perfect score in both ELA and Math, so she can not tell me he is not capable of success in a higher/accelerated class. The problem is not my son, but the logistics of the lesson, and the classroom activities in combination with very few practice problems and chapter tests that are more rigorous than the material she taught . These tests include problems she hardly discussed. I don’t se a parallel in this. Please feel free to respond if you would like to. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do next? What educational rights does my son have? I don’t want CPM to determine the outcome of where my son will be placed. This can alter his plans in high school to continue taking accelerated courses which he wants to take and is eager to be in.

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Dear olimpaso,

I am not a legal expert on students rights, and unfortunately I see students negatively impacted by the educational system constantly as you can read in my other blog articles. There isn’t always a ready path to “salvation.”

I taught math in CA public schools and could easily make up a new test for any math topic that I taught. I think that this desire to secure old tests, particularly at the 6th grade level, is slightly ridiculous to say the least. Kids have to be able to learn from their errors, and making it hard for them to access their old tests hurts them. If this teacher needs to reuse the same exam, I would worry a bit about the teacher’s abilities.

Obviously by your reference to CAASPP you are somewhere in California. My article https://eduissues.com/2018/09/29/how-students-are-accelerating-in-math-at-aragon shows how parents in the San Mateo area are circumventing school road blocks to accelerate their kids in math, and it might provide you with some ideas. I hasten to add, however, that if the acceleration is pushed by the parent and not the student, then I doubt that the outcome will be a happy one.

Looking for outside help at a place like Kumon, the Russian School of Math, etc., is another option, although it saddens me when parents have to pay for such help instead of having the school system do right by their children in the first place. You might want to go to a PTA meeting or use a community forum like Nextdoor.com and see if you can ally yourself with other families in a similar situation. It is much harder for a school/district to ignore a group of parents than it is to just brush off a particular family.

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I have been piloting CPM Precalculus and AP Statistics this school year, and fellow teachers in my department have been using many of the Geometry and Algebra 2 lessons. After my and my students’ experiences so far, I strongly disagree with most of your criticisms of CPM. The lessons are very well made and provide students with a deep conceptual understanding of the material. Overall, my students are performing better and retaining more, and their self-confidence and self-efficacy have skyrocketed. And, no, not all of my students are super self-driven and high flyers. The only major changes I’ve made are homework and practice. I throw in extra classwork problem sets in each unit, because I’ve stopped assigning homework (there’s just no good research to support it, and students are doing better without it!).

There are also plenty of opportunities in each lesson to differentiate up or down, and even more opportunities for teachers to add in their own lessons. I’ve found that teachers who struggle with inquiry-based learning tend to be tied to the textbook and have trouble thinking of their own lessons, and any non-traditional text will be an issue for them.

I’m not a fan of their assessments. The assessments should mirror the same critical thinking as the lessons, and it’s just rote processes. I often give group quizzes that are challenging and problem-based (like the lessons), so I definitely agree with their approach to that. However, my tests are still unit-like and problem-solving based with an emphasis on critical thinking, instead of their premade tests. However, I don’t think any teachers should ever use a premade test or test bank for an entire test – every classroom will be different, and our assessments should reflect that.

Your complaint about the text having no worked problems or resources… They’re in nearly every lesson, and there are hints on the homework help. If students are struggling, I see nothing wrong with providing a video recapping the lesson or the main ideas. You want them to stare at preworked problems in a traditional text and figure it out for themselves… A quick YouTube video can work just as well, if not better. Again, this simply sounds like a traditional teacher who doesn’t know how to adapt and be flexible problem.

Lastly, there are several meta-analyses showing problem-based and guided inquiry learning methods have the highest effect sizes in math and science out of all the common classroom interventions. One article illustrating the scariness of “discovery learning” does not outweigh the rest of the literature.

I appreciate your thoughts on CPM, but I believe it’s delivery is misguided and is leading a lot of parents, students, and teachers to blame a curriculum when it’s more likely there are many other issues happening in those classrooms.

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Angel,

Clearly your experience with CPM differs somewhat from mine. You can try to blame it on my “lack of flexibility” but I beg to differ.

I will leave it to readers to judge if there are worked examples “in nearly every lesson” in the textbooks like you claim to see. The homework help is separate from the textbook and intentionally so. Having worked examples in the lesson would defeat the self-discovery philosophy.

As I said, the CPM textbook can be supplemented and *needs to be supplemented.* There is nothing inherently wrong with the guided lesson questions themselves (as I also mentioned in my article), but one can’t rely on them solely as you also attest.

This has *nothing* to do with being flexible or not. You admit that you are supplementing the material which is what I also said was needed to make CPM work. If you prefer to supplement it with Youtube videos, that’s fine.

You mention the “major changes” that you made: “I throw in extra classwork problem sets in each unit, because I’ve stopped assigning homework (there’s just no good research to support it, and students are doing better without it!).” I would not be surprised if several students end up completing at home the extra problems sets that you provide.

One of my main concerns with CPM was not that the self-guided problems were necessarily bad, but that there wasn’t enough practice in the lesson. By adding additional problems you are doing precisely what I said needed to be done.

As to there being “no good research” to support the assigning of homework, I find this a bit astonishing. As a Ph.D. level scientist who has worked in multiple technical fields in addition to teaching (please see the blog link to my bio), I can tell you from direct personal experience, and from that of many others, that many people have learned much more math and science from quiet contemplation doing homework than in the classroom. I really hope your students are in fact “doing better without it” because that comes off as a very glib comment.

The “one article” that I cite is a serious review of multiple research studies comparing constructivist approaches versus guided instruction. It is most definitely not simply “One article illustrating the scariness of “discovery learning”.” Please read it before you dismiss it out of hand.

As to your conclusion, “I appreciate your thoughts on CPM, but I believe it’s delivery is misguided and is leading a lot of parents, students, and teachers to blame a curriculum when it’s more likely there are many other issues happening in those classrooms.”, I also beg to differ.

I am willing to bet that most parents who stumble upon my article do so mainly because their children are already having problems. My article is not “leading” parents to blame the curriculum. They already blame the curriculum before they seek out confirmation on the Internet. They see in my article confirmation of their own experiences which is why close to 8,000 people have now seen it and told others about it.

You can find several other instances of parental discontent with CPM on the Internet. I agree that there may be several factors responsible for this discontent, but I tried hard to faithfully and accurately relate my concerns about CPM in my article. We can agree to disagree on whether its “delivery is misguided.”

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