**(Note updated 10/13/2019 – this article, more than any other, gets non-stop daily traffic on my blog from around the country (and beyond!). It hit 10,000 page views a few months ago and is now at over 11,000, averaging about 18 per day. It’s AP ex(sc)am time again! is number two. Parents, students (and even teachers as you can see in the Comments section following the article below) are looking for information about CPM beyond that provided by the publisher, often when students start struggling with math.**

**I’d appreciate it if readers would leave a comment below about what prompted them to search for and read this article. You might also want to name your school district in case others in your locale are in the same situation. There is strength in numbers.**

** Thank you! I am also open to suggestions for additions or clarifications to the material contained herein.**

**Finally I would like to call your attention to probably the most important article that I have written for this blog: **Raising our Children – American Society Reflects our Values and Choices**.)**

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 in the 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?**

**Please post your comments following this article below. You must scroll all the way down to the “Leave a Reply” box to reply to the article directly or click the Reply link following a particular comment to respond primarily to that comment.**

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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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I found your article after googling cpm math. My son is high functioning and on the spectrum which means he can be a bit ADD as well.

He struggles with the team environment and learning in groups (off task a lot).

I find myself “tutoring him” after school. I lie the comments and the blog.

After reading more about common core, Japanese systems, etc., I am shocked that teachers get so little training here and do not get the facilitators needed to help with the diverse needs of students.

Thank you for your work!

Rhonda

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You’re welcome!

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Hello. I am a high school student who is currently involved in a CPM program in my high school. I consider myself to be a very bright student with a high GPA and enrollment in honors/ AP classes. However, CPM math has been miserable for me. The “spiraling method” completely ruins any form of structure when it comes to learning math, making it way more confusing than it should be. This being paired with an incompetent teacher who refuses to give help and grades on subjects we’ve never formally gone over in class could possibly put me at risk for not being admitted into the universities that I plan to attend. What a terrible program! If your academic level geometry class is harder than your AP classes, then there’s clearly something wrong!

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Thanks for your comment. What state/school district do you attend?

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Centennial School District in Pennsylvania

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Is CPM a recently adopted program in your district or have they been using it for a long time?

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Starting in 2018, experimentation was begun with the program, this year, they made it mandatory in all math classes (with the exception of AP calculus and precalculus). Last school, a good amount of students transferred out of their CPM run classes because their grades began to plummet, and when they returned to traditional math, they got A’s and B’s. This year, however, there is no where to turn.

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Best of luck. You might have your parents get together with other parents and address the district school board.

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PS – I might be having a technical problem in the blog comment section. Would you please let me know how you saw my replies? Are you using the WordPress app on a phone/tablet to read the blog? Are you using a web browser and seeing the replies there? Or are you getting the replies via email??

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I’m using an Iphone to see the replies.

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With the WordPress app or just Safari?

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I hope more students speak up and I hope all your dreams come true. Please tell your peers to post and send this and other resource materials to your administrators.

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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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Great article found on Google search of cpm math curriculum. Our son has been complaining about the new cpm program in his 7th grade algebra 1 class in the high performance middle School in the Indianapolis Public schools. His main complaints are that the teacher doesn’t teach anymore and the group centered learning is totally not productive as only the top kids in the group contribute and sometimes they don’t know the material well enough to help the group which puts undue burden on them. He is a straight A student who loved math prior to this year, and his first test resulted in a C, and worse an admission that he doesn’t like math anymore, and this is the same teacher he had last year that he loved. His friends mother told me they are thinking about transferring schools because of this program. We are very concerned about what do do as I doubt they will switch a curriculum that just begun. What do you suggest?

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Jason,

You are basically stuck with the school’s decision unless parents can show to the principal that overall student performance is negatively impacted in a significant manner. I would begin by talking to his teacher and relating the above to him/her. If that gets you no satisfaction, try the principal and possibly the PTA. Parents have a better chance if they band together rather than engage in solitary protests.

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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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“The lessons are very well made and provide students with a deep conceptual understanding of the material. “

Sometimes. Just as frequently, the ‘story’ aspect of the CPM problems obscures the mathematical concepts and students. CPM also seems to devalue procedural fluency in favor of conceptual understanding, as though procedural fluency was but a weak subset of conceptual understanding.

“You want them to stare at preworked problems in a traditional text and figure it out for themselves…”

Yes, that is how students gain experience in inductive reasoning, which is a valuable intellectual tool.

“Your complaint about the text having no worked problems or resources… They’re in nearly every lesson”

That is not the case in the Integrated 1, 2 and 3 series. There are virtually no worked out examples.

“A quick YouTube video can work just as well, if not better.”

While helpful, students cannot find that YouTube video if they don’t know what to search for. CPM often uses non-standard notation and vocabulary, so students may trouble with that search. Also, most of the ‘Review / Preview’ problems have no citations as to where in the textbook the concepts were introduced, so if a student doesn’t remember when the topic was introduced, they cannot check their notes effectively to see what they previously learned. CPM is very poor at indexing concepts.

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Thanks for your comment, John!

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Several years ago, I taught (as a student teacher) the same classes that you did at George Washington High School in SF. Contrary to what I read in your article, I found most of the problems in the classroom to be tangential or parallel to CPM. These problems included: insufficient prep and teacher-collaboration time, parenting and community issues, parent-teacher engagement, mental health counseling, administrative necessities and limitations, etc.

Self-discovery is present in all forms of education. Students that can self-organize and self-manage can more easily experience self-discovery in a lecture-formatted education; I think it is true (but slightly disingenuous) to attribute their success to the lecture-format.

As a consultant and educator in the field of manufacturing and compliance, I see, everyday, individuals and teams (of all backgrounds and levels of education, from PhD to illiterate) around the world tackling problems, without much explanation from a textbook. I agree with criticism that clear instruction is important, but I have never seen an employee commend a manager (or anyone for that matter) for a lecture. Nor have I seen a manager’s lecturing help solve many employee (or team) challenges.

A big problem with the lecture format is the need to drive students through a narrow curriculum, rather than allow for slower groups to examine the fundamental aspects of a mathematical concept, question and solution and for more advanced groups to perform a more profound exploration of the same work. I think CPM, at this moment, has the greatest potential to address that problem as the learning model is more active than passive.

It is worth noting also that, across industry, managers struggle with employee engagement; it may be because: (i) people who are good at tasks are often promoted to (ii) manage people (which involves a very different skill set than completing tasks) to (iii) explore and solve continuous series of diverse problems, sometimes with a team and often with limited resources. (iv) Managers are also expected to be able to frame a problem or solution differently for different people (e.g. regulators, vendors, employees, C-level executives, customers and consumers).

CPM is designed to prepare students for (ii), (iii) and (iv). It does this by substitute procedural learning through repetition with a more complex and profound learning that emphasizes teamwork, critical thinking and presentation. For example, rather than asking students to individually complete 50 problems that look like: “12 X 16”, a question might be: ”How many ways can one solve “12 X 16” and how many ways can it be presented? Students can work in groups and use props (pennies, colors, a graph or groups of dots on a page) to present their findings to other groups to see which group discovered a unique solution and which group found the most solutions. The class as a whole can decide which one they liked the best.

Parents who complain about CPM may have good reason, in some cases, but I think they may also overlook the purpose of CPM’s design and use of “struggle”: to prepare kids for complexity, adversity and responsibility, to drive innovation and entreneurship, and to save students from jobs (and tasks) that are increasingly automated or cheaply valued.

I don’t think anyone expected CPM to roll out smoothly, especially it’s creators; CPM was expected to improve by participation, feedback and creativity. Teachers ought to have latitude to make a lesson simpler or more dynamic, or both at once, and CPM provides the fundamental structure.

Much frustration around CPM comes from teachers’ lack of time, resources and support. Teachers fill a combination of roles: project manager, mentor, auditor (in some sense of the word) and trainer of technical and managerial skills. However, this problem is tangential to CPM. The role of the teacher is under-appreciated and underestimated in our society and teacher salaries, prep time and administrative-community-parent support have been severely lacking in many school districts.

I can understand why some people, particularly academics and accomplished industry professionals, might feel frustrated with, or affronted by CPM: “I am successful and so my education is validated by my success, and to question the format of my education is to ignore the validating results.”

I can also understand why parents are frustrated: “Never in my life have I needed to solve a math problem three different ways. Why should my kid be denied college admission due to a drop in GPA over useless math?”

I can also understand teacher’s resentment for CPM: “I have been teaching for X years in this format, to question this format is to question the value of my work and the conclusions of my experience.”

In these logical arguments, perhaps there is something to gain, but also much to lose. While critiquing CPM has value, tossing it away would be unfortunate.

I am amused though by the outrage around abandoning a traditional lecture-format for a model that prioritizes creativity and engagement. I don’t know many people that yearn for the same level of engagement they had in their sine-cosine-tangent lectures or lament to others, “Kids just don’t get lectured on logarithms anymore, it’s a shame.”

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Michael, thank you for your lengthy reply. You do a good job of explaining the rationale behind CPM.

Unfortunately I am a bit concerned that both you and Angel before you did not read my article carefully.

In the section entitled “The CPM Math Program” I mention many of the advantages of CPM. I also mention in my article that CPM is suitable for the lower level high school math classes. I used CPM for Algebra 1 at GW and had no problems with the group lessons though I supplemented it with additional homework practice.

My biggest concerns are at the pre-calculus level and higher (though I thought a few things like group tests were ridiculous at all levels). Those concerns unfortunately were not addressed anywhere in your lengthy reply.

Your observations about managers lecturing employees may be valid, but they are somewhat irrelevant to the problems that I tried to address.

As the level of complexity increases in higher math classes, self-discovery takes more time, and the level of practice required to master the material also increases. This is where the most serious issues with CPM arise. It just takes far too much time to cover higher math classes.

Defenders of CPM always wax poetic about self-discovery, and this sounds very good in theory until it runs into issues like those above.

In the end outcomes matter. When our local high school tried the CPM precalculus curriculum, teachers had to supplement it extensively, and the following year the program was dropped in favor of a traditional textbook. I continued to tutor several kids who went through that ill-fated pilot, and it negatively impacted their subsequent high school math progress.

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Hi David,

Thank you for your reply and I am grateful that you have this dialogue through your article. I found it through a google search.

I disagree that there is no relationship between CPM, management skills and professional growth opportunities. Despite your negative experiences with CPM in higher level math, from an industry perspective, I still see lecturing as more problematic and a means to rendering math less accessible and less meaningful to students. Thank you for your time and consideration in this comment/response thread!

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Hi Michael,

I am not sure what industry you consult for, but your experience differs from mine.

After finishing my Ph.D. and postdoctoral research, I spent about a decade in the scientific software industry and was involved with the Human Genome Project and the early development of the Internet for biology. I then spent another decade doing IT work in the biotech industry. In addition to a Ph.D. in biochemistry, I also have an MBA from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and was in management for many years.

Most of the people that I worked with were highly educated, and I rarely, if ever, recall managers lecturing anyone. There might be an occasional brainstorming meeting, but, in my fairly extensive experience, most knowledge workers tackle difficult problems on their own and consult with others as needed.

However, the most insightful ideas usually come from quiet solo contemplation. I am not minimizing the need for collaboration, but CPM, in my opinion, greatly exaggerates that aspect and does not give sufficient weight to the quiet contemplation aspect.

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I have taught the CPM curriculum in middle school for about 8 years. I think that many of the concerns expressed here by many of your readers represent the continuum of my feelings over that time. I too have felt frustrated by some of the open-ended lessons and what I have felt are some of the assumptions that the authors make about the proficiencies of the students who may be using the program. I have found myself frustrated by the “lack of practice” and often supplemented. I have been to several conferences from the publishers and been very energized by each of them, to return to the classroom and once again be frustrated by how difficult it can be to make those strategies learned actually happen in the classroom. It is a program with which I truly have a love-hate relationship. It challenges me and my students. It makes us all uncomfortable. That being said, I’m not sure that this is a bad place to be.

One of the most common frustrations has been the lack of practice in a given lesson that specifically targets the concepts or skills taught in that lesson. I have thought a lot about this over the years and also read a lot about practice and its connection to deep learning. The theory of interleaved or spaced practice is integral to the CPM program and the success of its structure. I know that students can be frustrated that they are doing problems like what they learned that day, but the neuroscience supports giving them time to forget a little before hitting it again. The simple act of recalling something that you have nearly forgotten strengthens synapses and memory. Even if it cannot be fully recalled, the effort expended grows the brain. This is purpose behind the review /preview and the seemingly random chunking of a concept over many chapters rather than just one.

Like every math program, no curriculum is perfect. You mentioned that it takes the skill of the teacher to make CPM work, and I would argue this for ANY program. Students who struggle with an inquiry based curriculum would most likely struggle with a more traditional program as well. It takes an experienced practitioner to find the emphases and then create engaging opportunities to interact with that content. This is a perfect time to talk about best practices.

Thank you for your mostly objective review of the program. I would have been a very different math student had I grown up thinking through an idea in context rather than practicing 20 even problems every night. I’m sad that I never had that opportunity as a student but I am very grateful to have it as a teacher.

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Andrew,

Thanks very much for your detailed comments.

I only wish to remark on one point that you make about the “neuroscience supports giving them time to forget a little before hitting it again.”

I think *** very few people have ever taken the time to read the articles that CPM cites to support this contention.***

I have intended to write a review of this at some time, but it is a lengthy undertaking and I have not had time to do so.

While it is everyone’s common experience that reviewing subjects at a later date helps cement the concepts in memory (and this is why the CPM claim on its face seems reasonable!), the actual research cited provided very little good quantitative data about how many initial practice math problems are optimal nor does it provide details about optimizing the time period between review “spirals.”

Instead, during debates about CPM, we hear the usual claims about “Research shows” without anyone checking whether or not the research is valid. Some of the papers cited by CPM to support “spiraling” studied nothing other than the retention of things like the number of city names on a list of such items which is a far different thing than learning math problems!!!!

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Michael,

I appreciate your comments in the last paragraph.

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Context:

Schools with high level of student absenteeism/tardiness.

CPM Problem: CPM textbook does not satisfy the needs of absent/tardy students. Teachers cannot refer absent/tardy students to read in the CPM textbook the explanation of a particular topic, including examples and applications, because those explanation, example, and applications simply do not exist.

Solution:

Schools should have a set of “approved” textbooks instead of only one monopolistic textbook. Teachers as professionals –and not clerks– should decide which textbook to use according to the particular reality of their different classrooms.

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Thanks for your comments, Tia!

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Hi David, I am a new to the public schools math teacher in CA, with many years of experience tutoring in the same subjects you cover (Math, Physics, Chemistry) and teaching adults. I have just started using CPM’s Integrated Math 1 curriculum for the first time, and I found your blog via a Google search on “is cpm integrated math good”. My initial experience echoes many of your own sentiments, and I believe that active supplementation is going to be necessary to make it work. I would like to continue this conversation with you and others who have expressed thoughts on this topic.

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Hi Mike. Thanks for your feedback. You can reach me at any time by posting a comment or via the Contact page on the blog.

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Hello, I came here because my son is a sophomore in SMUHSD, he is quite advanced in math, and when he started CPM math last year he could see the weaknesses and did some research on the curriculum. And tonight for some reason he decided to mention what he has found to me, and I did a quick search for “CPM math reviews” and came across this blog. Thank you for posting this, I’m sure it has been of interest to many people!

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Thank you! This article has been viewed over 10,000 times since publication!

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I am on year three of a pilot for CPM math in the district I teach in. I am wondering if you or anyone that reads your article have information on how CPM impacts students who have autism. I know the difficulty students with autism have with social skills. I am more specifically wondering about the barriers when compared to traditional direct instruction methods for teaching math. I appreciate any and all feedback.

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Thanks for your comment, Penny. Although I have taught a few autistic children, I have no special expertise in this area. The autistic students I taught were not using CPM for math, but your concerns about how such students would handle group learning are legitimate. Hopefully others can offer their experience. What is your take to date?

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Thank you for the detailed article and posting of comments, both pro and con. Excellent discussion. My daughter is a junior in the Winneconne School District (WI) taking pre-calc. Her (and our) experience finds a level of frustration with “teaching” by the CPM method, leaving her stressed and worried for her future college career. A previous “A student in math is now failing. She no longer thinks she can succeed because she is given tests that include materials that were not taught and “will not be taught” according to her teacher. But have to be learned. The challenges of group teaching by fellow students seems counterproductive to the best use of ones time in the classroom. I have been to so many industry training sessions where the presenter gives attendees 5-10 minutes to discuss power point material just presented. Most of that time is wasted trying to understand the question and wants of the presenter instead of directly asking and allowing questions. Showing examples of their material. But that takes time and effort on part of the instructor. Perhaps if the material was taught 3 of the 5 class days with in-class lectures and questions/discussions and homework, then group discovery or review the other 2 days, CPM could be possibly an effective way to reinforce the formal instruction. But a total lack of formal instruction leaves many students behind with no material or basis to get caught up to their ‘group’ which may also be behind or failing. At some point the learned, educated adult in the room needs to instruct and present the material logically and completely. Math builds upon lessons taught and learned by solved examples and problems, not errantly discovered or falsely copied to appear to succeed. I found your website searching on Bing for CPM math precalculus help. It was a couple of pages in.

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Thanks, Mark. This article is a top hit on Google.

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Thank you for your honest evaluation. I am a high school math teacher who has astounding success teaching students as their final stepping stone to college. I use several techniques: lecture, drill and practice, group conversation. I am in constant interaction with ALL students; constant movement around the room. Sometimes the thought-provoking questions come from me, sometimes from them. Great success. ALL students that passed my class passed the AccuPlacer with astounding results (I’ve never seen the AccuPlacer test, so I cannot be accused of teaching to the test). After three years with great results, the college that my students move on to, exonerated students that pass my class from taking the AccuPlacer–they receive automatic acceptance. I switched to middle school this year and my administrator is all about CPM. “We’re going to prove CPM makes great test scores!” I attended the week-long training. Trying to remain positive, I adapted the curriculum as best I could to my teaching style and was feeling good about it. After my first evaluation, my administrator wrote TWICE…”trust the CPM!” In other words, become a robot to the method. I hear kids mumbling about confusion and have to bite my tongue. After two days of CPM group work, I end up spending two days going over the homework so I can TEACH and the kids can LEARN. I don’t know how many times I hear kids say: “Oh! that’s how you do it. I had no idea!” What I can accomplish in one day now takes me four days. But I must “Trust the CPM!” Needless to say, I love the kids, I love teaching, but I am looking for another job. CPM is not teaching. It is a robot, doing exactly as instructed. Thank you for showing that I am not alone and not losing my mind. I teach for the love of it. In three months of this curriculum, my passion is gone. I am drained. The world of math may lose a very effective teacher due to the duress.

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Lara, thank you very much for one of the most interesting comments posted to date! I am constantly amazed at how educational fads overwhelm common sense!! You might also enjoy my related article “Never Trust Educational Experts (Or Me)!”

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Please direct me to your aforementioned article. I have been unable to find it. Thank you for the response. Just this week I was put on a “Performance Improvement Plan” by my administrator because I was not teaching CPM with 100% fidelity. The plan states the I MUST use group tests, I MUST use CPM resources (not my own supplements), I MUST use the CPM-generated tests, etc. I will be reviewed many times throughout the upcoming semester. I’m too old, too successful, and love my calling too much to follow through with this. Job or no job at the semester break, I must walk away. I compare CPM to a cult. Once they get you in their clutches you become the puppet to the puppet master. Common sense is the only thing that steers one clear of becoming a puppet. A good teacher knows how to teach with passion, knows how to tap into her own experiences and knowledge and knows how to love, nurture and teach children. Students respect and respond to a good teacher; they will not respond to a monotone puppet.

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https://eduissues.com/2018/01/29/never-believe-educational-experts-or-me/

Sorry, I misquoted the title above.

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As a special education math teacher and a parent whose child is in middle school and hating this horrible curriculum I am struggling to enforce him to do the work. This quote from your article hits it spot on: ” the biggest problems with CPM are the lack of explanations, worked example problems in the textbooks, and insufficient practice problems”. My son is the child that hates math. So lets make him hate it more, REALLY! When I ask him well how did your teacher show you how to do it? He says what do you mean she just handed me the work sheet and said here do this. So after a full 8 hr day of TEACHING algebra, that is right I said teaching math (where I explain the problems, we work through many problems together and then my students do some problems on their own) (I do, we do, you do, method works wonderful) I go home and teach my son math as well. The math that his math TEACHER is suppose to be teaching him. I am currently so frustrated as a parent and a teacher.

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Thanks for your comment, Tasha!

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I read your article with great interest. It’s most interesting, in fact, that you are full of praise for many of the points of CPM’s methods, including group work, the initial guidance provided by the teacher at the beginning of the period, spiralling, and others. You aren’t supportive of Group Tests, though you don’t discuss the amount of a student’s grade they actually account for. (This is a rather small percentage in most CPM classes.) The bulk of your criticism seems to come from your experience as a tutor, and not as a classroom teacher. You speak of student frustration and your concern that students were not understanding deeply enough so creating your perception that more repetitive work was needed, found and provided by you for your tutees to shore up this shortcoming.

What I would like to point out is that you’ve only incompletely understood the constructivist education agenda. It is not without guidance – it is without dictation. Having an incomplete understanding part way through the book or chapter is common for a constructivist approach and is not a shortcoming. Consider Vince Lombardi’s 1961 instruction to his Green Bay Packers: “This,” he said, “is a football.”

Do we imagine Vince stopped there? That he was a hands-off coach? Indeed not. The point of constructivism, and telling three dozen professional athletes “This is a football” is to get THEIR brains working on the topic. There is ample data that demonstrates that students at all levels, engaging with, but not as a total substitute to direct instruction, achieve greater in greater numbers and remember the lesson longer. This is especially true for populations that are traditionally underachieving.

I’ve witnessed first hand many parent, tutor and sometimes even teacher complaints about CPM. Almost universally these are founded on the essential misunderstanding that when a student is struggling there is a problem with the instruction and when they announce they don’t get it that they never will, and that when the materials haven’t outlined the complete lesson -immediately- that it never will. None of these are true. In the string of articles that led me to this one, I saw the article by Clark, Kirschner and Sweller titled “Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction.” That work, as yours, has conflated several different education styles, to the detriment of your analysis of them. There is no dichotomy in actual classrooms between “fully guided instruction” and “self discovery.” All classrooms, practically without exception, are a mixture of those, with the exception of the teacher who is content with education malpractice who sits at their desk and passes out worksheets all day long.

The CPM curriculum is no exception. It starts with a challenging question. It may end only with that question – without its full implications – explored. Eventually the bigger, broader picture emerges. Students who have been through the CPM program, and programs like it, are following the Common Core’s eight standards for mathematical practice in addition to the standards, which some have pointed out are not much different than the standards list that came before. The 8 standards for teachers, however, is very new. They create mathematical power. They empower students to own the math and use it as a tool for solving real problems. A student who has been led by the nose, willingly or not, directly through the entire lesson might be a great symbol manipulator – might be – but a student who has thought through the implications of all this and been asked to tackle a variety of problems with it, are truly powerful.

There is simply no comparison. If you don’t see the outcome and only have a view for the short term struggle, you will of course have questions. As a tutor, rather than a teacher who has followed students through their education perhaps for several years, you will of course miss out on all that.

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Richard, you make many valid points in your detailed comments above, and I thank you for them.

I think your inference, however, that my criticisms of CPM stem from lack of experience as a classroom teacher are incorrect. I understand the constructivist education agenda. In a world where students are engaged with the material and have sufficient time for the self-discovery process, I agree that the constructivist agenda would probably work. It seems very reasonable under those ideal circumstances.

In the real world where self-discovery takes longer as the complexity of the material increases, the CPM method tends to fail. Not only are fewer students capable of reaching the endpoint of a more complicated discovery process in the allotted time, the increased frustration with not finding that endpoint also affects student motivation!!

I mentioned in the article that CPM can work at lower math levels, like Algebra 1, but when it was tried at the precalculus level in our high school district, it was a disaster.

Also, another problem results in classes where a teacher has a problem keeping groups of children focused on the subject material in the first place. I am not saying that traditional methods would accomplish miracles in such classes either, but CPM methods in such cases can add to the chaos.

I always find it interesting that CPM defenders focus mainly on the logic behind the constructivist agenda, but don’t seem to be able to acknowledge its flaws. It *does* have some strengths, but it also has serious weaknesses. My views about CPM are based on *both* my classroom *and* subsequent tutoring experience and are also based on watching how it has been implemented by other teachers.

I also have a Ph.D., have spent years doing scientific research, and have worked in fields other than education, so I believe I have the ability to look at difficult problems with a degree of objectivity instead of looking through a partisan lens.

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I should add after rereading your comment that, unlike teachers, since I retired from teaching and took up tutoring, I have worked with several students through multiple grades, in some cases from 7th grade all the way through 12th!, so I have seen the longer term effects of instructional methods that most teachers do not since students are in their class often for only one year and then move on.

As long as CPM is part of a curriculum that includes direct instruction when needed, some, but not all, of my objections will be addressed.

Unfortunately you can read several comments from others above where CPM implementations in their locale have not gone well. I think it behooves educators to listen to these complaints and not quickly dismiss them as being from ignorant parents who do not understand the niceties of constructivist methodology. This sadly seems to be the common response that parents receive…

I really do not like comparing education to business for many reasons, but in this case the analogy is apt: when many of one’s customers are complaining about their satisfaction with one’s product, a rational person would stop and carefully consider whether or not the criticism is just. I have tried in my article to point out both the strong and the weak points of CPM. However, too often CPM advocates appear to be relying on the “lack of experience / ignorance of constructivism / we know better than you” argument to dismiss any and all criticisms of the program. When one has a monopoly and can not be fired, one can get away with this response. In the business world, customers would quickly abandon that business for a different vendor.

Richard, you do acknowledge in your comment that “There is no dichotomy in actual classrooms between “fully guided instruction” and “self discovery.” All classrooms, practically without exception, are a mixture of those, with the exception of the teacher who is content with education malpractice who sits at their desk and passes out worksheets all day long.”, so we may be more in agreement than one might think.

However, dismissing my views with the comment “If you don’t see the outcome and only have a view for the short term struggle, you will of course have questions. As a tutor, rather than a teacher who has followed students through their education perhaps for several years, you will of course miss out on all that.” is completely out of line!

As I said above, I follow many students for FAR LONGER than the one year most classroom teachers are with them. Several of my students who were with me during the ill-fated Aragon HS CPM precalculus experiment continued with me for their remaining two years in high school. That group had the most problems in subsequent math classes out of all of the 8 years that I tutored Aragon precalculus students. Please don’t preach to me that CPM works out better in the long run… It may work in the lower grades as I stated in my article, but I remain completely unconvinced about its efficacy at higher levels of math instruction for reasons that I also detailed in my article.

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David:

If I was out of line I apologize. I don’t see it, but as they say, if the offended feels it, we shouldn’t argue whether they should or not.

You mention your degree and your experience – which was not part of the article so I did not previously know. As a scientist, you understand the need for real data; data, that is, that goes beyond personal experience. I mentioned that I also had met with many people who had complaints. I have also read longitudinal data and large group data on CPM. The data is clear: it very effective, and effective at all levels. Your complaint about its effect at higher grades just isn’t true for most students.

I don’t mean to blithely ignore the complaints of my clients. I listen and adjust my instruction daily. I AM aware, however, that there are many students, good at “traditional” instruction, who try to summarize one-on-one tutoring with “Oh! You JUST (fill in the blank with some mechanical method)!” To me this is very troubling and disappointing. I have taken to stopping this exclamation of oversimplification with the observation that “Yes, that is all if all you wish is to finish this problem – or problems that look just like it. The real question is do you understand the ‘why?'”

The problems with the Pre-Calculus course in your local high school are regrettable. I have seen CPM fail in other high schools with a well-educated group of parents who attack the problem as Ph.Ds instead of as educators. I have personally debated the pros and cons of a constructivist approach in the university setting (though I am not a Ph.D.) with folks with Ph.D.s in Mathematics. The one thing I like to remind them is that they are experts in their field; I would not debate them there. But when you expound upon education methods, you are in MY wheelhouse. There are very few Ph.D.s outside of the Education Department who have done even the essential readings of a first year Teacher Education student. I don’t know if you have or not, of course, but I would remind you and your audience that your Ph.D. does not make you an expert in THIS field. No offense. These are just the facts.

I would also remind you of the reality of the Expectation Effect. Without real data, your interpretation of events around you are of course filtered through your prejudices. Also not meant to be an offense, this is basic science – as you are more aware than I, to be sure. You have reported the students who complain, but have given very short attention to the fans. Have you never met any? I’m pretty sure that is not the case.

Regarding your tracking of some students over several years, I would argue again that this is not real data. Have you never tracked a student who was succeeding under CPM or similar programs? Again, I’m pretty sure that is not the case – whether you are aware of it or not.

Since I have mentioned data several times, I offer some for your perusal. In the linked article, the researchers found that students perceptions of their successes under a constructivist regimen does not match the reality. They offer an explanation of why that might be so. I recognize the inherent danger of theorizing why we might ignore the complaints of our clients, as this article might empower us to do – but on the other hand, we DO have to explain to ourselves why a program that performs so well for so many has so many detractors. Success should, by itself, be apparent, correct? Why do so many not recognize it? Personally, I think the parental tutorial moment explains much of it, and doubly so for well-educated parents. If they are attempting to help students through public school mathematics and find it difficult, they will surely blame the authors, the method of instruction, the theory of learning… In my experience, Ph.D.s included, defensiveness and attack are part of that package.

Best regards. I’ve enjoyed your blog.

Here is the link to the article I mentioned: https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2019/09/study-shows-that-students-learn-more-when-taking-part-in-classrooms-that-employ-active-learning-strategies/?fbclid=IwAR3NUPK7EsxgzfO0RTmgY0rICOtwnjZ_Cu65vTighvllIZlwptYfBeaYtvg

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Thanks for your response, Richard. Again, you raise several valid points above. I will read the article you list above and comment in detail later. In fact I would like to speak with you by phone in the near future and will contact you privately.

If CPM has all of this amazing research, why is it not quoted in their online “research base?” I looked through many of the articles that they quote supporting their methodology, and the quoted research support struck me as being EXTREMELY thin.

I have had the goal of writing a detailed review of that research for quite some time, but as this would be a very time-consuming undertaking, I have not been able to undertake it yet (perhaps next summer break).

I mention the CPM analysis of school STAR test results in my article and the wishy-washy language that CPM uses to describe them. The last time I looked at their research list (about a year ago) they were soliciting research proposals, but most of their research references still dated back to the STAR testing era…

Their evidence for spiraling, for example, came from a psychological study that focused on recalling things like obscure city names from a list, a skill which is extremely different from learning mathematical concepts. Extrapolating from this list memorization research foundation to the CPM math instruction methodology requires a GIGANTIC leap of faith!!

As I said above, it would take some time to type all of this up, so I would like to talk to you personally and discover any other research that you are aware of that supports their methodology.

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I read your article cited above, and I am in complete agreement with its results!

HOWEVER, it does NOT validate the specific CPM methodology! Any teacher who has ever taught should realize without needing to conduct a study like the one cited above that students do not learn topics like math and physics only from sitting in a lecture. Mastery does not come until they not only attempt the homework problems themselves, but, in almost all cases, try to explain/teach the concepts to someone else. In this case, if this is your point, you and I are in complete agreement!!

My concern is that CPM in the higher math levels does a crappy job of cementing the initial concepts before they move on to the next topic. The subsequent spiraling is poorly implemented and in practice does not work! They merely compound confusion over time and THIS is the reason for student and parent dissatisfaction!!

Again, I think it would be much more productive if we talk in person. You sound like an intelligent person who has seriously considered this topic, unlike some CPM teachers I have met who just mindlessly spout the CPM party line after attending a company-sponsored training. I have several questions about mathematics practice and spiraling techniques that I would love to discuss with you, and I will contact you by email later today.

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Hi Richard,

Pardon my being late to the discussion. I got to it after scrolling through a hundred other comments. I see you are trying to convince Mr. Kristofferson (and perhaps were successful via email or phone) of the benefits of CPM. I’m sure you’ve read many other comments on this blog, so you’ve seen that it’s not just Mr. Kristofferson whose mind you’d like to change. It’s parents, teachers, and students all over the country facing problems with CPM. I tried CPM for two years, and it became so monotonous and stressful circulating the room day after day, trying to motivate students who didn’t want to do any work at all, that it took a physical toll on my health. I spend many a night researching CPM online, and found so many people who had similar issues. I vowed after my 2nd year never to touch CPM and just teach it my way, and I have enjoyed teaching ever since. I don’t think anybody would contradict that constructivist learning, and actively engaging with the material, is the best way to teach. I read the Harvard article you sent as well, and have noticed that it is geared toward college learning. High school learning is not lecture style, so I’m not sure what the high school takeaway would be, other than “keep teaching the way you’re teaching, and maybe college professors will start to make changes to be more like a high school classroom.” The issue with CPM is that it takes the fun and the creativity out of teaching. It tries to control all aspects of the classroom except one of the most important pillars – classroom management! CPM tries to convince you that it knows best about everything in your classroom, but when it comes to motivating kids to stay on task, CPM has nothing for you. I even attended a CPM professional development that showed us how we shouldn’t grade kids with number, but symbols that direct them to a rubric with feedback. Now CPM thinks it knows best how to grade my students’ tests! It thinks its method will fit all teachers and students, when in fact, only teachers themselves know what fits best. Lesson planning is, after all, part of what our degrees train us to do.

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Jason, thanks for your comments. Despite several attempts on my part to talk with Richard directly, sadly he never took me up on my offer to speak directly on this subject.

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Hi David!

I’m a future Math educator and plan on entering the credential program in Fall 2021. I found this post when I Googled “i don’t like cpm curriculum.” My university and the surrounding school districts focus primarily on CPM. I’ve been feeling really disappointed with it. At first I liked the emphasis on group work, but as I’ve become more familiar with it I’m finding it’s just a series of equations bookended by “a student thinks THIS. what do you think of THIS?” It still paints Math as being boring and academic instead of having students find real life examples of it. I also don’t like how little flavor it has and how prescribed it is. The teachers I have shadowed do exactly as you’ve mentioned.. “open the book to page blah and do 106-110 or whatever.” It makes me feel like I’m going to school to be a glorified babysitter.

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I believe CPM was given a boost some time ago by the work of Jo Boaler at Stanford and she has quite a fan club in the schools.

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For my on Jo Boaler see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jo_Boaler. Also note that she is not without her critics as you will see in the Controversy section of this article.

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Hi David,

I found this post after searching for “CPM Educational Program” on Google. After reading through this post and the comments, I have a some remarks.

It’s clear that there’s a lot of discontent among students, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders over the fact that CPM causes many students to struggle in their math classes. Previous high-achievers struggle, previous strugglers struggle even more. In my view, this is not a failure of the curriculum.

Math education researcher Manu Kapur (2016) developed a theory of productive failure, reviewing research commonly touted by proponents of both direct instruction (who he calls instructivists) and constructivists. He examined a number of studies that found that students who generate solutions to novel problems prior to being instructed learn better from the instruction than students who receive instruction and practice procedures. “Better” in this sense means that students who struggled with the problems prior to instruction performed better on measures of conceptual understanding and transfer AND that there was no difference in procedural knowledge between the two groups. Kapur calls this kind of struggle “productive failure.” He also provides compelling theoretic arguments for why this should be the case. “Productive failure” activates prior knowledge and leads students to be conscious of its limits, deficiencies, and any misconceptions, priming students for later instruction. Students can compare their naive solutions to correct solutions, making the critical aspects of the new knowledge more apparent and more easily retained. And it also affords greater agency to students, which has positive effects on motivation and engagement (given that students do not have failure-averse mindsets).

In his own research (which has been replicated), he found that students who received no guidance during this initial period of problem solving outperformed both students who received guidance and students who received only direct instruction on post-instruction tests, even though none of the students were initially able to solve the problems, unlike students in the guided problem solving group. This is consistent with the theoretic framework that he proposes.

He also gives strong arguments as for why direct instruction should not be considered “productive success” (he gives PBL as an example of productive success). I think it’s safe to say that there are many acknowledged deficits of direct instruction in math, including low retention over time, low transfer, lack of authentic problem solving, and, most worryingly, negative impacts on students’ creativity. There is a large body of research that supports these criticisms, but even without this research, these effects are logical consequences of a pedagogical method that promotes rote memorization of and blind adherence to standard algorithms.

Here’s the link to Kapur’s article: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00461520.2016.1155457.

It’s unfortunately not open-access, but if you don’t have access and would like to read it, feel free to email me.

I’m very familiar with the work on cognitive load theory that you cited in the AFT article by Clark, Kirschner, and Sweller. Cognitive load theory has a lot of utility in learning design, but it is not without its faults. Ignoring any empirical challenges to CLT’s research base, one of the major issues is that Clark, Kirschner, and Sweller very purposefully use their research as a weapon against constructivist methods, setting up straw-man arguments and false dichotomies that suggest that, since discovery learning is a failure, some version of direct instruction is the only viable pedagogy. They make fundamental, non-empirical assumptions to justify their crusade against constructivism, including that “learning” can and should be measured solely by tests of procedural knowledge. This is an assumption that pervades American education and is propped up by our worship of standardized testing, but I hope we can agree that it is nevertheless an incorrect and counterproductive assumption.

I think we both agree that math teachers should make use of a variety of traditional and constructivist teaching methods. The method that you describe in this post at “self-discovery” is only one of many constructivist/reform methods, and I agree with your assessment that completely unguided discovery is a highly inefficient way to teach math, especially at higher levels. However, efficiency of information transfer is not the sole metric by which we should judge pedagogical methods. As research has shown, contrary to what Clark, Kirschner, and Sweller argue, complete guidance, as efficient as it is, does not produce deep learning. For many students, it is joyless and intellectually stultifying. Without a variety of behavioral tricks that have nothing to do with math itself, direct instruction, at best, leads to apathy towards math, at worst, results in a hatred of math that is retransmitted to generations of children and students. Students who enjoy classes conducted entirely through direct instruction often do so because they enjoy algorithmic thinking, the feeling of proficiency, and/or have exceptional teachers, not because they actually like math. If we can agree that the goals of math class should include giving the opportunity to all students to participate in the wonder and beauty of math, which entails getting them to ask questions, pose conjectures, construct rigorous arguments, and participate in mathematical discussions, then the sole use of direct instruction fails completely in this regard. Unfortunately, based on my personal experience and based on research, direct instruction is seen as the be-all and end-all by many stakeholders in education. This is reflected in the rigidly traditional practices and negative attitudes towards math seen in so many math classrooms. Reform is necessary.

My issue with your article is that, for many who read it, it is yet another article that validates their beliefs that “Common Core math,” “New Math,” “reform math,” “CPM math,” or any kind of attempt to reform the mathematics curriculum are abject failures and that we need to return to the way things were post-haste. From a sociopolitical lens, traditional curricula and reform curricula are not on equal footing. If there is “balanced criticism” of each, the default will always be to revert to traditional curricula, since so many stakeholders fear change, and so many stakeholders fear struggle. Of course, curricula are not “traditional” or “reform” but lie on a spectrum, and the pendulum of education policy has swung back and forth between the extremes several times over the past few decades. There’s been some progress, but it is agonizingly slow, to the detriment of students. That’s why I believe that any criticism of new methods should also make it abundantly clear that reverting back to traditional methods, appealing as they are in their familiarity and safety, is not a viable alternative in the long-term. I am not contesting that, in many schools, the implementation of CPM has been/would be disastrous for students’ learning. These are schools that are facing a host of other problems that need to be resolved in order for any kind of reform curriculum to succeed.

Having read some of your other posts, I think we agree on what a lot of these problems are. There’s too much acceleration and too much emphasis on standardized testing. Math teachers are under-paid, under-appreciated, and often under-prepared (especially at the elementary level). Many predominant (and traditional) beliefs about education in American society, especially about math education, are deeply harmful to children. All of these are much bigger issues than what textbook schools choose to use. Unfortunately, curriculum reform is the most visible aspect of education reform, especially to parents, which is why I think it occurs so frequently, attracts so much attention, and stirs up so much controversy. Additionally, reform curricula often require teachers to have deeper and more flexible knowledge about math than traditional curricula do, exacerbating existing problems of teacher quality.

I wish this post had taken the opportunity to explain a more nuanced view of the CPM program’s pros and cons in relation to the broader landscape of math education reform. All too often, these kinds of posts are read outside of this context. Parents seek to validate their view that the new curriculum is at fault for their children’s struggles, and they don’t see the problems with the status quo. Traditionalists revel in another victory over the reformers. I’m not advocating for everyone to forego criticism of reforms, be more explicitly optimistic about their potential, and to promote a vision of math education that is better than what we have now.

I can empathize with your concern about reforms using students as “guinea pigs.” Top-down reforms imposed by ignorant, overzealous policymakers being directed by greedy, shameless education companies have wrought havoc on generations of students in the United States. However, CPM is an organization that was founded by teachers. Their materials are reasonably priced, they provide free professional development, and I believe that they have genuinely good intentions. They produce materials that, in their experiences and in the experiences of many students, parents and teachers, are more effective than traditional textbooks. Their curriculum is based on beliefs about math education that I respect and believe. I don’t hold them at fault for the fact that their curriculum is used in hasty, half-baked attempts at reform that disrupt students’ math learning, restrict and confound teachers, and generate unmerited animosity towards reform efforts. But by promoting awareness of the broader context of math education reform, emphasizing the failures of the current system, and getting more teachers and parents invested in the work of reform, communities can create reforms that work for them, just like CPM did. That’s why I respect the work that your blog does. But, I worry that many people find this post (and other criticisms of reforms) through Google, don’t get any of the nuance, feel validated in their belief that “reform=bad,” and never read any of your other posts. I don’t fault you for their actions, but I think that this can be avoided by emphasizing the harm of solely using direct instruction.

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Justin, I read your eloquent, detailed response carefully. Thank you for taking the time to write such a great critique! I think you and I are probably in pretty close agreement on many points, but the “devil is always in the details.” I will make only a quick comment here, but then would like to talk with you by phone to discuss this at greater length.

My article title contains the words “Pros and Cons.” I tried to make it clear that there are aspects of CPM that I like, but I agree that people who are pissed at CPM might gloss over that part.

The way that CPM is often implemented in practice is a part of the problem, but I think that their implementation of spiraling is another part. I have been meaning for some time to go through their “Research Base” and write a detailed critique, but this is an extremely time-consuming task that I just have not been able to undertake given my numerous other responsibilities (particularly right now in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic – I recently dropped ten pounds in four days due to the stress of getting my wife’s business set up for remote access. I also do computer systems administration work in my “retirement”).

I know that CPM is founded by teachers, is reasonably priced, as you mention, and that is part of the reason it is popular among teachers.

I also agree, to use simpler language, that just talking at students all day long does not lead to quality learning. However, neither do the great majority of students learn if they are left completely to themselves with only a book of questions. Both of these positions are extremes.

The problem with educational “factions,” just like political parties, is that they tend to take “evidence” (that few members of the faction ever actually read!! “Research says … “ once again) and use it to justify why their side is completely right and why the other side is foolish.

There are also fundamental philosophical issues about the lack of good controls in educational research, so, as I have written elsewhere, I am immediately suspicious of results that do not correlate with “common” sense, but also realize the dangers inherent in that attitude.

Hopefully mature people understand that the truth is never a monopoly.

I look forward to discussing this with you some time soon!!!

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Hi Justin. I sent you an email 4 days ago and am still awaiting a response. I hope to be able to discuss your excellent comments above in person. Hope you are well !!

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I read your article after googling CPM reviews. I have found myself teaching at home in recent weeks due to the pandemic and I am appalled at the CPM curriculum model and the lack of instruction my child has been given thus far in his education. Furthermore, it has proven to be an impossible program to use at home without the everyday instruction from the teacher that we need. I have no credentials that would qualify me to teach math at home but it is already clear to me that there are distinct holes in my child’s math education so I am switching him to a program that I feel will work at home and fill in the areas that have been lost through CPM. He is currently in pre-algebra so, for now, we will be using the Saxon Pre-Algebra program as it is easy to teach from home and I have access to online lessons that I can sit through with him but Saxon also implements a spiraling method for homework that could potentially be frustrating. I’d love to know of any recommendations you have as so many of us have suddenly been thrust into educating our kids at home when we had previously assumed our children were receiving a stellar education in mathematics at their schools.

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Emily, I just saw and posted your comment. I am busy at the moment but will send you some suggestions this evening.

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Hi Emily, sorry for the delay getting back to you.

As I do not know your personal math background, I am going to make a pre-algebra recommendation that I think would be suitable for most interested parents who now have to teach their children alone.

This recommendation is based on using the California Math Standards that pre-dated Common Core and will undoubtedly draw the ire of the numerous “drill and kill” opponents. This is because this textbook series is almost mechanically tied to the CA standards and *provides numerous worked examples* which I am sure that parents will find extremely helpful if their math skills are rusty. However, many teachers might claim that this series makes math just a stream of uninspiring drills.

My background is in science, and I always found my interest in math derived from its applications to science.

Professional mathematicians generally go into the subject because they are enthralled by the logical beauty and unexpected interconnections between different parts of the field. They sometimes tend to look down their noses at applications, but I believe that most students generally ask the question “why am I studying this and what is this good for?”

The answer is that a tremendous amount of math was developed to solve problems in commerce/finance, astronomy, and physics, but the mathematicians who write textbooks (and even more so, the K12 teachers who teach the subject) aren’t always conversant with the interesting human stories behind these developments, and thus far too many students never get satisfactory motivational answers.

The series that I will recommend is from McDougell Littell which is a division of Houghton Mifflin, and the lead author on these books is Ron Larson. This series includes books in Algebra 1/2 and Geometry as well.

I have not used the Pre-Algebra book as I generally teach AP classes, precalculus, and less frequently, algebra and geometry, but here is a link to the 2005 edition on Amazon:

https://www.amazon.com/McDougal-Littell-Pre-Algebra-Student-2005/dp/0618250034/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=mcdougal+littell+pre-algebra&qid=1585758202&sr=8-1

There is also a 2008 edition which is probably very similar, but there is only one left in stock and it is slightly more expensive. Odds are that either book will work fine.

Many home schoolers like the Dolciani series (lead author Mary P. Dolciani) which was used in many states across the U.S. when I was in high school in the late 60s. Personally, I think that your student would likely be a bit put off by the “ancient” format of these books though. In addition, Dolciani made use of set theory and other mathematical formalisms that I think math purists might love, but, IMHO, might make life slightly more difficult for parents struggling to keep kids focussed under our current extraordinary conditions. If you are interested, you can also find Dolciani books from used booksellers on Amazon.

I think the McDougal Littell series would be good to try first though.

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