Chicago Math - What is the deal?

My kids are in a school district that is quite good - except for math. This school system uses “Chicago Math”. Instead of teaching these kids facts and building on concepts in a progressing manner, they jump from one topic to another practically guaranteeing that they never learn the concept. It relies heavily on calculators and they have to learn several ways to solve anything. They just never seem to learn the “why” part of math. The only advantage here seems to be in job security for the math teachers that run the classes.

Anyone else experience this? Anyone have any success in getting a school district to change away from this?

The purpose of Chicago Math is to teach students to pass standardized tests, and it works; in any controlled experiment, kids learning Chicago Math do better on the standardized tests.

Whether it helps for any other purpose in life is a different question. But if you want standardized tests, teachers will teach kids to pass the standardized tests.

Just a note: unless you know more than what you’ve said, please do not rush to blame the teachers for whatever’s going on. In general, to my knowledge, the individual teachers get very little say as to what methods they may or must use in their classrooms.


My kids experienced this in elementary school (about 5 years ago). While the teachers were forced to teach this stuff, they ended teaching the kids the “other” math also, even though they weren’t really supposed to.

Granted my experience is limited - I only have experienced 4-5 math teachers in this district and have only seen the results of 2 of my kids plus their friends. However, for those teachers and those kids, I see teachers that are teaching Chicago Math “to the letter” without attempting to see if the kids are really learning. When I have suggested that they actually check on individual students, I hear the story of “I have 30 kids in a classroom and you want me to talk to just ONE?”. Yes, I guess I am a tad frustrated with that approach. Especially when these same kids excelled in math for the entire time I had them in montessori schools and suddenly I am being told they “do not know their math facts”.

Do you have experiences in this school district that are different than mine, Frylock? Please share! I will open enroll them!

You wanna know how to get Capone? Here’s how, they factor a polynomial, you find the inverse. He solves a system of inequalities, you graph them. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone!


No, I’m not in that area. I was just speaking from general experience, my own reading, and my wife’s experience (and her friends’ experiences) as (a) teacher(s).

I’ll say this about Montessori, though: I’ve subbed at two schools which claimed to be teaching Montessori style, and if anyone had asked me about this kids and math, I might have said something equivalent to “those kids don’t know their math facts.”

They were playing these games which, I could see, were functionally equivalent to the solving of math problems. (Heck, one of the games involving pegs and boards was functionally equivalent to taking a square root.) If I asked the kid to play the game, s/he could play the game right. But then if I asked the kid the equivalent math problem, s/he had no idea what I was asking.

That was just two days at two different schools, so for all I know they learned to translate between game and math problem later. But then, for all I know, they didn’t.


Montessori schools are not all built alike - even the campuses vary. I have always said that education primarily comes down to the individual teacher. My kids had the benefit of a great teacher at the school they attended & I know it.

Relating this back to the original topic, it just seems like Chicago Math is a hindrance to teaching. To me, it is all over the place in its approach. If it was so great, I would think these kids would be math wizards and accelerating through the topics. Instead, I see a lot of “Extended, extended math” courses which just repeat the kids through the same steps without improving their knowledge.

Are you talking about Everyday Mathematics, the program designed by the University of Chicago? If so, I’m going to be the voice of dissent, with one caveat I’ll get to later.

Everyday Mathematics does not “jump from one topic to another”, rather it interweaves concepts in a logical manner, rather than separating topics into “arithmetic” “algebra” and “geometry”. Questions are well designed and reflect real world situations in ways the old word problems didn’t. Finally, it begins in kindergarten, building on the child’s mathematical intuition (much like Montessori games, actually), and grows organically into more abstract principles as the student becomes more and more intellectually capable of abstract thinking.

Now, for that caveat: if you didn’t start with the program in kindergarten, then it’s going to be a hell of a lot harder to grasp. Precisely because it’s a “build upon prior knowledge” system, it’s hella hard to jump in in the middle. We moved into a district using Everday Mathematics in Grade 1, and it took WhyKid a good six months to figure out what the hell they were talking about. Now, in 7th grade, he’s doing things I don’t remember doing in college.

Had your school given you the parent’s guide? It’s absolutely critical to helping your kids with their homework, but my district doesn’t provide them unless you ask, to cut costs. Get it. You need it. It will all become clear.

Frylock, for what it’s worth, your experiences with Montessori are similar to mine. I just hope that the concepts the games teach (and teach well) are later articulated. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

I don’t think ASAKMOTSD was necessarily blaming teachers. I think perhaps they were blaming the increase emphasis on standardized tests which is happening all over the country. But that’s a different thread, perhaps.

You are correct - my complaint is with a math approach that seems to have a large chunk of the school population baffled & does not seem to be providing the education that I expect from a quality school district. I realize that we are incenting our schools to test well, but what good is that when they get to college or into the work force or at the grocery or…?

That is kind of a big caveat for a school disctrict in an area that is highly transient, wouldn’t you think? :rolleyes:

WOW! That is the single most important piece of information I have read on this topic! Thank you! Sincerely - Thank you!

[ASAKMOTSD thinks to himself “Of course, there is a guide that I have to ask for! Why wouldn’t every parent think of that?” :smack: ]

I’m not familiar with “Everyday Math,” so I don’t know if that’s what you’ve got, or if any of it is any good. But, if you are looking to supplement at home so that your kids will learn some math while you’re trying to change your district’s policy, there are lots of curricula out there. You might try Singapore Math, for example, which is nice as a supplement since it doesn’t have tons of time-consuming drills (though you can add those if you want!), and the books aren’t too costly.