### CPM Math vs. Traditional Math

*Update 9/8/07: Here’s a great article on the state of K-12 math education in the U.S. and how any constructive debate on math instruction gets squelched by politics.*

Last year Hubby and I attended a math orientation to learn about the differences between two types of math instruction offered at our local high school: CPM (College Preparatory Math) vs. “traditional” math.

They passed out a flier which I have transcribed below. I’ve also added my initial, uninformed, I-Was-An-English-Major opinion:

**How to Choose Math**

Traditional |
CPM |
Bonnie’s Uninformed Initial Opinion |

Students take notes, receive direction, and repeat new skills as modeled by the teacher. | Students work in groups to discover new ideas through carefully directed problems. | CPM learning sounds dynamic and fun! But that traditional math sounds BORING. |

Students solve problems that are usually more skills oriented | Students develop strong problem-solving skills. | Students don’t develop strong problem-solving skills in traditional math? Wow! Who knew? |

Students usually work independently answering questions posed in the textbook | Students work in groups exchanging ideas, making comparisons, drawing conclusions and justifying their work | The CPM classroom sounds like a heckuva lot more fun! (Those poor traditional students.) |

Students ask questions of the teacher and use the texbook as the main source of information | Students have access to group members when questions arise and seek teacher’s help as needed | CPM students don’t really need a textbook—heck, even the teacher sounds secondary |

Student assessment usually reflects only individual achievement | Student assessment reflects both individual and group achievement | Traditional testing seems kind of inadequate |

Quiet, structured classroom | Active, involved classroom | Quiet, structured learning—that’s bad, right? I mean, there seemed to be a pattern here… |

**I raised my hand and asked how CPM students did in SATs in comparison to traditional math students. The CPM rep said, “Great question! CPM students do as well or better than traditional students! Any other questions?”**

It all sounded good, but I was having a problem with a CPM concept that sounded like my kid’s individual achievement wasn’t as an important marker as his *group’s achievement.* Maybe aiming for higher group achievement is a more noble goal, but how on earth were they going to manage parent-teacher conferences?

TEACHER: Mrs. Brown, the entire class has improved significantly!

PARENT: But what about my Johnny? Has he improved?

TEACHER: Hmmm, not really. But the class as a whole has significantly improved! Significantly!

I decided to leave it up to Hubby, an engineer who obviously took a lot more math than I ever did and therefore was better qualified to judge. Turns out he had quite a bit to say about CPM, namely:

- The creators of CPM math obviously never earned paychecks Out In The Real World,
and- CPM sounded like a huge crock of you-know-what.

So we enrolled Tiger in a “traditional” geometry class. Surprisingly, some elements of CPM still managed to creep into Tiger’s “traditional” math class. Twice he got to take a *group test,* which (in case you don’t know) is conducted as follows:

- The classroom is divided into groups of four
- Every student is given a test
- The four students in each group work on the test together and come up with a consensus for each answer
- The group finishes and turns in their tests
- The teacher collects the four tests, staples them together,
and then grades only the page on the top and the page on the bottom and gives every member of the group that one grade.

I called up a math professor friend of mine and asked her to explain the general educational theory behind group testing. She said, “There’s a lot of theory behind group testing, but honestly? It boils down to this: the teacher only has to grade the equivalent of one test instead of four.”

She also said the theory behind CPM in general is an idealistic one, difficult to teach well consistently in all schools and perhaps not appropriate for all learning styles.

This year I did a little more research and no longer have to rely soley on Hubby’s judgement. But in my humble, I-Was-An-English-Major opinion, CPM is a very large crock of educational you-know-what. At least for my kids.

- I was not a mathematics major in college; however, I am now an educator for San Diego Unified School District. While I am on vacation, I am reflecting upon ways that I have taught mathematics to my students and looked deep inside myself, trying to understand how I myself learned math, some some sole searching if you will. What I have found out is that when I was in 7th grade, my school adopted CPM. In short, CPM did not work for me. I was on the right “track” in math taking Algebra 1 in 8th grade. From what I remember, the group tests were pretty much a joke in that only 1 (maybe 2) student’s thinking appeared on the assessment. I remember my school raving about CPM and it being new, innovative and fun (supposedly). My group aced the tests, but I did horribly on the tests that were given independently. What I do remember is the math teacher passing out the independent tests from highest grade to lowest grade which was a major embarrassment and sitting around the whole year confused. I also remember not being able to go anywhere before, during or after school to ask for help–I don’t remember a forum where students felt comfortable asking questions to the teacher. Working in groups, I asked questions to my peers, but did not felt as supported in CPM math than in traditional math. I took pre-algebra the previous year, taught traditionally and earned a B average. My 8th grade year, I “earned” an F in CMP Algebra 1. I remember always feeling left behind–I don’t think my teacher knew me as a learner or probably thought I was not a serious student. I repeated Algebra 1 in 9th grade and by then I was turned off by math yet managed to pass the class with a B average. The following years (10th, 11th, and 12th grades) I took Geometry, Algebra 2 and Pre-Calculus all of which were taught traditionally and all of which I earned above average grades, thanks to developing good study habits, tutors and my teachers’ determination to stay before and after school to help students who needed extra help. In my opinion, it took me 2-3 years after being lost in the wind by CPM to become a successful math student. Perhaps the realization of my struggle to overcome 8th grade math will help me to become a better teacher.Comment by Also Opinionated — 8/1/2007 @ 6:47 am
- I’m in middle school and do CPM math. How I describe it: I HATE HATE HAAAAATE CPM MATH!!! Sure working in groups CAN be fun, but in my group I do all the work and the rest of the group gets credit! CPM math is sickeningly easy. I did this stuff last year in elementary school when I worked ahead. It’s basiclly a review and, you can’t work ahead. The only gaad thing is my teacher lets us review our homework answers as a team and if we all disagree we look at an answer sheet for that problem. My rating on CPM is a 1. What happened to math being simple and not so complex????Comment by Lauren D. — 9/27/2012 @ 7:27 pm

http://www.bonniewren.com/2005/cpm-math-vs-traditional-math.htm

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