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Letter from Parents Criticizing the Connected Math Program (CMP)

author: Joe Merlino, Diane Briars, Steve Kramer, Lucy West, James Fey
submitter: Joe Merlino

Perhaps your district has received letters from parents or organized advocacy groups attacking standards-based, progressive curricula. It is not always easy for teachers and administrators to answer such "attacks" in a timely fashion. Joe Merlino has asked colleagues for input in answering one such letter that was received from parents criticizing CMP curriculum in the North Penn school district of Pennsylvania. We provide the letter that was received as well as carefully crafted responses by Judy Anderson, Diane Briars, Jim Fey, Steve Kramer, Joe Merlino, and Lucy West. This document will be of great value to all LSCs as they address the increasingly important subject of public engagement in order to keep parents on board with an LSC's vision.

Thank you to Joe Merlino (Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project) who, through this effort, drew on the strengths and resources available within the LSC community to address such an important topic and who then realized the importance of sharing such a document with the entire LSC community through LSC-Net.

published: 8/20/2002
posted to site: 11/19/2002

Responses to Four Parents’ Concerns About North Penn School District's Connected Mathematics Program

June 3, 2002

Background: On April 19, 2002 a group of four parents from the North Penn School District distributed a memo to other parents making various claims, raising questions and expressing concerns about the Connected Mathematics Program. These parents derived at least part of their information from the website

As the director of The Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project (GPSMP) at LaSalle University, a National Science Foundation funded "Local Systemic Change" project, we are responsible for providing professional development in CMP to North Penn’s teachers. To assist North Penn in responding to these claims, questions, and concerns, this memo was distributed to our colleagues from around the country for their input. Their comments are inserted in the memo in bold italics, followed by their initials. The following people responded:

  • Ms. Judy Anderson, past president of the California Math Council (JA)
  • Ms. Diane Briars, Mathematics Supervisor, Pittsburgh Public Schools, director of a NSF local systemic change project and pilot site for CMP and Everyday Math- (DB)
  • Dr. James Fey, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Maryland and co-author of CMP (JF)
  • Dr. Steve Kramer, Math Education Researcher at the University of Maryland (SK)
  • Mr. F. Joseph Merlino, Director, The Greater Philadelphia Secondary Mathematics Project (FJM)
  • Ms. Lucy West, Mathematics Supervisor of District 2 in New York City, Director of their local systemic change project that has implemented CMP in all their middle schools (LW)

For ease of reference, the paragraphs in the parents memo below has been numbered. The entire memo has been included to prove a fuller sense of the manner of expression of these parents.

April 19, 2002
To: 7th, grade parents of children in the North Penn School District
Re: 8th, grade Math. Curriculum for 2002/2003 school year

Dear Parents:

  1. It has come to our attention that our children will be the first, group of children to experience the 8th grade Connected Math program.
  2. (There are currently 2, 462 school districts using CMP. See In the Greater Philadelphia region, these include Bethlehem, Quakertown, Penn Ridge, Ridley, North Burlington Regional, Haddon Township, Pennsauken and Southeast Delco school districts.

    See -FJM

  3. This is a continuation of the program they began this year. A group of concerned parents have gotten together and researched this program as well as met with Dr. Venema, Assistant Superintendent and Nancy Sherlock Robson of the North Penn School District to try to resolve some very disturbing findings we have uncovered.
  4. In summary, North Penn has decided to replace the 8th grade Pre-Algebra program with a program called Connected Math. Traditional Pre-Algebra will not be an option for our 8th grade students
  5. (This decision is well-supported by research, expert panel reviews and international studies. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study amply documented that American eight grade mathematics students were not competitive internationally—even the better students werea not as competitive when matched with other industrialized countries’ better students, See: This gap in performance has been a long standing concern. See "A Nation at Risk" report in 1983

    The National Council of Teacher of Mathematics (NCTM) first published their Curriculum and Evaluation Standards in 1989 in response to these international studies. The standards call for more algebra, geometry, statistics and probability in the middle grades focused on students performing complex problem solving and developing mathematical reasoning. These NCTM standards were updated in 2000. See

    In January 1999, Pennsylvania State Board of Education adopted state mathematic standards similar to those of NCTM. See

    An expert panel review commissioned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) performed and exhaustive review of middle school mathematics text books. Only four were rated highly. Connected Mathematics was the top rated. See. -FJM


  6. Do not be deceived by the course selection cards that came home that stated Pre-Algebra for math selection. Connected Math does cover some pre-algebra,
  7. (CMP covers tradional "pre-algebra" and much more. For a description of the units and what they cover see - FJM

  8. but we find their methods confusing and unconventional.
  9. (This overview of CMP might help clear up some confusion . In addition, parent math nights can be very helpful. -FJM

  10. When deciding to change curriculum, North Penn looked at only two programs. They felt that Connected Math was the better of the two. Why did the district only look at two programs?
  11. (We recommended to the district to pilot two replacement units, one from each of two top rated curricula and those most widely in use in this region: Connected Math (CMP) and Math-in-Context (MiC). After a year of exploration, North Penn teachers thought CMP was better suited for their district - FJM

  12. North Penn is not following the creators suggested implementation process.
  13. (The CMP web site suggests this implementation process. We elaboated on this change process North Penn followed the recommended implementation process. See # 3 above for example) - FJM

  14. We feel this program and the way it is planned to be implemented will put our children at risk of failure in the future. A good foundation of mathematics is needed for every area of study in the college level curriculum. Without this foundation, our children will fail. Non-college bound children also need a program that will give them a firm and concrete understanding of mathematics for use in the careers they will choose.
  15. (This claim is contradicted by a US Department of Education Expert Panel which judged CMP to be "exemplary." input=CDS-000496-496_10 - FJM

  16. The push is on statewide to implement a standards based math program, however, we are not convinced, as parents, that Connected Math is the program for our children.
  17. (The data, research, expert panel reviews and adoption of CMP by other local school district speak speaks for itself. Educators must made decisions that provide the greatest opportunities to learn for the most children) - FJM

  18. This is what our findings have uncovered: The Connected Math Program was suggested for implementation without our knowledge or input as parents. You may remember the Everyday Math program North Penn instituted last year for our elementary students. They did a good job of informing the parents and teachers of the change.
  19. The Connected Math is a Grade 6-8 series that covers math concepts by using a series of 8-9 books per year.
  20. (Actually, the program has only 8 books per year; 24 altogether.) - DB

  21. The program states that each topic, is to be covered and taught to mastery. Teaching is not repeated in other parts of the program.
  22. (Actually, topics taught in one unit ARE used in subsequent units. That is why the program is called Connected Mathematics.) -DB

  23. Beginning the program in 7th grade means that the material presented in the Grade 6 first eight books may never have been covered. His year our level 4 and 5 children will do about half of the eight book series. In Grade 8, they are expecting to cover five of the eight books. How will our children master the skills that are presented in the many books that they will not cover?
  24. (Connected Mathematics units address mathematics topics not traditionally taught in middle school. Completing 5 of the units will give students a better foundation for Algebra 1 than a traditional pre-Algebra course. See -DB

  25. After completion of each book, will these children have truly mastered the concept they are expected to learn? The format of the book is confusing, and we are finding that children can not perform the mathematical skills they have spent months learning. Testing methods this year were poor and inaccurate. Good grades were given without the mastery that should have been attained. We would like our children to be tested on the skills that needed to be covered in a 7th grade math program. Did our children learn the basic skills that they will need in future higher mathematics?
  26. (According to Liping Ma and her research mathematics lessons in this country are not conceptually based. Teachers did not learn it conceptually and they are not teaching conceptually to their students. Where teachers learned mathematics conceptually and then teach in the similar manner the students are successful. Learning conceptually may take more time in the beginning and at the same time it builds the blocks for learning future lessons… Because students take time to learn a concept is not a fault.) – JA

  27. The Connected Math manufacturer's recommendations on implementation are not being followed. They suggest that this program should begin in Grade 6 only after the children were exposed to standards based math in K-5.
  28. (This is a surprise to me. My understanding is that CMP was designed on the assumption that students had a traditional K-5 experience. The content of grade 6—which is fairly traditional content (though teaching methods differ) so that even if their children had a traditional grade 6 program, they should be prepared for grade 7 CMP) . See ) -DB

    Other local school districts, North Brlington and Haddon Township begin CMP in 7th grade. Articulation with Everyday Math in 6th grade should not be a problem as both are similarly designed and both are rated exemplary -FJM

  29. Our children were in the Macmillan series which is not a standards program. The manufacturers stress that material covered in previous books are vital to success in the future units. This is not a spiral program where re-teaching consistently takes place.

    (It is unclear which curriculum is being referenced. CMP is most definitive a spiral program where "re-teaching consistently takes place". See for example - FJM

  30. North Penn Administrators advise us that the Connected Math teachers will have to step out of the Connected Math program in 8th grade to teach material that was missed in the previous grades. How can our children ever catch up when they will be constantly stepping backwards? Every time teachers have to stop and re-teach, valuable time is lost.
  31. The current Level 6 children (they have Connected Math at all in 7th grade) who did not test into Algebra next year must join the Connected Math program in 8th grade. Coming into the Connected Math for the first time in 9th grade will be confusing, and they will lose valuable needed training in Pre-Algebra.
  32. (Grade 8 CMP is a pre-algebra class—in fact, a very rigorous one! See the algebra strand at - DB

  33. The Connected Math program is not designed to have children test into Algebra by 8th grade.
  34. With more universities requiring higher levels, of high school math for acceptance into many popular college majors, we need to get more of our students into Algebra sooner.

    (CMP begins algebraic units in 6th grade. See - FJM

  35. There is a need for pre-calculus skills for all students intending to pursue a wide range of University majors including: accounting, engineering, computer science,, medicine, mathematics, physics, biology, psychology, physical or occupation therapy, architecture, economics, business and math education.
  36. (Most of those "pre-calculus skills" needed to pursue a "wide range of University majors" includes heavy doses of statistics and probability which were largely absent and not taught in pre-NCTM standards curriculum. CMP begins covering these topics in sixth grade, See - FJM

  37. If a child does not get started on the correct math path in middle school, their choices will be limited for college majors.
  38. (What makes anyone think CMP is not the correct path? Is there any evidence to that effect. To the contrary, there is evidence that it is the right path—see below.) - DB

  39. Is North Penn willing to decide our children’s future so early in their lives? We believe that, getting as many children as possible into Algebra by 8th grade should be a priority for North Penn. This Connected Math Program is not set up to do this, and because of this should not be used!
  40. (Contact Beth Ritsima for the Travers City data which shows that students who had grade 7 and 8 CM and Core Plus in high school had more students taking AP calc. And higher AP calc grades than students who came through previous programs.) - DB

  41. A group of Texas parents brought a federal lawsuit against their school district due to their
  42. children’s confusion with the Connected Math program. School districts all across the country are battling parents about this issue. If the program is so beneficial, why does so much controversy surround it?

    (The oft-cited Texas suit expressed only the anger of a small group of parents. It was not successful, and the district under attack has continued to use CMP with test scores remaining at the high level the district expects. To suggest that CMP is experimental is to deny the reality of very widespread adoptions over the past 5-7 years. In fact, CMP is the best-selling middle school mathematics text published by Prentice Hall)JF

  43. The Directorate for Education and Human Resources of the National Science Foundation (NSF EHR) funded this program. These decision-makers have no particular qualification in the mathematical content area.
  44. (This is very confusing. NSF funds projects on the basis of external panels of experts. NSF is required to have experts review each proposal. Clearly there is little understanding of NSF or of the review process.) – DB

  45. The NSF EHR also funded the study that is used to sell this program to school districts. These studies should always be done by an independent source. This was not the case.
  46. ( NSF, as established and overseen by Congress, funds most of the mathematics and science research in this country) – DB

  47. Experts suggested that in view of the facts that the only research showing this program to be (or appearing to be) successful was done by authors having a financial interest in the program that extreme caution should be used about accepting it at face value.
  48. (Who are these experts? The CMP authors and NSF have no financial interest in adoptions since none of the royalties from book sales go to authors or to the NSF. The charge that test results used to support CMP adoption are unreliable because the data were collected by CMP loyalists assumes that folks involved in the research have no intellectual integrity. In the same way that pharmaceutical companies do research used to support approval of their products (research subject to standards of scientific practice), educational researchers can study the fruits of their ideas by following accepted standards of research practice- JF

  49. Moreover, when independent investigators looked at this study, they found serious problems with it.
  50. (It is the critics of CMP who have not done research of any kind that is at all comparable to studies such as that reported in the JRME on the Massachusetts study (not done by CMP fans). - JF

  51. The study funded by NSF EHR used different children in their research, thereby, not giving an accurate representation.
  52. (Unless you do a study with only one child, you will have to use "different" children) - FJM

  53. Was this study represented by the NSF when they came to sell this program to our school district? Independent research from school districts that switched to Connected Math shows a decline in standardized test scores and higher failure rate in Algebra and other higher math classes
  54. (What specific "independent" research is being referring to? In District 2 in NYC our scores did NOT decline. They remained steady and in the third year showed a very slight gain in 8th grade. We have no evidence that indicates our children are less prepared for Algebra or higher level mathematics. It is my understanding that the results in District. 2 are more typical of how this program is playing out across the country. Our eighth grades as a whole are out scoring the children in other NYC districts and NYS districts on average. For other studies around the country, see – LW

  55. Parents also report a high rate of tutoring expenses. Was this information presented to North Penn?
  56. (In District 2 in NYC, it is true that some parents provide tutoring for their children, but there is no information as to how many and whether this information has increased over the years. Also, it is not clear whether parents are having kids tutored as a result of the high stakes testing environment or because they perceive the program to be inadequate). -LW

  57. The Connected Math program was not properly piloted at North Penn. Teachers in 6th grade piloted one segment of Connected Math. 7th grade teachers pilot segments of 6th grade material, and 8th grade teachers piloted segments of 7th grade Connected Math material. Not one teacher in 7th grade appropriate Connected Math material. Piloting teachers did not give this program a good review. How was such a radical change implemented with such little data? Why?
  58. (North Penn teachers spent over one year undergoing training, piloting and exploring different math curriculum. They followed our guidelines for proper implementation. See previous references. Upon what grounds is the claim based that it was NOT properly piloted?) - FJM

  59. Why were the higher level (level 6) children not affected by this change in programs? If this Program does create better problem- solvers, shouldn't these students be exposed to it?
  60. The reading level and lack of examples is very difficult for some of the children. The children are not given the concrete foundation that many of them need to be successful with math;
  61. (The lack of "worked examples" is part of the CMP instructional philosophy that aims to get students more responsible for their own learning and thinking. It is not wrong unless results of student achievement studies were to show that students taught from this approach learn less than students taught from a traditional demonstration and practice approach. There will undoubtedly be some school situations where test scores decline after CMP adoption (though even in those reported situations one has to be careful to check that no plausible alternate explanations for decline are present). However, the experiences in many school district across the country do not in any way support the claim that a decline in test scores is the normal or even common consequence of CMP adoption). - JF

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