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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

NYC mandates 'Illustrative Math'

New York City high schools are adopting the same algebra curriculum in hopes of closing "stark racial disparities" in math achievement, report Julian Shen-Berro and Alex Zimmerman for Chalkbeat. Illustrative Mathematics emphasizes "building students’ conceptual understanding of math rather than focusing on more step-by-step procedures," they write.

Under Mayor Eric Adams' “NYC Solves” initiative, middle and high schools will be required to select a math curriculum from a limited set of options, reports Chalkbeat. Many middle schools already are using Illustrative Math, which was designed by an architect of Common Core math standards.

"Fewer than half of the city’s elementary and middle school students scored proficient on state math exams last year given to third through eighth graders," they write. Only about a third of black and Hispanic students were proficient in math, compared to 70 percent of white students and 78 percent of Asian Americans.

But is there any evidence that Illustrative Math -- or other curricula that reject teaching procedures -- help students learn math?

It won't raise scores, tweets Bobson Wong, a New York City algebra teacher. The curriculum "literally skips entire topics covered on the Regents Exam," he writes. "But if students do poorly in them, teachers will be blamed for not implementing IM 'with fidelity'.”

Illustrative Math will be the hot new thing, predicts education researcher Tom Loveless. It's likely to be adopted in California because it's "in synch with state's controversial math framework."

On McSweeney's, Ron Fein writes about The Broken Lives Behind Illustrative Math Word Problems.

Jada has a new box of laundry soap that holds 25% more than the old box. The new box holds 2 kg. She suggests to Diego that they use a double number line to calculate how much laundry soap the old box held.
“Can’t you just look at the label?” asks Diego.
Jada darkens, but says nothing.
. . . Diego and Jada are walking in the park when they happen upon a tree. “Let’s calculate its height!” exclaims Jada, retrieving a small protractor from her handbag.
. . . Diego pauses, searching for the right words. “I love how you get excited to compare the drainage rates of leaking water tanks, or draw line segments and then measure them with two different rulers. But it’s not the life that I want.”

I always used to wonder about that poor Math Problem Guy rowing upstream. "Flow with the current," I'd think. "And don't worry about the height of the flagpole. It's tall enough."

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Dennis Ashendorf
Dennis Ashendorf
Jun 25

There is too much to write in a comment, but IM is THE curriculum in the country. I've been using it for close to a decade. It's about engagement.

This could simply be New York's small publisher: finally lost to one of the bigs. Engage was the initial Common Core program. Very pure.

Jun 26
Replying to

Follow up question for you Dennis. What grades are you teaching? Because for high school it completely lacks any sort of rigor and doesn't seem very effective in teaching complex topics.

By the way, we were using the actual IM Algebra curriculum, not one of the multitude of options available since the IM platform is open source. Our department switched to Desmos (also an IM derivative) after the half year and although it's been better, it's still not great.

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