Harford County Public Schools' new elementary school math program, enVisionmath 2.0, has made learning math so difficult for some students that it has caused them to hate a subject they once excelled in, according to students and their parents.
"My favorite subject used to be math, but now with the new math program it makes me frustrated and upset," Robbie Bennett, a third-grader at Church Creek Elementary School, said during a recent Board of Education meeting.
Robbie attended the Feb. 27 board meeting with his mother, Barbie Bennett, of Belcamp, who also shared her concerns about enVisionmath 2.0, describing convoluted word problems she considers too advanced for third-graders.
"It's just very difficult to really keep that positive atmosphere for them and encourage them to love math," Bennett told board members.
The school board voted unanimously last May to begin using enVisionmath 2.0 under of a four-year, $1.2 million contract with Pearson Education Inc., the nationwide provider of textbook series for elementary, middle and high schools, plus standardized tests.
Pearson also provides the PARCC tests administered annually in public school districts throughout Maryland, including Harford County.
Bennett noted her son's school's classroom teacher, principal and Sarah Morris, the supervisor of mathematics curriculum for HCPS, have been responsive to concerns expressed by her and other parents.
She said in an interview Monday that online tools available through the school system website have helped her and her son get through his math homework, although it is time consuming.
"The downfall is, the parent has to have all the time in the evening to do this," Bennett said.
Bennett, who operates the Best Buddies Home Day Care in Belcamp and the Best Buddies Learning Center in White Marsh, noted she has the time to work with her son in the evenings. She is concerned students who are homeless, in foster care or have parents who work at night might not have the same opportunities.
EnVisionmath 2.0 took effect for the current school year, replacing the Everyday Mathematics program that was adopted in 2006. The new program is aligned with Maryland's College and Career-Ready Standards and had been selected out of the top five mathematics textbook series in the nation, Susan Brown, Harford County schools' executive director of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment, said during the May 9, 2016 board meeting.
The school system's Elementary Textbook Selection Committee, composed of 40 elementary school educators from across the system, worked with the Office of Mathematics to conduct research and chose enVisionmath, according to Brown.
Their selection was then approved by the General Curriculum Committee, and concurrent discussions were held with elementary principals to work out details for professional development for teachers, differentiating instruction for students who learn at varied speeds, supporting parents and school administrators, according to Brown.
"We are confident that this instructional resource will meet the needs of all stakeholders while supporting the written curriculum," she said at the time, explaining HCPS officials were confident that the series would "align with rigorous expectations of middle and high school course sequences."
Bennett is not the only parent who is having problems with the new program. Parents have turned to Facebook groups, such as the Harford County Moms Advice Line and Envision Math Fail to vent their frustrations.
Along with Bennett, two other HCPS parents spoke up about the program during a Feb. 13 school board meeting.
Parent Andrea Malcolm, a mother of a third-grader and fifth-grader, who have been honor students, cited the program's "developmental inappropriateness."
She said her children are not being taught the fundamentals of math, such as basic multiplication and division but instead have to sort through word problems to find the answers on their homework and on tests.
"[My third-grader] was having word problems with four different math functions," Malcolm said of her daughter. "I'm lucky if I can send her to brush her teeth and put her pajamas on at the same time ... giving her an application problem with four different steps, it's not happening — it's not happening without an adult walking her through it."
Malcolm said students in first and second grade are doing "abstract math," rather than fundamentals.
"I talked to hundreds of parents online," she said. "Our kids are crying, they're having breakdowns, they say things like, 'I hate math.'"
Parent Jessica Schultheis, who recently moved from Baltimore City, said her 7-year-old daughter is in her first year with HCPS.
"We're loving it here so far, but the new enVisionmath program is breaking her spirit," Schultheis said.
She said it "breaks my heart" that her daughter is struggling and hates math after getting good grades in prior years.
"I'm asking, look into this and find an alternative or find some way to make it less painful for our children," she said.
When the school board approved the Pearson contract last spring, member Robert Frisch did express reservations about having only a few days to review the proposal before voting on it.
"We're talking about a four-year contract that will have implications far beyond virtually everyone on this board," he said at the time.
His board colleagues, Laura Runyeon and Al Williamson, said they had discussed the program with curriculum committee members and Superintendent Barbara Canavan.
"I'm pretty well on board on what's happening here," Williamson said.