The CPM Curriculum Depends on an Unproven Style of Learning

Dhruthi Mahesh

“My greatest fear is that the CPM approach to the teaching of mathematics… will produce a generation of students who feel good about their math experiences and who are are not afraid to “take on” a math problem, but, who… are mathematical morons without a calculator in their hands, are unable to achieve a high level of success individually, and who are unable to actually determine the correct answer to a problem,” states Robert W. Haswell, a high school math teacher for the past 27 years in a critical editorial on Mathematically Correct- a blog spotlighting concerns on Math curriculums and teaching styles. 

CPM stands for College Preparatory Mathematics, and has curriculum from Middle School math to AP Calculus. Students using the CPM curriculum usually work together in teams of four where each person has a role that contributes to the overall learning of the team. The four roles are: a resource manager tasked with asking the teacher if the team needs help and collecting materials required for the lesson, a facilitator whose job is to facilitate discussion and make sure everyone understands the instructions, a recorder or reporter who records and reports answers to the class or to the teacher, and a task manager who is tasked with keeping the team on task. The learning depends on groups’ ability to solve problems that were not directly taught to them. It’s arguable that CPM works in theory as it forces students to think critically to solve the problems which leads them to have a deeper understanding of the topic, but little direct instruction can actually discourage students from learning as well. 

Struggling or unmotivated students are often significantly disadvantaged with this new form of learning. The CPM lesson plans consist of a set of thoughtfully written problems to be completed in class that all connect together to teach a concept. However, students struggling with math skills from previous classes or unmotivated students may not finish the problems, meaning they won’t be able to apply the concept to solve the homework problems, and ultimately will not understand the concept. 

Additionally, CPM’s Review and Preview section usually assigned to students for homework doesn’t reinforce the concepts learned in class. The Review section of the homework typically consists of a few problems that relate to the actual lesson, but also consists of problems from previous lessons, sometimes even previous chapters. This makes the homework repetitive and doesn’t actually evaluate students’ ability to solve math problems without the help of other classmates. The Preview section of the homework is a set of problems that relates to the next lesson, and forces students to think critically, but attempting to solve those difficult problems can further frustrate students and demotivate them. 

Also, in a critical editorial of CPM by EduIssues, David Kristofferson, a teacher at George Washington High School in San Francisco states that, “there is no indication that schools using the CPM series did any better (or worse) than the STAR test state averages in Algebra 1 and Geometry and only slightly better in Algebra 2.” This shows that there is little proof that this method of learning is more effective than direct instruction. 

Many students and educators still debate over how effective CPM actually is, and critics of CPM are curious if school districts and educators will continue to use this controversial style of teaching. 

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