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Dropping Trailblazers

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The days of flats, skinnies and bits will soon be coming to an end in Wake's elementary schools.

As noted in today's article, a textbook selection committee of parents, teachers and principals has recommended using Math Expressions as the new K-5 math textbook. The committee didn't recommend using an updated version of the controversial Math Trailblazers textbook that introduced parents to terms such as flats and skinnies.

The new textbook is billed as offering a more traditional approach to teaching math while including some of the concepts of Trailblazers.

"Teachers will be satisfied that what was chosen will help students with algorithmic equations," said Cary parent Daniel Martone, a member of the textbook selection committee.

Martone said it required his active involvement to help his children make up for the deficiencies in Trailblazers.

“In Math Trailblazers, students weren’t taught how to do multiplication of multi-digit numbers by fifth grade,” Martone said. “That’s ridiculous. I was doing that in third-grade, 40 years ago.”

Since being adopted in 2004-05, Trailblazers has become a polarizing issue in the district. Supporters say it's helped kids learn how to apply information while critics say it's a case of "fuzzy math" that ignores the basics.

Click here for the justification Wake used in adopting the textbook back in 2004.

Even supporters of Trailblazers, such as school board member Eleanor Goettee, readily acknowledge that the textbook was unpopular with many teachers and parents.

Guess what was the first question from school board members when Christy Falba, senior director for elementary education, mentioned last week that Trailblazers would not be the new K-5 textbook?

Goettee and board member Beverley Clark simultaneously asked if it meant now that students would learn the multiplication tables.

Falba said the answer is yes. But she added that students should be learning the multiplication tables now under Trailblazers. She said that fact just might not have been conveyed clearly to teachers.

Falba said schools will now be required to use Math Expressions. This differs from Trailblazers, which Wake recommended but some schools chose not to use.

Falba said teachers can continue to use Trailblazers as a supplement. But considering how unpopular it is, don't look for it in the majority of classrooms this summer.


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My oldest son is in third grade. At the age of five I was shocked to accidently find out he could add columns of four digit numbers in his head. I think I was testing his bragging by saying "oh yeah? Well, what's 3245 + 7543?" He thought for about a minute and gave me an answer. I had to think for a few more minutes than that to realize he was right! From then on it was a favorite game.

He has always been very hungry to be challenged in Math. And then came Trailblazers. He became confused. He became distraught. This child who understood exponentials at 7 a lot better than I did, started failing math! How could this be? His father has a degree in applied mathematics examined what was going on. My son tearfully explained the failed homework "They won't let me carry the 1, Dad." My husband was furious. He could not see how you could teach math this way.

Our children are at Thales now and we love it. This son studies with the class ahead and loves it. Believe me, they are learning their addition, subtraction and multiplication tables. We have no more confusion. Just happy math.


It sounds to me like that's a problem with the teacher not the curriculum.  Only a foolish teacher would re-teach addition to a kid who already knows how to do it.

While leads me to another question: if there are so many teachers trying to teach in Wake County every year (from what I understand, that's been true for a while), then why does the district tolerate bad ones?


The teacher was actually great. But she was hogtied by the curriculum requirements. She has to teach the whole class the same material, regardless. So, lots of kids sit through material they understood in the first five minutes or have been taught already - again, and again and again and again and AGAIN- because they don't separate kids who learn at different rates. That might be considered unequal. There are little side activities but nothing particularly challenging. The whole thing lacks any kind of common sense for how to actually solve the real problem. I don't know the exact numbers, but roughly for every $35 the system spends on No Child Left Behind, $0.02 is spent on gifted children.

In public school I would have had to about hold someone hostage to get my child to study ahead at the next grade - which is where he belongs on this material. That would have been considered preferential treatment. This system considers it a fair tradeoff to have him so bored that he was getting totally turned off from school and starting to make trouble just to keep himself from dying of the excruciating tedium.

They don't have time to teach my child. They figure he'll make it somehow anyway. Their loss. What about the gifted kids whose parents can't strap themselves to the plow to pay for a rescue?

Trailblazers is just the tip of the iceberg of the waste of intellect here.


I fully agree that WCPSS does a lousy job with gifted kids--the district sees them as some sort of resource to help out the poorer performing students. As a result, kids aren't grouped by ability.  The smart kids end up bored and, being bored, stop paying attention and get in trouble.  IIRC, gifted money is directed to the schools, but principals can appropriate it for, e.g., ESL instruction.

But, I think you're misdirecting your displeasure at Trailblazers.  It's a bit like saying "My kid can read Harry Potter, but they made him read Dr. Seuss.  It's all Seuss' fault."


You may be right Bob Sconce. But its all blended in together for me at the moment. I guess my point was tha the problem with the learning in this instance was not the teacher. It was not the student. It was material. The material is dictated by the system. The system seems to care less if gifted kids get challenging material. That was my logic - fuzzy as it may be. I don't promise to be crisp in EVERY post! :)  (or any for that matter)

JSC--My oldest is in 5th

JSC--My oldest is in 5th grade and my youngest is in 3rd. Neither one has had to memorize the multiplication tables. My 5th grader still has trouble telling you what 8x8 is right away. He adds or subtracts to get to the answer.

I'm glad that he knows there is more than one way to get to an answer--we enjoyed using the "Grapes of Math" books. But, I'm frustrated that he was never taught to learn the 'times tables'. We've worked some at home but we need to really buckle down and do it before he gets to 6th grade.

Our youngest still has trouble identifying the tens and hundreds columns when adding or subtracting because of all that 'skinnies & bits' business.

I'm so glad that Trailblazers is gone. The damage has been done to my kids, but at least upcoming students won't be subject to it.

Carolina Senators

I get what you're saying - I was lucky to be in a school where teachers understood they needed to teach basic multiplication, etc. I understand it, but I'm not sure you're right that my school was an exception. If that IS the case, then again...I'd have to question the common sense and basic qualification of the majority of elementary school teachers. As for the rest of it, YES, we have to teach basics. But, YES, problems like those in Trailblazers should be taught too. I read recently that studies have shown that students who are better than average at estimation tend to do much better in higher math, especially algebra. So, I suspect there is a link somewhere in the brain that connects those skills. Not to mention, those "soft" math skills are very useful in real life! I really have to wonder, too, about parents who move a child to private school after having a challenging year. Did they ever go over the teacher's head and talk with the principal?  Did they communicate the issue to their school board rep?  Did they consider getting resource help within the school? Seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater, unless there were other significant problems with the school. And if THAT was the the case, then it's not accurate to imply that Trailblazers made them move their child.

Talking to a wall is better

With all respect, I'd bet that you'd find that anyone criticizing Trailblazers who then pulled their children out of Wake government schools  has exhausted all possibilities first.  Who wants to pay twice for their kids' education - once through taxes and twice through tuition?  My wife and I sure tried everything when our kids were at Davis and Apex schools. However, with the very notable exception of Wake BOE member Ron Margiotta, we could have accomplished more talking to a wall than with our children's teachers, principals, and WCPSS officials.  I'd like to know of one single parent who was successful in convincing their child's math teacher to drop Trailblazers in favor of, for instance, Saxon Math, for instance.  Anyone?   I have two degrees in engineering and have spent 30+ as an engineer and scientist and know something about math. The math taught in Wake elementary and middle government schools is a farce.

teachers and Trailblazers math

The thing is that some teachers - individually and sometimes as teachers at certain schools -- have realized that they must supplement what they have had to teach in Trailblazers. You were lucky that teachers at your school did. Most don't. I've gone on classroom pages on elementary school websites and compared what is taught and what is for homework, etc.; there are some that still have math facts tests, etc. in addition to the Trailblazers, but most do not. My two oldest sons - now in high school -- got out of elementary school before Trailblazers, thank God. But my second grader has not been so lucky. When I saw that he was not learning the basics this year that my older sons had learned, we made the decision to put him in private school. It's ridiculous that we had to take him out of a Wake county school because they didn't want to teach the basics. I'm glad to see that Trailblazers is going to be gone.


I am so glad that Math Trailblazers is gone. I agree with supportwcpss that using Math Trailblazers as a supplement is a good idea. The problem is that our kids over the years have been taught Math Trailblazers as the primary curriculum with other materials as a supplement.

Helping my kids with their homework using Math Trailblazers is a nightmare! One particularly vivid example to me was trying to help my daughter learn to tell time on a analog clock in 2nd grade. The Math Trailblazers textbook simply did not explain the concept at all! It read more like a Social Studies textbook about how different cultures of the past told time with sundials, etc. Fuzzy math indeed! Good riddance!

Sounds Familiar

Trailblazers sounds like it is a cousin to the Investigations math my son had in Ohio.After 3 years they dropped that program.One had to skip count and use elevator math.No basics were taught.

So I am glad to hear that the program was dropped.Children need to learn the basics first then add strange and different concepts.

Also ask the high school math teachers

who were trying to teach Algebra and Geometry to kids who have no clue how to multiply or sometimes even add and divide. You cannot teach abstract "conceptual" skills before having a basic groundwork. Calculators are great! But basic skills do need to be taught to even have an understanding what you are entering into a calculator.

The "cupcake" problem

Take a look at the examples from a Trailblazers book that Keung helpfully provided in the article.

The cupcake problem in confusing! Granted, I'm not a math genius working out at RTP, ;) but it is VERY convoluted. Imagine some poor kid with reading issues struggling to a)read that problem b) trying to make sense of it.

I posted a similar comment

I posted a similar comment on newsobserver.com but I wanted to state that there was another popular choice among teachers at my school, EnVision Math. I actually have been pulling some units from it to supplement Trailblazers (Money, Time). The students are actually "getting it" and there is homework that is modified for students that struggle, need continued practice, or need a challenge. I love this approach. Homework should not be a one size fits all. While I would have wanted to go with Envision math (had some great technology components) I am happy with math Expressions. Overall, I am glad there is some feedback with the choices and are not picked solely by a "committee"

Now...."They get it!"

When I tried to explain to my sons fourth grade teacher that the concepts in "Trailblazers" were confusing and contradictory she told me to get a tutor for my son because obviously there was something wrong for him not to understand the concepts being taught. I asked her to put him with children who were also struggling. I was told they do not group kids by ability because that would cause the class to not be "diverse!" So after spending two hours a night reteaching him the correct way to divide and multiply we pulled him out of public school and put him at Thales Wake Forest. After six months of repeating 4th grade math using Saxon Math he miraculously has advanced to being able to now solve for "x". I no longer have to help him with his homework...he says "he gets it now" and they make it so it is easy to understand. Direct instruction makes it so it does seem easy for the children because they do not move on unitl the teacher understands that every child "gets it" before they move on to another or "harder" concept.

Class-Action Lawsuit in Order

Where's a trial lawyer when you need one? Parents would have a legitimate argument suing WCPSS for teaching them this nonsense, as it has severely damaged their career chances. My kids earned great grades at the so-called "best" schools in WCPSS (Davis EL/MS & AHS) but I had to teach them long division. They tried explaining how they were "taught" to estimate when dividing. What a load of you-know-what. Man would never have walked on the moon if NASA engineers had gone to school in Wake government schools teaching this nonsense. The best schools in the nation, for instance our Thales Academies, and home schoolers, use Saxon Math. (Houghton Mifflin) Where is WCPSS on this?

Hold on a minute

with your comment, FiestaMom. All three of my kids have had to learn multiplication tables in Wake elementary schools. They drilled and practiced at the breakfast table, and were tested weekly (in the third grade), working toward the level of "multiplication master." They got a certificate from the teacher and everything. This was not some rogue teacher -- it was three different teachers, three years apart, all in the past ten years, in a school that did use Trailblazers.  If, as indicated in the article, some teachers did not understand that they were supposed to teach multiplication tables, I'd have to question the common sense of those teachers.

Sobering up?

Thank God they stopped this abysmal non-sense. What a funny concept: learn how to apply incorrect math. I don't know how much time I've wasted "correcting" my children on this silly charade (while coaching them to "play the game" in class)

Great News

Wow, that's great news. Kudos to the parents who weren't happy with this, and "fought city hall" to make it right.

Amazing tidbit in the article: Goatee and Clark KNEW that kids weren't learning multiplication tables with this substandard math program!

Thanks again to the parents for making this happen. Now we get to hear our kids "whine" because they are being forced to learn the multiplication tables!


Yeah, fiestamom. Get a clue. :>) When has WCPSS ever listened to the concerns of parents about the education of their children?



D-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y MATTERS not acutal teaching and learning.

Get a clue

I sat on the committee.   It wasn't parents fighting city hall.  It was a combination of parents, teachers, and adminstrators evaluating a multitude of options and making this choice.  If you want to spin this, as usual, as the poor parents against the establishment, go somewhere else.

 After going through this exercise I have a whole new appreciation for Trailblazers.  However, not in isolation but as a supplement to standard drills.  In evaluating the new option, I have some serious reservations that we have gone from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Now the kids will memorize their times tables but won't have any idea how to think outside the box or 'solve' problems.

Think outside the box?

Nice platitude; lousy pedagogy.

Let's give them a structure first (a box, if you will --we're talking elementary grades) before we ask them to get outside of some nebulous "box" they don't fully comprehend.

Can't handle it?

So basically you are saying ES kids can't handle logical thinking.  They can only handle 2+2.  I don't know about you but I strive for more for my children.  Again, in isolation, I disagreed with Trailblazers.  However, as a supplument to the basics I fully support it. 

I don't know who that Backhouse lady is, but to say Math is black and white is just ignorant.  We use estimation every day in our lives (as well as 2+2).

 Why is every response out of the majority of you"WCPSS must die".  It's impossible for you to have a civil conversation.


What is black & white to you then SupportWCPSS?

I guess the only thing black and white to you is that we are wrong and WCPSS is right. Am I correct?  I have yet to hear a reasonable argument from your "side" on this blog; it is certainly not you or the poster child user1234/ncdad1. Personally I don't see much logical thinking from your corner.

As far as math goes you are correct that estimation is important, however if you can't get the absolute answer, it is practically useless.  Would you hire a carpenter that estimates measurements? How would you like to live in a house that the builders estimated measurements? Or go to a store where the cashier estimated your change? Estimates are good to check for gross errors, but not useful for solving the problem in the first place.

My AG daughter had trailblazers for one and 1/2 years in 4/5th grade and was confused. She still maxed her EOGs. We sent her to Mathnasium (private group tutoring) over the summer to get what she really needed in 5th grade. Now she is happy and shares the top of her class taking 7/8 grade compacted pre-algebra in 6th grade! Thanks to Mathnasium, not Trailblazers or WCPSS, she was spared.

I estimate your blood pressure raised 2 points reading this %^)


First of all, thanks for the mathnasium link.  I have a kid who needs a little bit more of a math challenge.  I'll check it out.

 I disagree with you on the value of estimation, though.  I think trailbazers is trying to use it to help develop "number sense."  I was very glad to see at least that effort being made -- one of the big problems I've always had with math education is that it focuses too much on memorizing facts and techniques.  As a result, kids become experts at manipulating symbols (If you put the '4' next to the '+', another '4'and an '=', you have to put an '8' next to them), but when it comes time to using that to solve real-life problems, they have a tough time.  That's why most kids hate word problems in 7th grade.

Estimation is really about developing an understanding of scale and that comes in handy all the time:  Is it cheaper to fly or drive to Florida?  How big of an iPod do I need to hold my 100 CDs?  Will I be able to make it to Florence, SC, to fill my tank?  Can I afford to be out of work for 6 months?

Ever have the experience at a cashier where they ring up a bunch of items and give you a total that just didn't make sense?  A lot of people (those without number sense) just pay it and never look back.

OK - Fair Comment, However

I didn't say estimating and especially word problems have their place, all I am saying the facts should be taught first.  I do believe the lack of word problems in my early math education did make it harder for me down the road when I went to college. I think word problems are very important and I highly encourage their teaching.

BTW Bob - Mathnasium just opened a new location near our neck of the woods on Durant Road near US1, by the railroad tracks. Paul, who runs it is very good; don't let his young looks fool you.

As far as your questions:

a) Re: Florida depends on how many people and what the current deals are, then factor in the time lost driving vs. flying, fuel prices, airport parking costs, the rental car/ taxi needed on the other end, etc.

b) Re: Ipod. Since 1 CD holds a max of 682MB, one might think 680MBx100 or 68GB, but that's not the answer. Since IPods use MP3 or other compresed files, the data is much smaller. You also have to take into account the sound quality that you ripped the CDs at; the higher, the bigger the MP3 file for each song. In any case I would go with the price break IPOD, i.e the biggest one at the best price per GB or the biggest you can afford without hurting your pocketbook.

c) SC Trip - Easy question to estimate but you need initial fuel capacity, miles to travel, avg fuel economy of the vehicle to drive, and of course the driver's driving habits.

d) Hardest one - depends on your savings, how much money you will get in insurance or assistance, how much your family will help, how much you can cut expenses, and of course can you sell assets that you can live without, and ability to get part time work.

Not a chance

Don't flatter yourself.  Nothing you or the other over the top individuals on this blog could affect my BP.   It's just amazing how anyone who opposes your single "WCPSS sucks and is out to get me" view is called ignorant, offensive, Kool aid drinker, and just wrong.  It's hiarious that you attack me and user1234 to the wall but you let someone like g88, who is the most offensive person on this board, skate by.  That makes you and others hypocrites.

This is not the 50's or 60's.  I more scared that they will only teach the basics and not the thinking part of math or any other subject.  


Actually I have criticized G88. Look back, I and others have told him to "cool his jets". I don't agree with his over the top rhetoric.

As far as the 50's or 60's and math, since when did math change? The downfall of math education in this country was the "new math" taught in the mid-60's and beyond. What has changed is our use of computers and the ability of computers to do complex math. But Trailblazers was supposed to teach elementary math, the building blocks that are required to understand how to input math into computers. I for one I am glad I can do simple math in my head and have taught my children to do it also.  I didn't like Trailblazers, but I compensated because my wife and I were able to do so.

Also I am not against all of WCPSS policies or teaching. My opposition mainly goes to the economic diversity policy, the AG program, and to MYR (mainly the mandatory part). I am actually very happy with my Middle School in Wakefield, not with the Elementary School since MYR took effect (and I pulled one of my children out of the ES and put him in private). You look at us as robots opposing everything WCPSS does, I think you read everything on the blog in this paradigm. You need to take a breath and realize you might be wrong in some of your beliefs about the infallibility of our BoE and WCPSS. I ,for one, am willing to hear good logical argument and change my opinion.  I try my best to keep emotions (but not core beliefs) out of my opinions because I have learned that emotions often get in the way of making wise choices.

BTW- I'll match IQ with you any day, I don't consider myself a moron, not even intellectually challenged.


First I didn't calll you a moron, and second you have different standards for g88 then you do for me or others who have a different opinion.

 I do not agree with all BOE policies. But I also believe their job is impossible.  I believe in diversity but not necessarily it's implementation.  I believe in full time  BOE for a school district of 140K.  I don't believe breaking up the system is a good idea but I do believe reorganizing the district into groups that are more effectively managed makes sense. 

 We might have more in common then you think, but unfortunately, in most cases, the small group of bloggers here take a "we're geniouses and you are not" approach. 


But you have refered to most of us as morons, the key word "you."

I am glad there is some agreement, let's build on that. The BoE does have a tough job, but "impossible" is not a good qualifier.  They are underpaid for the time spent, I do agree. I also agree on given more autonomy to the districts rather than a COMPLETE break up (at least we can discuss this).  Maybe the BoE needs to concentrate on the important parts of their jobs than naming schools, shuffling diversity nodes, etc.

As far as equal treatment of bloggers, I feel I do. I don't criticize G88 rants because generally he is not in opposition to my beliefs, only he is more rabid about them. I don't agree with his ranting behaviour because I think it is counter-productive, but he has the right to say what he wants, just like you. I don't call him an idiot or a moron, because I think he is not (maybe a hot head). Now ncdad1/user1234 is another issue, he is a "pot-stirrer", I believe he enjoys toying and not really a man of convictions. You seem very mean at time and arrogant. You rarely give us good arguments that a civil discussion can be perpetuated.

Are you a doctor

Are you a doctor or do you just play one on tv?  LOL

 Great "diagnosis" of some of the regulars on this site!  

Self diagnosis of fiestamom:  must be crazy but keeps posting on this site! Holds irrational hopes of change from the BOE.  

No not a doctor, an older guy with a few notches on his belt

Thanks, Fiestamom, I think [ROFLOL];   I spent at lot of time working as a supervisor and in the Inspector General's Office in the military and have seen a lot and gained a lot of wisdom in human nature. I don't think you are crazy, but frustrated like I am. You are my idea of an average American mom who shares a lot of my values.  Our best hope is to defeat the status quo BoE candidates later this year. Blogging is a way to vent frustrations since NO OTHER actions can really make a change. You hope like I do that our voice is heard and hope that we can shift opinions. That's all. I for the first time in my life am able to voice opinions without repercussions, and I like it. In the military, I was not living under democracy. I was forbidden to be politically active. Now I am free to voice my sense of  "reason", and frankly I feel I earned it.


Impossible job

It is a very difficult job, but I suggest that they could take some steps to make it easier.  For example, why does the board need to be involved in the naming of new schools?   Why not delegate school construction to the county?  

It's just bizarre to me that he school board members spend so much time on reassignment, construction and school naming, but effectively delegate the decision on the K-5 math curriculum. 

The entire idea behind an elected school board is to have community
control over education.  But, in WCPSS, the school board has
effectively abdicated that control to the administration.  So, there need to be changes that allows the school board to regain that control.  A big step in that direction would be to break up the disrict.


Math IS black and white

Math is always black and white.  2+2 is always going to equal 4.  The kids in the younger grades should have a good foundation of the basic fundamentals (facts) of math.  Trailblazers was lousy at that. 

Learning addition/subtraction/multiplication tables isn't very glamorous, but it's a necessary building block of basic math.  I don't even support Trailblazers as a supplement.  How hard is it to teach "estimation" once the kids learn the basics?  Yes, word problems are important, but go up to my earlier post, if that cupcake problem is any indication, Trailblazers is nuts!  I've seen my kids TB books.  There's a lot of multi-culti junk in there that doesn't belong in a MATH book.  Math is Math. 


It's clearly important to learn the times tables because the ability to do calculations correctly in all later classes and in life, generally, will depend on knowing the times tables.

However, treating math as a set of facts to be memorized does nothing to teach "number sense."  That lack of number sense is why many students dislike math and do poorly on it in higher levels--remember how many of your classmates hated word problems in 7th grade? 

I actually liked the cupcake example (although it was horribly worded).  It's there to teach division and remainders by showing kids the story behind what it means to "divide."  On the other hand, all the "draw the answer to your problem" stuff gets really tedious once kids understand what's going on--it turns a 5 minute homework assignment into a 45 minute assignment.   (How long does it take a kid to draw 28 dominoes?)

Like you, I dislike the multicultural crap.  But, I suspect you'll see that in any curriculum intended for use by public schools.  

Bipolar response?

"Handle logical thinking?" We're talking 3rd through 5th grades here. There's a lot more to defining the parameters of "logical thinking" for those grades than we can cram into a meaningful discussion here. Nice platitude, lousy pedagogy, alas. At grades 3 - 5, the emphasis should be on foundation. It's not black or white, I agree. But trailblazers is a just plain goofy.

 -- but, speaking of civility, look at your own post (just about any of yours) for a list of "don'ts" Kettle, meet oxidized metal. It would be less ironic if you called us on our incivility if you demonstrated civility yourself -- go ahead, I'd love to see it; sincerely.

I so disagree.

  • I so disagree. Trailblazers was a nightmare! NIGHTMARE! Ask the middle school teachers.
  • I have heard from parents the program works for kids that are already advanced in their understanding ofmath, or real mathematical thinkers. For other kids, it's a confusing mess. And I agree as I watch my kids struggle with it, and I watch my husband throw his arms up in frustration over and over again while trying to do their homework with them. (I gave up years ago trying to undertand it and bowed to my husband to sort it out. I knew we were in trouble when he was screaming about skinnys bits and whatevers.)
  • Although I am OVER THE MOON excited that now my kids may have a fighting chance in understanding math concepts, it does sicken me that so much money was put out to promote Trailblazers. What a waste.

We had Trailblazers too!

Our district just got rid of it last summer! I think the new math program they brought in is called Illuminate, or something like that. We're way past the elementary level but it is interesting how these educational "trends" get purchased and discarded all around the country, isn't it?

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.