NYC Honest Open Logical Debate (NYC HOLD)On Math Reform Elizabeth Carson

NYC Honest Open Logical Debate (NYC HOLD)On Math Reform
Elizabeth Carson

November 27, 2000

New York, NY. NYU mathematicians speak out against controversial new math programs being taught in NYC’s premiere School District 2 in Manhattan. Community School Board 2 will hear the professors’ preliminary report at the calendar meeting on Tuesday, November 28, 6:30 pm at 333 7th Ave, Seventh Floor.

A groundswell of parent concern over how math is being taught in District 2 schools led to a front page New York Times article last spring, “The New, Flexible Math Meets Parent Rebellion.” CBS Weekend News brought national attention to the local struggle last May in the segment, “New, New Math = Controversy.”

District 2 parents have now gained the support of mathematicians at NYU and the University of Rochester in grieving their concerns to District officials. The professors are scheduled to take part in a Math Forum sponsored by Community School Board 2 scheduled for March 1, 2001.

The controversy in District 2 has gained the attention of Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy and members of his recently established Commission on Mathematics Education charged with investigating how math is being taught in schools across the city.

District 2 pilots the latest wave of experimental math programs, called the “new, new math,” echoing an earlier failed reform in the 60’s called “new math.” Memorization of math facts is no longer emphasized. Children are encouraged to use language to describe solutions and the way they feel about math.

Community response in NYC and across the country has erupted in what have become known as the “math wars.” Critical parents, joined by mathematicians and scientists advocate clarity and balance in math reform: urging the inclusion of grade by grade goals, explicit teaching of standard procedures, basic skill building and rigor along with the inclusion of some of the creative exercises in the new programs. The pendulum has swung too far and must be corrected.

One parent, Mark Schwartz, in testimony last year before the House Education and Workforce Committee stated: “If medical doctors experimented with our kids in the same fashion school districts do they would be in jail.” The hearings were held to review the US Department of Education’s endorsement of 10 of the experimental programs.

Over 200 of the nation’s top mathematicians, including seven Nobel Laureates, winners of the Fields Medal the department heads at more than a dozen universities including Caltech, Stanford and Yale, responded to the federal endorsements with an open letter of protest to Secretary of Education Richard Riley, published in the Washington Post in November, 1999.

“These programs are among the worst in existence,” said David Klein, a Cal State Northridge professor who was one of the letter’s authors. “To recommend these books as exemplary and promising would be joke if it weren’t so damaging.” Several of the cited programs, Interactive Mathematics Project (IMP),Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) and Everyday Mathematics are now being used in NYC schools.

The new wave of math reform is based on a “constructivist” teaching philosophy; emphasizing creative exercises, hands-on projects and group work, with far less attention given to basic skills. Students are asked to ‘construct’ their own solutions. The use of calculators is encouraged. Teachers are instructed to serve as “facilitators” and are discouraged from explaining to students the standard solutions of basic arithmetic. Practice and drill have been eliminated. In higher grades algebra is de-emphasized. Many of the programs have no textbooks.

Members of Chancellor Levy’s Math Commission will consider the new programs, which are being used in over 60% of NYC schools, including roughly 50 of the city’s weakest, which comprise the Chancellor’s District . Plans are set to expand implementation into more schools. One of the most controversial programs, the Interactive Mathematics Project (IMP), will be mandated in Bronx High Schools beginning next year.

Professor Richard Askey, who holds an endowed chair in math at the University of Wisconsin, explained his motives in co-authoring the protest letter to Secretary Riley, “I’m hoping to provide ammunition for teachers who are under pressure to adopt some of these programs.”

High math scores remained stable in some of the privileged District 2 schools, last year; though some schools’ scores dropped significantly. Across the rest of the city, 75% of eighth grade students failed the state math test ; 66% failed the city math tests. Answers are critical at a time when graduation requires students pass a new math Regents exam.

It was the introduction of Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) and Investigations in Number Data and Space (TERC), two of the District 2 programs, that sparked the initial parent revolt that led to the California Math Wars. Six parents in Plano,Texas have filed suit in federal court against their local school district after parent requests for an alternative to CMP were denied. A nuclear physicist in Okemos Michigan led the local campaign against CMP. The use of TERC in one school system in Massachusetts prompted members of the Harvard Mathematics Department to issue a public protest. Parents in Reading Massachusetts fought the adoption of Everyday Math.

The “new, new math” programs are based on the 1989 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards. Frank Allen, past president of the NCTM and Emeritus professor of Mathematics at Elmhurst College comments: “NCTM leaders must admit that they have urged the application, on a national scale of highly controversial methods of teaching before they have been adequately debated or understood and before researchers have verified them by well-controlled and replicated studies.”


November 27, 2000

To: Harold O. Levy, Chancellor

Dr Judith Rizzo, Deputy Chancellor for Instruction

Burton Sacks, Chief Executive for Community School District Affairs

Dr Irving Haimer, Member, Board of Education, Manhattan Representative

Trudy Irwin, Director of Education, Office of the Manhattan Borough President

From: NYC HOLD, Steering Committee

Re: Community School Board 2 Calendar Meeting November 28, 2000

We respectfully invite you to attend the calendar meeting of Community School Board 2 in Manhattan scheduled for Tuesday November 28, beginning at 6:30 pm. During the public session the Board will hear comment on District 2’s K-12 math programs. Distinguished faculty of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University and concerned parents plan to speak.

The District’s mathematics reform is one component of the systemic instructional reform initiated by Anthony Alvarado in the previous decade. District 2 prides itself in being a leader in education reform in New York City. Our District piloted the New Standards Performance Standards in Mathematics which were adopted city-wide last year.

The implications of the relative success of our District’s math reform for the entire NYC school system should be evident.

In our District, parent concern with their children’s progress in mathematics is escalating; worries are being strongly voiced about aspects of the new math programs just as full implementation takes hold. School year 1999-2000 marked the first year the new K- 8 programs, Investigations in Number Data and Space (TERC) and Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) were mandated.

Parents are tutoring in record numbers. For many of their children, the new constructivist programs fail to provide a sound foundation in basic arithmetic. Parents recognize the value of the new programs’ creative, hands-on classroom and homework activities. However, many question the extensive time devoted to such activities, ostensibly at the expense of explicit teaching of the standard procedures and practice of skills. The absence of textbooks has exacerbated the situation.

Concerned parents have reached out to the NYU mathematics community in District 2 for analysis and opinion of our programs in hopes of finding ways to amend or extend the implemented programs to reach a better balance in the math instruction.

There are clearly implications in the course the District 2 community takes for the work of the newly appointed Commission on Mathematics Education to review math programs city-wide. We hope our experiences in District 2 can contribute to the assessment of the Committee.

Parents, teachers and administrators in District 2 share a well earned pride in our exemplary schools and strong educational community. Parents see on a daily basis, through their children’s work and enthusiasm for learning, the results of the skill and commitment of the teaching staff and administrators in our schools. Parents appreciate the formidable challenges district administrators face in guiding systemic reform in a large and diverse community school district.

We look forward to an ongoing and meaningful partnership in District 2.

We sincerely hope you will take an interest in our concerns and efforts to advance the course of math education for our children.


Steering Committee

Elizabeth Carson
Christine Larson
Garry Dobbins
Margaret Hunnewell
Mary Somoza, Member, CSB #2
Granville Leo Stevens, Esq
Maureen McAndrew, DDS
Michael Weinberg