New Chicago Math Program Adds Up To Debate in Local Schools

Co-Op City Times
February 16, 2002

By Bill Stuttig

A new math curriculum in elementary schools in the local district apparently has a number of Co-op city parents fearing that their children are losing their grasp on basic math concepts while struggling to understand new ideas being introduced through the program.

The program that has been introduced in a majority of local public elementary schools over the last two semesters is called "Everyday Math," an elementary school curriculum developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project. The program, according to the publication Education Reporter, uses various strategies "to help students develop an understanding of basic math facts through a variety of differing concepts about math which de-emphasize traditional formulas and encourage students to explore news ways at which to solve a problem."

The program has been in use in a number of school districts throughout the nation over the last several years with mixed results. some educators claiming it allows children to conceptualize varying formulas while accelerating understanding of more advanced math concepts at a younger age. Opponents of the system, commonly referred to as Chicago math, cite statistics that indicate that many students are losing touch with basic math skills needed for future understanding of advanced math concepts such as algebra .

School District 11 has been incorporating Everyday Math and similar programs into the curriculum over the last several years and according to long-time School Board 11 members Rod Saunders the system is now in place in approximately 75% of the schools throughout the District.

P.S. 153, which has traditionally led the district and the borough in math scores on standardized state tests began using the program last semester and its use has increased this semester.

But some P.S. 153 parents now say the new curriculum has totally confused their children, and while their child might have been a strong performer in math in previous years, he or she is now having trouble in the new program, and as a result are in danger of not being promoted.

Frank Apollo, said his son, a 4th grade student at P.S. 153, was a good math student before this year, but now his son is having problems in what Apollo believes to be a critical year, facing promotion to the middle school level.

Other Co-Op City parents, who asked that their names be withheld, described the program as unfair to students because they are being taught abstract concepts before even grasping the basic understanding of math that is necessary for successful understanding of the Everyday Math program. A handful of parents who have called this newspaper said they have been forced to hire tutors because they feel that their children are in danger of not being promoted to the fifth grade.

Marie Heath, a Riverbay Board Director and the founder and Director of the Building 16 Youth Association, said that many of the children that participate in her after school program, which includes a homework-help segment, "are being reduced to tears" because of their inability to grasp the new concepts.

Heath said that the new concepts are unlike those that she was taught as a child and like many parents, she has been frustrated by an inability to help the children.

Yvette Apollo, Frank's wife has stated that her son, like many other children in the school is simply not grasping the new program and the couple has grown disgusted with the program and what they feel is the Board of Education's insistence on forcing this on students, despite what they call a history of well-documented controversy over the math program throughout the nation. .

The Apollos said that more than 70 parents have signed a petition protesting the establishment of the new Everyday Math program and the petition has been presented to school officials.

But not all parents at the local school feel the same way as the Apollos and the other parents that signed the petition.

Sam Paez, the PS 153 Parent Association President said she knows that some children might be having difficulty with the concept, but it is not to the degree that is being stated by some parents. Paez said that the majority of the parents at P.S. 153 are in favor of the program. "The truth is that our students are going to be expected to know this when they enter fifth grade in middle school and to abandon the program would be to shortchange them of knowledge that they will be required to have, thereby making their studies even more difficult as they enter the difficult middle school years." Paez said.

Middle School 180 does have a similar math program and Paez said that educators at that school have told her that students who had successfully taken the Everyday Math program last semester are coping much better with the fifth grade math programs at the school than students who had not taken the Everyday Math program in years prior.

Another officer of the P.S. 153 Parent Association, who wanted to remain anonymous, said that she has hired a tutor for her child because he is having difficulty. But she feels her child must learn this system if he is going to do well in future grades and on standardized testing in the future, where the new math concepts are growing more prevalent with each passing year.

But a number of parents, while saying that some difficulty is understandable have charged in an anonymously-written flyer that the school has done little to answer their concerns, except for an information evening that they charge was nothing more than "info-mercial" by the company officials who developed the new math program. The flyer charges that the informational meeting for parents at the Education Park School ignored parents' concerns and failed to produce anyone at the School District level to which the parents could voice their concerns.

PS 153 Principal Julia Swann vehemently denied those claims. In a letter to this paper sent last week, Swann stated that two Deputy Superintendents for District 11 attended the evening program for parents along with Maxine Leonescue, Director of Mathematics for School District 11 and Barbara Tully, Staff Developer for the District.

Swann said that after the presentation by representatives of the Everyday Math program, teachers from the school worked with parents on activities involving the math concepts and parents were given packets of information to take home and share with their children. The principal said that all parents who attended expressed "extremely positive" feedback and as a result of the evening, a monthly math family night has been scheduled to help parents and students understand the program and work together on math workshops.

Apollo, while critical of the math evening program held for parents on January 23, did say that he believes the problem goes beyond the school or even the district level and really reflects a citywide and even national movement toward this new math system. He said if parents who are against this program are going to win this fight, they are going to have to organize on a citywide level as has been done in other cities in the nation including Chicago and suburban communities of Dallas, Texas.

Elizabeth Carson, a parent leader from the East Side of Manhattan said she is very familiar with the fight that some parents of P.S. 153 are currently involved in. Carson said what is going on at P.S. 153 is going on in other school districts throughout the city. Carson, who has been organizing parents throughout the city in trying to force the Board of Education to stop the widespread use of this program, and other similar programs, maintains that numerous studies have found the programs to be seriously flawed and that student's math skills, deficient, after long-term exposure to the approach. A number of published reports back up her claims.

According to the Education Reporter, math tests scores in Palo Alto, California fell 28% after three years of use of the Chicago Math program.

The Chicago Sun Times reported in 1999 that 57% of that city's eighth graders failed to meet basic math standards in the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests after the introduction of the Chicago Math program.

Carson maintains that the ineffectiveness of the new math programs like Chicago Math led to the requirement of remedial math for more than half the freshman entering college in the California, where the new math programs were in use for years. She said that in that state, the programs have since been rejected, and are no longer approved by the State Board of Education. Carson hopes that New York educators will begin to realize that similar damage is being done here.

Reproduced with permission from the February 16, 2002 issue of the Co-Op City Times

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