New Math Classes a Zero: Parents

The New York Post
April 11, 2001

By Carl Campanile

April 11, 2001 -- Bill Tucker said his son was a fine math student - until his Brooklyn junior high school put in a radical new program two years ago.

"All of a sudden, they were learning the same stuff they did two years ago. Nobody wanted to do it," Tucker recalled of the shocking experience at the highly regarded MS 51 in Park Slope.

Instead of learning basic math formulas and drills, students were told to go through more engaging "real life" verbal exercises to find their own answers to math problems. The new curriculum is called "constructivist" math.

Despite growing opposition, a panel of experts commissioned by Schools Chancellor Harold Levy is expected to sanction the controversial new math program, reveals a draft report obtained by The Post.

A spokesman for the panel's chairman, City University Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, cautioned that it's too early to draw conclusions because the report is still a "work in progress." But Tucker said the new math hurt his son.

"It was dumbed-down math. It was math for English majors. It was math for people who can't do math," said Tucker, adding that the disruptive switch was made in November - two months into the fall term. "The math program at MS 51 fell apart," he said.

Two years later, Tucker's son, Fritz, is assigned to the least challenging freshman math class at Stuyvesant HS.

Tucker is one of dozens of parents and teachers from Manhattan, The Bronx and Brooklyn revolting against the "fuzzy" math program imposed on their kids by school officials, which the parents and teachers argue comes at the expense of the basics.

Parent Marilyn Feldheim, a math tutor who transferred her son from JHS 234 in District 22 to MS 51 in District 15, said the decline in math was startling.

"At the other school, he was doing eighth-grade-level math in the sixth grade. Now he's doing what I consider fifth-grade math," she said.

"Under this program, we're losing the basics. We have students who can't multiply, who can't do fractions because we don't encourage them to do rote work."

New District 15 Superintendent Carmen Farina - who oversees MS 51 - said the math programs are under review. She also hired a new math coordinator.

Officials at District 2 in Manhattan, which several years ago became the first in the city to implement the new math program - over stiff opposition - insisted it's been a success despite flaws in implementation.

"It's a better way to teach math. Students get a deeper understanding about doing math," said District 2 Community School Board President Karen Feurer.

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