Schools' "New Math" = Trouble For City Kids
Sum-Thing is Wrong

The New York Post
April 17, 2001

By Carl Campanile

Front Page Headline: Big Fat Minus Parents and Teachers: 'New Math' Doing A Number On Our Kids"

Inside Headline: Schools' 'new Math' = Trouble For City Kids

April 17, 2001 -- The Board of Education has quietly overhauled the way math is taught at 628 schools over objections of befuddled parents and top mathematicians, who call the new curriculum dumbed-down "fuzzy" math.

The controversial "New Math" comes while a staggering 77 percent of eighth-graders and 54 percent of fourth-graders failed state standardized math exams last year.

Teachers and parents complained they had no say in the reform - and were told only after the fact.

The so-called "constructivist" programs minimize use of algorithms, long division and other basic math equations in favor of students working in groups and "discovering" their own answers from reading passages.

"We're condemning an entire generation of students with fuzzy math," charged Fred Greenleaf, one of a cadre of math professors at New York University opposed to the reform. "It's absolutely radical."

Professors at the City University of New York are "skeptical" about the new math, said Bob Feinerman, math department head at Lehman College.

The movement - initiated by District 2 in Manhattan and pushed by former Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew - continues, even though mathematicians at the city's elite high schools are against it.

Stuyvesant HS experimented with the ARISE constructivist math program for a year, then scrapped it as inadequate.

"We don't do it anymore. The constructivist curriculum as a stand-alone was not effective," said Daniel Jaye, assistant principal and math department chairman at Stuyvesant.

Students who've taken constructivist math in middle schools are "scoring lower on our math placement exams because they don't have the requisite skills" for algebra, Jaye added.

"I don't think it's appropriate for any high school . . . We're not preparing our students for the challenges of a technological workplace," he said.

California officials threw out the constructivist curriculum in 1997 following a revolt from parents and math experts.

"Why would they use these programs in New York after what happened in California? These are programs extraordinarily weak in math content," said Stanford University math professor James Milgram.

Parents with kids enrolled in some of the city's best school districts are particularly incensed.

"The kids don't learn the basics. Too many kids aren't confident with arithmetic. Math is a like a musical instrument. You have to practice it," said Mary Crowley, a parent leader at MS 51 in Brooklyn's District 15.

Supporters disagree. "The constructivist materials have been found to work well with low-income kids. They have performed better than with traditional materials," said Spud Bradley, a program director with the National Science Foundation.

A confidential survey of teachers in District 2 by NYU's Greenleaf found numerous complaints.

Schools Chancellor Harold Levy declined to comment on the controversy.

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