Don't Allow 'new Math' To Multiply, Regent Says

The New York Post
April 18, 2001

By Kenneth Lovett, Carl Campanile and Ikimulisa Sockwell-Mason

April 18, 2001 -- A top state education official yesterday threw cold water on efforts to impose the controversial "New Math" program throughout the city.

"This seems to be a very dangerous time to be messing around with an entire math curriculum," said Merryl Tisch, a member of the state Board of Regents and a former teacher. "What they should do is hunker down and focus on the basics."

Tisch has major reservations about the new, so-called "constructivist" math programs taught in many city schools.

Critics deride constructivist math as "fuzzy math." But its supporters say it makes it easier for kids to understand arithmetic.

Constructivist math requires students to figure how to solve math problems on their own instead of using traditional methods such as equations, multiplication tables and long division.

"The fact that the class sizes in New York are so large makes it much more difficult to teach with a constructivist philosophy," Tisch said.

And she added that instructing students this way requires massive retraining of teachers.

But supporters claim that when teachers are retrained to teach the New Math, students do better.

Professors at City College and the Freudenthal Institute in the Netherlands retrained more than 400 teachers in Districts 2 through 6 in Manhattan. Their analysis shows that students taught the New Math scored better on city and state standardized tests in 1999.

The study compared 454 students being taught the new way with 1,450 students instructed the traditional way.

In grades 4 and 5, students in constructivist math scored at least 10 points higher. And the gap widened in classes with teachers who underwent the most extensive training, said City College Professor Catherine Twomey Fosnot, a co-author of the study.

The results should puncture the arguments of critics who are using "scare tactics" to scuttle needed reform, Fosnot said.

Meanwhile, debate raged among parents at PS 58 in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, where constructivist math is taught.

"There's too much emphasis on solving problems in different ways. Kids aren't being taught the most simple way to do calculations," said Susan Broemmelsiek, who has a son in the third grade and a daughter in kindergarten.

"They're not getting enough practice carrying the numbers and learning the basic ways the whole world does math."

Another parent complained, "It took my daughter a half hour to do a problem that should have taken 10 minutes. For fifth-graders, it's too late to change from what they've already learned."

But some parents said the New Math is better.

"If you give them different ways of doing it, they'll pick their own way. And they'll catch on quicker," said Samantha Anderson, whose daughter is in the fourth grade.

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