Levy: 'fuzzy' Math Just For Fraction Of Kids

The New York Post
April 19, 2001

By Carl Campanile

April 19, 2001 -- Schools Chancellor Harold Levy said yesterday schools will continue to teach most students traditional math - not the new arithmetic that critics brand "fuzzy" math.

"For the vast bulk of students, the traditional program is the one that should be used," he said.

"I want to make sure there are good, solid, traditional math programs all throughout the city ... Children have to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers."

Levy said he supports traditional math because it has "repeatedly been shown to work."

The new "constructivist" math, being taught on an experimental basis in many schools, requires students to solve problems without using traditional equations, multiplication tables and long division.

Levy stressed he would not impose a "one-size fits all" curriculum on school district superintendents, and would continue to allow experiments with "alternative" math programs, as long as they're "standards-based" and sanctioned by the state.

"In the rare exceptions where the superintendents make the decision that an alternative program is superior," he said, "they should be given the flexibility to innovate."

The "constructivist" movement has already riled at least one state education official. Merryl Tisch, a member of the state Board of Regents and former teacher, warned earlier this week that city education officials should "hunker down and focus on the basics."

But the chancellor insisted the new math has worked well in Manhattan's District 2 schools, despite criticism from some parents.

He pointed out teacher training is crucial - and failing that, there will be problems no matter what curriculum is being taught.

"There's nothing in here that's fuzzy math," said District 2 Supt. Shelley Harwayne, who noted that 76 percent of her students meet or exceed state math standards. "Our program is aligned with the state standards."

Still, parent activist Elizabeth Carson blasted Levy for allowing experimental programs to continue in District 2, where her kids go to school.

"He's giving the superintendents the power to experiment on our children," she said.

"We're asking to move away from the radical constructivist programs currently used in District 2 and elsewhere, and to move toward more balanced mathematics programs."

The chancellor has created a commission of experts that will soon issue a report on how mathematics should be taught in schools.

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