February 15, 2001
By Catherine Hausman
'Junior Ivy League' Column
Dear Ms Harwayne:
This is to inform you that I have decided to home-school my daughter Jessica, as of Dec 18, 2000... I, as well as many mathematicians are very unhappy with the TERC curriculum. I believe this program is responsible for the marked erosion in Jessica's math skills... I have read the commissioner's regulation on home-schooling and will file quarterly reports.
Lots of parents get fed up with aspects of their child's school, but don't actually pull their child out mid-year. Maureen and Michael Weinberg did just that. This is their story.
When the Weinbergs, born and bred New Yorkers, moved back to the Upper East Side from Putnam County, NY, they enrolled their daughters in two Upper East Side schools, both with impressive reputations. All was well until their older daughter Kerry, came home with her first math assignment: "Write an essay about your favorite number and a math autobiography."
Maureen was worried. Her girls had been in the highest math groups in their old schools, where Maureen served on the Board of Education. She decided she would learn all she could about "language-based math." And the more she learned, the less she liked.
Maureen, an Irish girl form the Bronx who was educated in parochial schools, is not afraid of a schoolyard fight, "She wrote letters, she spoke to the school board, she did everything you're supposed to do as a concerned parent," said Elizabeth Carson, a leader in the anti-TERC movement, who met Maureen after she answered a district survey.
"They thought I was wrong," said Maureen. "Their attitude was 'We're the experts on education'; well, I'm the expert on my child!" when it was clear that the TERC curriculum was here to stay, Maureen took matters into her own hands.
New York State School Law exempts students from specific curricula if they can demonstrate "proficiency." Kerry, then a sixth-grader, took the ninth-grade Regents exam and scored a 97. This year, in seventh grade, while her classmates are reviewing their times tables and tossing marshmallows at a grid to learn probability, Kerry studies independently from a book that's roughly comparable to seventh-grade math in Singapore - remember quadratic equations? While her teacher at East Side Middle School has been "incredibly accommodating," said Kerry, "when [the problems] are really hard she doesn't really have the time." But Kerry, who plays tennis with the Harlem Junior Tennis League, praised the humanities curriculum and said she is happy at her school.
Maureen switched her attention to Jessica, a fifth-grader at PS 6, who had just received a disappointing score on her statewide math exam." "I brought them a good math student," said Maureen. "They weren't doing anything with her - they weren't teaching her." She saw her daughter slip farther behind and thought, "Why am I sending her o school? I can do more at home." Jessica's friends were surprised that she left; their parents even more so: Some said Maureen is "nuts," and others said, "Good for her!"
That first Monday morning, the reality of her decision sank in. It was scary," said Maureen. "I had a very queasy feeling as I got my books and we went to the kitchen table. I tried to cover all the subjects, and I was exhausted." AS the weeks passed, however, its become easier. They start at 9 am and work until noon. Mostly sticking to the state curriculum, they also improvise: They did a unit on prominent queens throughout history. They read about artists and went to museums to see their work. Older sister Kerry said she sometimes feels a little jealous, but would miss her friends too much if she stayed home.
Plans for next year are up in the air. Jessica, who enjoys being home-schooled, has applied to a selective District 2 middle school, and also to St Ignatius, a parochial school. Kerry is preparing for the Stuyvesant High School entrance exam. She recently took the SATs to qualify for a summer program for gifted students -"and nowhere [on the SATs] do they ask you to explain your answers," Kerry said. "No," her father chimed in, " but they do make you think."
Reproduced with permission from Our Town.
Note: Maureen Weinberg's letter is reproduced in full here.
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