'Progressive' or Just Oppressive?
Parents say math curriculum forces them out of school district

Our Town
March 15, 2001

By Kiran Randhawa

After continuous disputes with Community School District 2 on a controversial math curriculum, parents have considered removing their children from schools in the district and are even opting for home schooling.

A parent of a fourth-grade child at P.S. 40 is tired and frustrated about the math curriculum first implemented in the district four years ago. She raised the same concerns that many parents have expressed, about the lack of basic and traditional skills that the TERC curriculum offers.

"My daughter's not being challenged because the fourth-grade curriculum is not rigorous enough," said the parent, who wanted to remain anonymous. The parent said she is considering taking her daughter out of the school and into home schooling for a year.

"At home she will be given one-on-one schooling," she explained. "She certainly is not being given the attention she needs at school. I can provide her with this - as well as more academically rigorous schooling."

But District 2 officials said there is not a problem.

"If parents want to take their kids out of the district, they are free to do so. We have some of the best schools in the city," said Karen Feuer, president of School Board 2.

"These are just a few parents out of the parents of the 22,000 kids we have in the district that are having problems with the curriculum."

Although the district boasts some of the best test scores in the city, there has been a steady influx of parents looking at private tutoring for their children.

The Wossing academic program is a tutoring school with a population of 300 students. Since 1991, the program has been serving students from kindergarten through 12th grade, and approximately 50 percent of these students are children from schools in District 2.

"A lot of the children coming to us from District 2 need help with math. They are lacking skills to figure out the solutions to math problems," said Julie Tay, director of programs at Wossing. "They are not able to explain what they are doing when working out math problems, and they are also being shortchanged on multiplication tables."

Tay is concerned that the demographics of the district add momentum to the existing problem with TERC. She explained that a huge proportion of the District 2 population is made up of ethnic minorities and they are not able to articulate the problems they have with TERC to their children's schools.

"A big majority of my students have immigrant parents, " Tay said. "Some of them don't have the basic oral skills to say what their problems are with the curriculum. All they know is that their children just aren't performing as well anymore. So they put their hard-earned money into private tutoring. I feel they are being taken advantage of."

Elizabeth Carson, an active opponent against TERC, has a child in eighth grade at School of the Future on East 22nd Street. She insists there is a problem in the district and spends $195 every three months to pay for her son's private tutoring at Wossing.

"He is getting wonderful one-on-one experience in both science and math," said Carson. "Every child needs to be supplemented in this way. If they don't, they will fall farther and farther behind."

Another parent activist, Denise Haffenden, has a son at P.S. 40 and is upset at the alternative routes parents are having to explore to avoid their children becoming math-deficient.

"Some parents are having their kids evaluated for special education, where the Board of Education may pay for a child to attend private school if he or she is learning disabled," said Haffenden. "But the majority of these kids are just District 2-disabled."

Haffenden explained that many parents who couldn't afford extra tuition or private education were having to look into moving their children to another district. But she says due to the long waiting lists for the better schools in other districts, the chances of getting in are very slim.

"Kids that can't afford private education are guinea pigs in this 'progressive' experiment in District 2," said Haffenden. "This is becoming a class issue."

Another concerned parent in the district has a daughter in fourth grade, and will be removing her and putting her into a private school in September.

"TERC uses a method that takes unnecessary and time-consuming steps to get to a solution," said a parent. "In the classroom, my daughter has to do her calculations the TERC way, so I don't want to send her to private tuition classes because it would confuse her. We are considering both private and parochial schools in the area. So we could be paying up to $20,000 a year to give our child the education she needs."

Reproduced with permission from Our Town.

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