Parents Still Divided on New Math Program

Penfield parents are conducting a petition drive in the hope that students are given a choice of taking traditional math

NY - Penfield Post
Thursday, March 10, 2005


Return the old ways, in part. Give students a choice. That's what a group of more than 60 families with students in Penfield schools are saying. They are petitioning for that, in response to concerns over the new way math is being taught in the district.

Parents Concerned with Penfield's Math Programs want the district to give students the option of taking traditional math courses, rather than studying the new curriculum being implemented in the schools under a five-year initiative called Advancing Mathematics in Penfield.

The new program was introduced in 1999, according to Mary Rapp, assistant superintendent of instruction, when the Penfield School District mapped its K-12 math curriculum and standards against the state's and identified gaps and redundancies. The math program was redesigned, she said and new curriculum was adopted in all of the schools. This includes TERC Investigations in the elementary schools, Connected Math in the middle school and Core Plus at the high school.

The new curriculum, Rapp said, is more rigorous, has a stronger emphasis on understanding the concepts of mathematics, problem solving and the relevance of math to the real world.

Some parents say their children aren't grasping mathematics under the new programs and they're upset that the traditional courses have gotten the boot. They believe more options are needed to meet the needs of all students.

"There may have been issues with the old program, but you don't throw the baby out with the bath water," said Bill Munch, founder Parents Concerned with Penfield's Math Programs. "We as a community feel very strongly that these math programs do not fit the needs of all of the students we are aware of."

Munch said concerns with the math program run the gamut: the new curriculum doesn't focus enough on basic math concepts and repetition, and, it relies too heavily on the use of calculators and group work. Group members said they had to hire tutors and supplement their children's math instruction at home because kids are struggling under the district's new approach to teaching math.

In the curriculum's defense, Rapp said there is no perfect approach for teaching all children in any one discipline. "We use a variety of teaching techniques to maximize the success of each student," she said. She pointed to assistance that is available to students who want the extra help in individual units or the entire course. She said Academic Intervention Services are available to students struggling in any subject.

Parents opposed to the new curriculum say the new math relies too heavily on group work and calculators, leaving students to discover math on their own without teaching them the basic concepts first.

Rapp said students are "definitely" being taught basic concepts and skills, and are working both in groups and independently. As some parents express concerns, she said others like the new curriculum.

"In life, this new math is going to help kids a lot more," said Barb Baumer, a mother of two students at Harris Hill Elementary. "It's totally different than how we learned it." Baumer has attended parent math courses offered by the district intended to show parents how the new math is being taught. Baumer said she likes that kids are being taught relationships with numbers and how they work. "I like the idea that there are different strategies that you can use and not just the old-fashioned way," she said. Baumer admits not all students learn the same way. "I understand both sides," she said. "I don't know if this is the way to go, but so far, my experience (with the new math) has been good."

Michael Caito, a parent with two of his three children in the Penfield school district, voiced concerns with the new math program at a 2004 Board of Education meeting. He said he'll definitely sign the parent group's petition, but is unsure whether the district can really provide a choice. "I doubt they'll be able to give people that choice," he said. "It's too expensive. I think they could probably find a blended program that works well."

In the meantime, Caito said, he worries about how the new program may affect his kids. "When you put a new program into place, you don't see the results until years in the future," he said. "If they discover they didn't have the right mix, then many kids have missed the opportunity to pick up math."

Rapp said the district's testing data show Penfield students are succeeding in math under the new program: Penfield student performance on the Grade 4 Math and Grade 8 Math tests have improved for the past three years; SAT mean scores in math have also increased by 13 points between 1999 and 2004. The new program also gives more students the chance to excel in math Rapp said.

Under the new curriculum, Rapp said, the typical student will learn what they typically would have learned at the end of ninth grade in eighth grade ? a year earlier. She said this allows more students to pursue higher-level math courses in high school. Rapp said the number of students signing up for AP Math courses at Penfield High School increased by 57 percent from 1999 until 2004.

How the district is handling the issue is also an issue itself. Parents Concerned with Penfield's Math Programs was formed in part out of frustration with the district's unresponsiveness to parents questions and concerns, Munch said. "I think most parents feel there's nothing they can do," he said. "In fact, there's a pretty good chance nothing will come of our petition. What we really want at the minimum is to bring up public awareness."

Rapp said she met with some members of the group in January and offered to schedule a forum where parents, teachers, students and administrators could discuss and debate the issues.

Munch said parents decided against a forum because they didn't think their concerns would be heard. "The program has been here since 2001," he said. "Parents know what's going on. We already get it (the program). We feel we have enough information." Munch said the group will present the petition to the district when they feel they've compiled enough signatures to make a strong case for offering students the option of taking math under the traditional curriculum.

For more information about Parents Concerned with Penfield's Math Programs or to sign their petition, e-mail Bill Munch at

There will be a parent discussion on "Where are Those Traditional Algorithms?" at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 28, at Bay Trail Middle School. Visit for more information.

For more about the Penfield, NY, Mathematics curriculum controversy please visit Parents Concerned With Penfield's Math Programs and see the NYC HOLD summary page Controversy over Mathematics in Penfield, NY, Public Schools.

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or to the News page or to the Letters and Testimony page.