"Fuzzy Math" Showdown

The Riverdale Review
August 8-14, 2002


Community School Board 10 is poised to take action on two fronts that may go a long way towards setting a more activist tone for the upcoming school year.

The first resolution would dramatically modify the districts controversial constructivist or "fuzzy math" program. The second would request that Superintendent Irma Zardoya change her plans to use the 100 extra minutes that teachers have agreed to work each week to benefit students. Currently few, if any, students will receive this extra instruction, and the board would like to see this extra time devoted to additional instruction that will reach all students.

Prof. Robert Feinerman, a member of the board, has presented a resolution that will redefine the districts math curriculum. Under this resolution, students at the districts high schools, which now only includes the Riverdale/Kingsbridge Academy, will follow a "skill-based, college preparatory" course of study "similar to those used by Stuyvesant, Brooklyn Tech, (and) Bronx Science."

Under the proposed resolution the math program that the district would be forced to follow would be one in which "standard arithmetic skills are taught and emphasized. In particular, the standard algorithms for multiplication and division as well as the standard methods for computation with fractions should be taught."

Parents who were outraged to learn that their children were not given math textbooks would be relieved to learn that under the Feinerman resolution, "all students should have a textbook" which would cover computational methods.

Homework, now often a rarity, would "regularly be given from such textbooks." Each parent should regularly be sent a schedule of such homework. Because constructivist learning depends on small groups of students collaborating together, it does not lend itself well to daily homework assignments.

So that parents would, for the first time, have a clear picture of what math topics are taught to their children, "the superintendents office should arrange for the preparation of a detailed listing of specific mathematics topics to be covered in each grade. This listing should include specific pages in the textbook, references to the New York City and New York State curricula, together with an approximate time frame for such coverage."

In a controversial move, constructivist or "fuzzy math" programs would only be supplementary to the conventional math textbook. If such programs are used, a "detailed listing of correlation of topics should be prepared and distributed to each teacher."

Professor Feinerman, who chairs the Math Department at Lehman College hopes to elicit from the board a denunciation of the adoption of the constructivist approach in general. He expects that such a statement will have far-reaching implications in the nationwide battle against "fuzzy math."

"Believe it or not, people all over the country are looking at what we do in District 10," said Feinerman. He noted that this same discussion is being held all over the country, and that many other areas have already abandoned "fuzzy math." Most prominent among them is the State of California, where "fuzzy math" was dropped five years ago.

Feinerman was also upset with what he found on the District 10 website. "This is all constructivism," he said. Similarly all of the professional development courses offered by the District to its teaching staff is for "fuzzy math."

"How is a teacher supposed to learn how to teach computation if the district doesnt offer any help in this area?"

The District 10 website abruptly went offline last weekend, leading some to speculate that it was being revised in the light of Professor Feinermans criticism. This could not be confirmed, as the District 10 spokesperson, Bruce Irushalmi, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. As of press time, late Tuesday, the site was still unavailable.

Professor Feinerman noted that a number of teachers had contacted him directly to encourage him and thank him for taking the lead on this issue. But, he noted, almost all of the teachers requested anonymity. "The fact that teachers in this district feel that they cant participate in an honest, open discussion about a very controversial curriculum issue speaks volumes," he concluded.

Reproduced with permission from the Riverdale Review.

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