A 'Math Night' of a Different Sort on April 17

The Tribeca Trib
April, 2000

Parents who have attended "Math Nights" in Community School District 2 are familiar with the spirited presentations by district math specialists. Using exemplary student work as visual aids, they explain with an almost religious fervor the virtues of the district's "non-traditional" approach to math education.

But an increasingly vocal group of parents remain unconvinced or at best confused. This month the district's Parents Council is spearheading a math night that they hope will provide a forum for other points of view on the district's methods for teaching math - methods that, nationally, are hotly debated. The forum will take place Monday, April 17 at 7:30 pm at PS/IS 89, Warren and West Streets.

Decisions had yet to be made late last month on who would be invited on the forum panel, which is expected to include District 2 math director Lucy West and other district math professionals.

At the March 28 District 2 School Board meeting, nine parents spoke out in favor of making the upcoming math night one that allows parents to hear the views of math experts that may differ with the district philosophy.

"You're not really aware of how big this concern is," a mother told the board. "We must make it clear to Lucy West that the forum should be balanced."

Bruce Winokur, a math teacher at Stuyvesant High School who also tutors, said that parents of District 2 students are sending their children to tutors in record numbers. "I find myself tutoring many fast as well as slow learners," Winokur said. "Even if these curricula are taught expertly, they leave the learner with an inadequate grasp of and ability to do mathematics."

Saying that she believed in a "middle of the road" approach to math teaching, District 2 Superintendent Elaine Fink responded that she favored a balanced panel at the math forum. A planning meeting between District 2 officials and parents was scheduled for April 4.

The district's elementary curriculum is called "TERC," (for the Technical Education Research Center that created it) and in middle school it is the Connected Mathematics Project. Both grow out of a set of standards for math teaching, introduced in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), that are meant to promote higher order thinking skills and an understanding of the process of problem solving. Students are encouraged to work in groups and solve problems through discovery rather than direct teaching and rote learning.

"Children need to develop efficient mental math strategies and be able to explain them confidently - especially now that some of the new state and citywide tests require it," said TERC supporter Lisa Klotz, who is the Parents Council representative from the Early Childhood Center and a reading and math specialist who tutors local children. "After that, learning an algorithm - and practicing it - is okay, as long as they can explain why it works."

But some parents believe that their children are not learning basic arithmetic in grade school or standard algebraic formulas in middle school.

"Parents who are most distressed are those who have children in middle school and later grades because it takes a while to realize how lacking in certain skills their children are," said Christine Larson, the parent of children in PS 234 and IS 89.

Larson represents PS 234 on the District 2 Parents Council, where she said many parents expressed dismay and confusion about the math their children were learning. Along with Elizabeth Carson, another Parents Council mother, the two women began researching the program and found that disputes over its effectiveness were nationwide. Thus was born the idea fro a math night that would accommodate varying points of view.

This month, however, the NCTM is expected to release a new- and reportedly more moderate - set of standards for teaching math.

"The pendulum has been swinging back and forth between traditional - drill and practice - and [progressive] methodology, like TERC," said Klotz. "But we move toward a more balanced program every year."

Reproduced with permission from the Tribeca Trib.

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