Angry parents demand answers on 'new math'

Town and Village
February 8, 2001

Lyndee Yamshon

Angry parents demanded answers from District Two's School Board last week as the war of words raged over "new math."

Neighborhood parents were determined to have their voices heard after the board turned down a request for a public forum to open up the topic for discussion among parents, educators and math experts.

"The school board doesn't listen to parents," accused parent, Denise Matava Haffenden. "If they did, why was the forum shot down? While they're studying and looking into things and parents are playing the waiting game, our kids suffer.

"I don't want people in charge of my child's education who are not willing to listen to parents."

Karen Feuer, President of the District Two Board told the meeting that the most productive way to address the math issue was to bring it to the table at the regular school board meetings.

"There is a pending investigation by the superintendent, school by school, issue by issue. We are meeting with schools, teachers and experts and conducting a methodical and intensive review about what issues are surfacing in individual schools. We are dealing with how these issues can be addressed as a whole," said Feuer.

However, parents said they felt they had been silenced, prevented from playing a role in their children's education and were not placated by Feuer's assurances.

Ginny Donnelly, another District Two parents, told the meeting how she had volunteered in a math class for the past eight years.

"[The program] TERC has my daughter 95 percent bored and five percent frustrated," said Donnelly.

"The children can explain everything to death, but they can't arrive at an answer. One sixth grader kept insisting the medium of a graph was folding it in half.

"The math coordinators and the staff developers say they like the program because their pride is at stake.

"But for the sake of the children, please have District Two's math curriculum teach math."

City College math professor, Stanley Ocken, told the parents that, in order for their children t successfully complete any math or science based college program, basic algebra were required. "If you don't know the basics, you'll flunk," said Ocken.

Professor Ocken claimed there were many in the professional math and science community who were concerned about the math reform, adding, "New programs need to go in the right direction and not at the expense of basic skills. Lots of fun games can be applied for reiterating what needs to be known. So my message to you today is, don't mess around with the basics!"

Two first and second grade teachers from PS 40 then took time to tell about their feelings, and claimed the new math was "opening the minds of students." "My students have been writing their own problems and they see math everywhere," said one teacher. "They can find their own errors because they find patterns in their learning. I taught for three years in Texas with a textbook and what these kids can do is way beyond what I've ever seen.

"TERC reaches at-risk kids, too, allowing them to find their own ways to solve problems. It also helps prepare them for standardized tests."

As the argument raged with neither side convinced, Shelley Harwayne, the acting superintendent, told parents that the lines of communication were opening.

We are getting started with the supplemental material and doing more walk-throughs in math classes. We are not looking the other way," she said.

Douglas Robinson, Vice President of District Two's School Board said that "the proof was in the pudding. Long term, we will be alright. You can see the results of that just by how we're doing in this district."

Mary Somoza, was the only Board member who loudly dissented to the board's decision to do away with the public forum for parents.

"The idea of the forum was for parents to come away from the meeting having heard both sides of the issue. I understand that parents feel stifled and ignored," she said.

Reproduced with permission from Town and Village.

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