Result split on parent math forum

Town and Village
June 14, 2001

Lyndee Yamshon

Parents concerned about the new constructivist math being taught in New York City schools, last week gathered a group of New York University math professors, parents and educational leaders for an in-dept question and answer session.

Entitled, "Experimental Mathematics Programs and Their Consequences," the event took place June 6 at the NYU Law School.

The panel was moderated by Elizabeth Carson and co-chaired by Denise Matava Haffenden and Marjorie Weinman, all parents with children attending District Two schools, who fear that constructivist math is hampering their children's education.

Constructivist math focuses on the process of arriving at an answer, as opposed to the answer itself. Some parents and educators feel that by changing the basic curriculum of math, basic tools and skills are left out, leaving the student confused without a basis for application.

Karen Feuer, the President of District Two School Board, believes that constructivist math is beneficial for students and commented that the meeting was dull and overly academic, run by a panel of "mostly men that seemed to be over age 50."

Feuer said she was less than impressed with the panel discussion.

"When the professors were challenged to teach in the New York City public school system, they said no thank you.

"Then another parent asked the panelists if they speak to their colleagues in the School of Education who teach teachers how to teach the constructivist curriculum, and they said not really." Feuer said that while the professors were willing to engage with the parents, they offered no substantive response to any of their questions. She also said that there were a range of scare tactics put forward about the reform curriculum, leaving out any positive aspects the new math has to offer.

However, Elizabeth Carson, the moderator who has been instrumental in organizing parents to discuss the new math, said she was thrilled by the presentations and "overwhelmed by the amount of work and commitment of the panelists, they presented a comprehensive overview of the issues."

"The presentation was really a gift to the parents in New York City. Those who were lucky enough to attend saw first hand, very moving questions and comments from the audience.

"I would like to organize more sessions like this where parents are given a chance to say how they feel in front of other parents and educators. Parents are really dying for the opportunity, by 9:45 pm , there were still long lines of parents who wanted to speak, but we had to close the meeting."

Carson said she expected Feuer to be emotionally moved by what was said and was surprised that Feuer was not impressed.

"Parents were close to tears as they listened to professors explain that their children won't be prepared for a wide range f course work, closing off their future options. But most important, some were hearing for the first time, that they weren't the only parents who oppose this new math when all along they've been told they were alone."

Carson said that the panel suggested parents take on their children's math education at home or if necessary, hire a tutor.

"Parents were overwhelmed that they are being handed over this level of responsibility to educate their children, that the school is responsible for providing."

Feuer felt the professors on the panel lacked a general dialogue within their own institution.

"I think the School of education should know how best to teach math," said Feuer.

Reproduced with permission from Town and Village.

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