NYC CSB #2 Cancels Math Forum. Call to Action


Email Sent: Tuesday, January 16, 2001 9:48 AM
Subject: NYC - CSB #2 Cancels Math Forum You Must Act Now!

-Please forward this message to other concerned parents-

Parents and others:

At the working business session of CSB #2 held last Tuesday, January 9, the board voted to cancel the math forum scheduled for March 1, 2001. The proposal, made by John Crossman, a PS 6 parent, included a provision that the board would possibly reconsider sponsorship of a math forum, contingent upon future progress reports by Interim Acting Superintendent Shelley Harwayne and the Director of Mathematics, Lucy West; and after consideration of a preliminary report by Chancellor Levy's math commission, due out later this month. The vote was: 7 - yes (Crossman, Feuer, Ellner, Yip, Li, Robinson, Gamble) ; 1 - no (Somoza) Gloria Martinez was absent.

Note: Robinson had made a previous proposal to cancel the math forum at the November 28 public session of the board; a meeting at which parents and mathematicians gave testimony about District 2 math programs and urged the board continue with plans for the forum. At that meeting, and under the watchful eyes of concerned parents and mathematicians, the board vote to cancel the forum did not carry. Vote to cancel: 3 - yes (Robinson, Yip and LI); 1- no (Somoza) ; 3- abstained (Feuer, Martinez and Gamble) Crossman and Ellner were absent

At the January 9 meeting there was little discussion by the board prior to the vote to cancel the forum There was no agenda item indicating the board intended to discuss and/or proceed with a vote. There was no opportunity for the public to speak to the issue.

Highlights of Board member statements and positions:

Note: Summaries are from my notes of the past several meetings. I encourage you to request a tape of the most recent meeting and any others at which discussion of math education has occurred You may request tapes be mailed to you. Call Doreen Danzler, school board secretary at 212.330.9494

John Crossman stated he was spending a "bloody fortune" tutoring his child, who attends PS 6. At the November 14 meeting Crossman relayed to Lucy West that some PS 6 parents were concerned with their children's poor test performance in math on the private middle school entrance exam. He suggested perhaps parents should at least be informed that the math education their children receive in District 2 schools was not aligned with that of private schools. He also stated he did not know how to help his child with the kind of math homework assigned, though he had himself taken a substantial number of university courses in mathematics. At the January 9 meeting he described Lucy West as brilliant and maintains energies would be best spent supporting the math office in their endeavors. He expressed he had confidence that the math office was addressing the problems, but was concerned about the time it appeared necessary to fully prepare the staff to teach the programs effectively.

Note: Crossman had unfortunately been absent from the last three board meetings, two of which were public sessions where parents gave compelling testimony of their concerns about, primarily, TERC; and NYU mathematics professors presented some of their preliminary findings on TERC and CMP, drafted as part of preparations for the CSB #2 math forum

Doug Robinson reiterated his reasons for originally proposing cancellation of the forum, his belief that there was no ground swell of parent concern and that he had concluded any new program implementation would include some difficulties along the way. He expressed his confidence, based on Lucy West's November presentations that the math office was adequately addressing the issues parents had raised.

Winnie Li stated her opinion that the Chinatown community generally supported the programs and required only more parent training in how to help their children with homework. Li stated at a November meeting that with the advent of calculators, basic skills and pencil and paper calculation were becoming obsolete. She relayed she was unsure of the extent of parent concern. She stated she thought that in place of a forum, board members should visit school based math nights.

Danny Yip stated at the November 28 meeting his view that Chinatown parents were resistant in large part because of their distrust of a math program different from what they had experienced in their own education; and that parents needed to let go of the past. He shared his own experience in a traditional program in Hong Kong, which he found deficient. He stated he was delighted with the new programs. He stated he saw no purpose in a public debate.

Karen Feuer gave a brief summary of the math forum plans to date; and she summarized recent board discussion regarding the forum for John Crossman, at his request. Feuer was quoted in a local paper subsequent to the November 28 board meeting where parent testimony was heard, "the critics are not representative. There are 40,000 parents in the district and we have five people who continue to promulgate their views." This, after having heard, at that meeting alone, from more than five parents as well as several NYU mathematicians.

New board member, Mae Gamble (replacing elected board member John Quinn, who was removed by the Chancellor earlier this year) questioned the purpose of a math forum. She asked what it would accomplish beyond inspiring controversy. And she noted no matter how many parents attended and spoke at such a forum the board would not be able to ascertain whether the views expressed were representative of the entire district. She suggested that the board can not conclude much regarding the extent of parent concern from the testimony provided at board meetings either. Gamble has been a math teacher and is a staff consultant in other districts.

Gloria Martinez, absent from the January 9 meeting, had stated in a November meeting she felt it was evident there were problems with the math programs. She thought there should be some kind of forum but felt the format might require reworking. She also noted the mixed messages from parents who had spoken to the board on the nature and extent of parent concern. She suggested the need for a closer look at the issues being raised.

At the January 9 meeting, Mary Somoza stood alone in support of the math forum. She reminded the board of their original commitment to provide an opportunity for parents to participate in districtwide public discussion. The forum was to be educational; to provide opportunity to hear expert and differing opinions regarding our programs by a panel of math educators and mathematicians. The forum was to support parent engagement, through a preliminary districtwide survey and at the forum itself, parents could express their views and pose questions to the panel. She reminded the board of parents' dissatisfaction with school based math nights, (which are largely lectures on the philosophy of the programs, with mock classroom exercises, and little real parent engagement, with probing quesitons and dissenting opinions discouraged) And she reiterated her recognition that there was indeed widespread concern among parents that was not simply going to go away by shutting down opportunity for public discourse. She asked the board what harm would come by allowing the math forum to occur.

What You Can Do:

Remember, regardless of public statements to the contrary, district officials recognize that one parent letter or statement to the board suggests the likelihood that there are many others, who share similar experiences and sentiments, who have not taken the time to write or attend board meetings.

Do not presume the questions and concerns you have already relayed in letters or conversations with your principals, or in PA meetings, or Parent Council meetings, or school based math nights or to math office officials, or to individual school board members are enough. Your views are not being substantively carried into public school board meeting discussions, nor recognized as representative by some school leaders, nor properly characterized in Lucy West's descriptions of parent needs, questions and concerns.

The level of denial by some district officials, school board members and the math office, regarding the extent to which the math programs require supplementation and the extent to which parents are tutoring their children and thus maintaining acceptable test scores, is alarmingly high. The level of disregard for the equity issues the requisite tutoring present, is equally alarming.

For the district as a whole and schools, individually, to most expeditiously and effectively work to develop systemic remedy for the limitations inherent in the math reform programs at all three levels, K-5, 6-8, and 9-12, students', parents' and teachers' real experiences with the programs to date, must be made public and shared widely among the district community.

The math forum was to be a beginning.

Clear, coherent content standards building grade by grade, and a clear coherent districtwide policy regarding supplementation of TERC, CMP and ARISE are necessary ASAP. Anything less affords great opportunity for sluggish, partial remedies, unevenly and inequitably applied in individual schools across the district, as we have witnessed over the past several years.

Speak up, be a part of the solution, for our children's sake.

District 2 and central officials:

CSB #2 Office
333 Seventh Ave, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10001
Fax: 212.220.9499

CSB #2 Board Members:

Karen Feuer, President
phone: (w) 212.674.5153

Doug Robinson, First Vice-President
phone: (w) 718.248.8073

Danny Yip, Second Vice-President
phone:(w) 718.871.6673

John Crossman
phone: (w) 212.407.0627

Brian Ellner
phone: (w) 212.373.3171

Winni Li, Secretary
phone (w) 212.344.5878

Gloria Martinez
phone: (w) 212.554.0426

Mary Somoza, Member
phone and fax (w) 212.307.9010

Mae Gamble
C/ 0 CSB #2 Office
Fax: 212.220.0400

Lucy West, Director of Mathematics
CSD #2 Math Initiative
c/o PS/IS 89
201 Warren Street Room 406
New York, NY 10282
Phone: 212.385.3459
Fax: 212.385.3470

Shelley Harwayne, Interim Acting Superintendent
CSD #2
333 Seventh Ave, 7th floor
New York, NY 10001
Fax: 212.330.9480

Chancellor Harold O Levy
fax: 718.935.3383

Councilmember Eva Moskowitz
Phone: 212.818.0580
Fax: 212.818.0706
Tiffay Lacker, Legislative Aide

Councilmember Christine Quinn
Attn: Peter Rider
Phone: 212.768.4344
Fax: 212.768.4380

State Assemblyman Steve Sanders
Phone: 212.979.9696
Fax: 212.979.0594

State Assemblymember Deborah Glick
Phone: 212.674.5153
Fax: 212.674.5530

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