District 2 Community Education Council questions "constructivist" mathematics curricula

June 27, 2005

Mr. Peter Heaney
Regional Superintendent
Region 9
333 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Anna Marie Carrillo
District Two Superintendent
333 7th Avenue
New York, NY 10001

Dear Mr. Heaney and Ms. Carrillo:

Over the past several months, the District 2 Community Education Council ("Council") has held a series of public forums to discuss math instruction in District Two, New York City public schools. As you know, exempt District Two schools are "waivered" from the requirement to implement the Department of Education's mandated curriculum. Each exempt school is theoretically free to select curriculum, including a math program, provided standardized test results continue to meet required levels of academic achievement. Each spring semester, principals of schools eligible to waiver mandated curricula indicate to the Department of Education whether or not they wish to opt out of the citywide curriculum.

It is the Council's understanding that since 1995, District Two adopted curricular programs in keeping with the "constructivist" approach recommended by the National Council of Teaching Mathematics (NCTM). Specifically, for students in grades K through 5, the District adopted Investigations in Number Data and Space (also known as TERC) ; for students in middle school, the District adopted Connected Mathematics (also known as CMP); and for high school students, the district adopted Mathematics: Modeling Our World (also known as ARISE) is the stated District curriculum. District Two exempt schools maintain the option of keeping the earlier adopted programs or switching to curriculum now mandated by the Department of Education for all non-exempt schools throughout the city. While the citywide curricula are different from the particular programs adopted earlier by District Two, they are generally in keeping with constructivist approaches for mathematics instruction.

Aware of the controversy concerning the strength and demerits of the dominant math curricula in the District, the Council decided to sponsor forums that explored these issues. In sponsoring these math forums, the Council sought to engage a number of different opinions on the teaching of mathematics and to stimulate lively and critical debate. The Forums were designed to broaden parents' understanding of mathematics teaching (both District Two's curricula and alternative models), encourage District Two educators to review the current math program and to strengthen parents' and educators' capacity to support our children's mathematics learning. The Forums also sought to provide a venue for parents to ask questions and/or voice any concerns about the current District Two math curriculum.

The Math Forums were divided into four parts and were held over a four-month period, from March through June, 2005. The first forum sought to introduce mathematics teaching methodology and the rationale for a constructivist curriculum. The second forum addressed math in the elementary years (K-5). The third forum covered math in the middle school years (6-8). The final math forum addressed math in the high school years (9-12) and its relationship to the earlier grades, in order to gain an understanding of how mathematics learning across the three levels of schooling developed.

The Council believes that since District Two schools have the choice to opt out of mandated DOE curriculum, then principals, teachers, parents and administrators should periodically re-examine the curriculum selected and make any adjustments or changes, if needed, to continually strengthen students' mathematics learning in District Two.

In planning for these four events, the Council would like to note a stated reluctance on the part of Department of Education personnel and some parents on the Council regarding the purpose and scope of the math forums in light of previous public forums held on this issue. Throughout this inaugural year, the Council has enjoyed the opportunity to hear from DOE representatives from the Regional Operation Center, Food Service, School Construction, Middle School Admissions administrators, Safety and Security, and the Chancellor, due in large part to the cooperation and active participation of DOE officials. The Council, District and Regional administration have functioned collegially and effectively in streamlining communication and resolving problems. As we continue to address the issues around the math curriculum, we look forward to a continued collegial and cooperative relationship.

The Council would like to thank all the speakers and parents who participated in and/or attended the four Forums. The Council heard from the following invited speakers: Linda Curtis-Bey, Director of Mathematics, NYC DOE, Anna Marie Carrillo - District 2 Superintendent, Celenia Chevere, Principal NEST School, Kerry Cunningham - Regional Instructional Supervisor, Pat Di Pietropolo - Glencoe/McGraw Hill, Michelle Donahue - Churchill School, Susan Elliot - Principal - Eleanor Roosevelt HS, Dan Fiegelson - Principal - PS 6, Judith Green - NYC Math Project (from Lehman College), Fred Greenleaf - Professor, NYU, Carl Juenke - Regional Instructional Supervisor, Maggie Maluf, Brearley School, Steve Murray - Math teacher Upper Lab School, Jill Myers - Local Instructional Superintendent, Stanely Ocken - Professor, CCNY, Daria Rigney - Local Instructional Superintendent - Region 9, Betty Rosa - Former Superintendent - District 8, Adele Schroeder - Principal PS 59, Alan Silver -S &S Prep, Ronald Swartz - DOE Math Instructional Specialist, Grace Welsch - Churchill School, Bruce Winokur - Math teacher Stuyvesant HS

The Council applauds the parents who took the time out of their busy lives to participate in the Forums, asking questions and/or making statements. Some parents voiced their support of the curriculum and indicated that their children enjoyed math instruction and seemed to have a good grasp of mathematical concepts. Some parents were new to the District and were looking for information and to learn more about the curriculum. However, a majority of the parents in attendance who chose to speak opposed the current math curriculum because, among other things, they believe it abandons teacher-directed exposition, questioning methods, symbolic reasoning and algorithms.

The Council heard several parents request concrete instructional materials (such as textbooks or other printed materials) that explain and reinforce classroom instruction. Others voiced concerns that their children may be under prepared for middle school, high school and college, particularly in the science-related fields. Some parents in attendance felt there was insufficient alignment between the math curriculum and the content knowledge required for the specialized high school exams. Interestingly, others expressed concern that they have had or will have to supplement the current math training by paying for private tutors.

All told, the invited speakers, parents and community members who participated expressed a wide range of opinions regarding the perceived merits and deficiencies of the current math approaches. From this wide range of opinions, the Council has identified a consistent thread voiced by many parents and community members. By most of these accounts, the math curriculum in District Two as currently taught should, must, and/or is being supplemented.

There were differences in various speakers' opinions regarding how much supplementation of constructivist methods is required, at what age supplementation should be introduced, and whether the curriculum focus should switch from constructivism to traditional methods. The Council recognizes an unofficial trend, classroom by classroom, towards a more "balanced" mathematics approach in recent years, accompanied by continued professional development. The Council believes that conversation among parents, administrators, teachers and concerned professionals about any instructional approaches, merits and deficiencies, should be openly encouraged. It is the Council's goal that such open and respectful dialogue, should contribute towards outstanding and consistent advancements in mathematics teaching and learning across grade levels in District Two.

The Council would like to further pursue this dialogue with you and your colleagues. As one part of this continuing dialogue, attached please find a set of questions raised by parents and/or Council Members, some of which were addressed by speakers at the forums. In order to provide information about math teaching to the widest possible group of parents, the Council respectfully requests you and/or your District colleagues, address these questions in writing so that we may post them on the CECD2 website. The Council would greatly appreciate responses to the questions by early in the 2005-2006 academic year. We all share in the common goal of strengthening our students' mathematical competency.

Community Education Council
District 2


1. What are the specific differences between the Everyday Math and Investigations curricula?

2. For the current math curricula taught at each level (elementary, middle, and high schools), what relevant math textbooks/guides/workbooks can parents obtain to educate themselves and their children about the curricula (either hard copy or web based ? name/publisher)? Are they available in languages besides English?

3. Why is the constructivist curriculum used as the core philosophy around which symbolic approaches are added as opposed to the other way around?

4. How does the District assure that all children receive consonant skills at each educational level?

5. How do the school children of District Two compare to national and international standards?

6. How can parents know whether their child is learning the appropriate level of mathematics to ensure competency for school transfers, specialized programs and/or higher education?

7. If the highest performing high schools in the City of New York and the District use "traditional math" curriculum exclusively or provide intensive supplementation using traditional math textbooks and tests, then why is the ARISE constructivist curriculum used as the core high school math program?

8. If the current math curriculum is supplemented with symbolic approaches at each level of learning, why isn't a uniform curriculum established with teacher-involved professional development to standardize the curriculum to include the best of both approaches taught at the right time?

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