Why TERC? Letter from a Manhattan Fourth Grader

An editorial by Marielle Combier-Kapel, then in fourth grade in P. S. 6, Manhattan, with an introduction by her mother, Betsy Combier, and a flyer from the school.

[Betsy Combier:] I scanned in the flyer my daughter Marielle received from her 4th Grade teacher one week after I had a talk with her about TERC, and how my daughter was upset at being told NOT to do long division. The teacher, who we do like alot, whispered to me that "her hands were tied". Below is the flyer and Marielle's Editorial which she wrote except for my quote, and she emailed it to the NY Times.

Dear Family,

In mathematics, our class is starting a new unit called Arrays and Shares. This unit focuses on multiplication and division. Students begin the unit by looking at things that are arranged in rows, for example, juice packs, egg cartons, and rows of chairs. Through examining these rectangular arrangements (or arrays), they begin to visualize important aspects of multiplication, for example, that the solution to 7 X 6 is the same as the solution to 6 X 7.

As students go on to work on two-digit multiplication and related division problems, it is critical that they visualize how to pull apart the numbers they are working with. To solve these harder problems, students learn to use related problems they already know how to solve. For example, the problem 7 X 23 can be solved by breaking the problem into more familiar parts: 7 X 10, 7 X 10, and 7 X 3.

While our class is studying multiplication and division you can help in the following ways:

Look for items around your house or at the grocery store that are packaged or arranged in rectangular arrays. Tiles on the floor, egg cartons, window panes, and six-packs of juice cans are examples of rectangular arrays. Talk with your child about the dimensions (rows and columns) and discuss ways to figure out the total number.

Play the Array Games that your child brings home for homework.

Help your child practice skip counting by 3's, 4's, 5's, and so forth.

When your child brings home problems, encourage your child to explain his or her strategies to you. Ask questions, such as "How did you figure that out?" and "Tell me your thinking about this problem", but don't provide answers or methods. Show that you are interested in how your child is thinking and reasoning about these problems.

Please don't teach your child step-by-step procedures for computing multiplication and division. Too often we find that children at this age memorize the multiplication and division procedures but cannot recognize situations in which multiplication and division are useful. We will gradually support students this year in developing several strategies for carrying out multiplication and division problems, but we would prefer they not memorize procedures at this time.

Thank you for your interest in your child's study of mathematics. We are looking forward to an exciting few weeks of work on multiplication and division.


by Marielle Combier-Kapel
4th Grade, PS 6

Parents are making tutors crazy calling them all the time because of TERC math. Kids don't have time to do anything anymore because all they do after school is get tutored in math. Citywide math scores are falling, but Board Of Education officials say that the District 2 math scores on the Standardized tests are high, therefore the TERC math curriculum is a good thing.

Many District 2 parents, having more money than in some other Districts , as shown in statistics given out by the City, are spending it on tutoring, which brings up the scores, giving the impression that TERC is good for us kids.

Five years ago Sylvan Learning Centers had 400 outlets nationwide for math and reading. Today the company has 800 centers serving 150,000 students in math. The Score Learning Program is also growing fast, and Kaplan, the New York based test-preparation company, expects to have 60,000 students by the end of the year from about 40,000 students last year. This is great if your parents have money to spend on this.

TERC math shouldn't be the only kind of math schools teach to their students. Just because some other students in their class aren't that smart, the schools are sending out flyers to go home to the parents saying that they should not teach their child traditional math which includes long division and algorithms. I like long division!

My mom says:"Fuzzy math condemns our kids by not allowing them to establish an understanding of base computations which will empower them as they reach higher levels of problem-solving. The Board of Education policy to implement TERC math and ONLY this curricula is assuring our kids an immediate future of confusion, or worse, boredom, and a long-term disability in math achievement and academic performance in non-math subjects as well. Learning traditional math as a reference is similar to having a Spanish dictionary when you are trying to write something in Spanish."

Parents are now calling other parents to find out if they tutor their children in math or not. One of my sisters' teachers at Stuyvesant told my mom that the Stuyvesant math at the Freshman level may have to be changed to a lower achievement level, as kids from District 2 who are getting in are having trouble with the traditionally rigorous math program.

Middle School teachers are surprised that children in 7th grade are not able to do long division.

What may happen is that I may be unable to compete for college places because the math teaching I have received is not teaching me what I should know. Is that fair?

Marielle Combier-Kapel
4th Grade, PS 6

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