April 19, 2000


Dear Ms. Fink,


Having found myself favorably impressed again by your comments at the Board meeting last night, with respect to the teaching of mathematics in District 2, I hope you will consider the following comments constructive criticism.


In the first place there are at least two different points of view to be considered with respect to the TERC curriculum; how it is seen by

professional educators and mathematicians, and how it is seen by parents. Leaving to professionals their debate, I mean to consider the question solely from the point of view of parents here.


In this spirit then, to my mind the first and most important thing, if we are to have a useful discussion, is to be clear what exactly the TERC curriculum is.


Last night you heard praise by a parent from PS158 for what was called

"TERC", but it was a TERC that was represented as having a computational component.  And I myself have heard similar praise of what was called "TERC", by a parent at PS11, who is having her daughter tutored in mathematics at home!


The lesson here is obvious - forgive me for taxing your patience by stating it - no meaningful debate can occur so long as people use the same word to refer to different things.


One further thing I should like to say to this point, is that at a

presentation Lucy West gave about TERC at PS11, two years ago, a series of figures were shown on an overhead projector which were said to prove that students taught solely according to the TERC method did best in exam results, and that students who were taught according to the "old", or "algorithmic" method, did much less well, but that students who were taught not exclusively either way - who were taught according to a "mixed" TERC and algorithmic approach - did very badly indeed.  The audience, parents that is to say, were then assured that if we cared for our children's education we would never mix the old math, the only math we all of us know, with TERC, on pain of doing damage to our children's chances of excelling in mathematics.


As you might expect, this was met with a mixture of confusion, wonder, and dismay, by most of the parents present.  (Virtually all of the parents with whom I spoke.)


To sum up:  clearly mathematics is being taught inconsistently both within and between schools in District 2.  (You'll recall Lucy West's claim that it was because mathematics was being taught inconsistently in District 2 when she arrived on the job here, that she adopted the TERC curriculum in the first place.  I say "she" because, as I mentioned last night, the answer to the question where is the record of deliberation preceding the adoption of TERC that she gave to me was, "there is no record".)  And while I think it would be fair to say that some inconsistency is both inevitable, and not in itself an objection to the teaching of any subject, for after all, different

teachers and different classes have different strengths and weaknesses,


and so teachers should be allowed some discretion in their approach, and the tempo they set, and so on. 


Yet I also believe that parents, generally, are in search of an answer to the question whether TERC can usefully be supplemented by something like traditional computational means in order to ensure their children grasp what on Monday night last were called "basic math facts".


Now if the answer to this question is "yes", as in light of PS158's

practice, and the experience of those whose children are being tutored seems to indicate, then the only questions remaining are when will District 2 notify the parents of this fact?  And when will we see TERC supplemented, with some consistency, in District 2?  And when will parents and children have a book, as the teachers do presently have workbooks, by reading in which they might learn something of how to help their children when they have problems with mathematics?


In conclusion I will add one further point to ponder: last night Mary

Somoza said to one of her colleagues, that the fact is no teacher in

District 2 will publicly denounce TERC, whatever their feelings.  And on Monday night we heard from a District 2 teacher on the panel, that any teacher who doesn't want to teach TERC should leave the District - this from a woman who began her remarks by stating that she was born and educated in Romania, so the audience will know - she said - what kind of education she got. 


My point is simply this: learning takes place, as I believe the

history of science, and the United States, shows, only in an atmosphere of free and open discussion.  We have not been party to such freedom and discussion in District 2 with respect to the mathematics curriculum, at least.  Now I don't know what you can do about this, but I strongly urge you to do whatever you can.


I trust you won't take my remarks here amiss: and forgive me for saying, once more, that your own comments last night to this issue were very welcome to me.



Yours sincerely,


Garry Dobbins