April 19, 2001


Chancellor Harold Levy

110 Livingston Street

Brooklyn, NY 11201

Fax:(718) 935-3383

Re:Post Articles concerning New Math / Week of April 16-19


Dear Mr. Levy:


I am a parent of a District 2 fifth grader. I think that our personal experience with District 2's math program provides a sobering insight into the failure of constructivist math for all the district's children.


Those who have a strong aptitude remain in the higher percentile, but everyone's ability to compute drops proportionately. The children who would struggle now face an even greater uphill climb.


We escaped the "whole language" fiasco because my son learned to read at the age of four. He was interested so I taught him, using phonics. He was equally adept with  numbers.


Transferred after kindergarten to a District 2 school which, unknown to us, was a new math "site" school, he tried to show his teacher a "faster" (traditional) way to add 12 + 9 on the blackboard. He was reprimanded and told "We don't do math that way here." It has been a steady road downhill ever since.


Entering first grade, his ISEE math score was in the upper 95-100%, by second grade he had dropped over 10%. Although his public school scores show him in the top ranks in math, without tutoring his PSAT scores were mid-range.  Stanford Binet tests indicate that his math scores should be in line with his reading (800 on the fourth grade reading test). 


Shelly Harwayne is just dead wrong when she says "there's nothing in here that's fuzzy math." At fifth grade, these children cannot multiply anything that cannot be rounded off.


My husband and I both work with computers (coming from arts backgrounds) and know that the fewer steps involved, the fewer chances for error. TERC takes just the opposite approach. It is not clean, it is not simple or elegant, TERC is just plain fuzzy. 


While it may be true that 76% of District 2 students meet state standards, the dirty little secret is that our scores are skewed because parents are resorting to private tutors.


Many parents in schools like PS41, 6 and 234 have the money to pay exhorbitant hourly rates for tutors, superseding TERC.  The percentiles do not reflect the success of TERC, but rather the financial success of a fairly large portion of the parent body. There are also many parents for whom this is a financial burden, but they have resorted to tutoring out of desperation.


If the scores of children who have had private tutoring in traditional math could be factored out, District 2's scores would present an altogether different picture.


I would suggest that you take a close look at the teaching methods of new math, best illustrated by the diagram in the Post this week. Take a really close look, go to some classrooms, ask some fifth graders to multiply 36 x 75, or to do a math problem involving decimals or fractions, but do so as a prospective parent.  Would you put your children into this math program?


District 2 children are a year behind in instruction compared to most private schools and now, in addition, they are saddled with a lack of basic math skills. 


Mr. Levy, many of us are stuck. The private schools are full and expensive, we made a commitment to public school in good faith and now those of us who want out cannot get out.


Class size and math are the two main reasons parents give when asked why they applied to private schools. It was enlightening to recently learn that none of the teachers at my son's school have enrolled their children in public schools.


I ask you to look at this issue not just as an administrator, but as a parent.


It is confusing when you say that you support traditional math because it has been repeatedly shown to work, yet you will allow District 2 to continue with new math. New math has worked well in District 2 according to administrators and teachers who embrace the theory with what approaches a cult-like zeal, but talk to the parents.


I attended a meeting at PS 234 last spring where parents were basically told that being able to add or multiply correctly was not the way to measure TERC's success. Being close is good enough as long as you understand the process. I doubt you would find this acceptable for your children, why should it be for mine? At this meeting, parent after parent, math professors, computer programmers, teachers from Stuyvesant and NYU spoke of the failure of constructivist math policies.


The emotional and financial investment District 2 has made to new math should not outweigh the interests of the children.  Please do not rely on a commission of experts, or those entrenched in the policies of new math, or those parents hand-picked for you to meet. Call an open meeting of District 2 parents, be sure to get a very big room, allow an unlimited amount of time, and you will get quite a different picture of how well things are going.






Susan Erlanger