Put two and two together, unpublished NYDN reader reactions

Additional letters in response to Put two and two together, by Elizabeth Carson, Op-Ed, the New York Daily News, October 16, 2006.

October 16, 2006

Bravo to Elizabeth Carson for telling the plain truth about Everyday Mathematics ("Put Two and Two Together"; October 16, 2006). Everyday Mathematics and other atrocities that pass for math texts and whose development was funded through grants from the National Science Foundation, present dribs and drabs of information in a never-ending spiral fashion. Topics are revisited and reviewed in the belief that "if the students don't learn it now they'll learn it later". As Ms. Carson has shown, they don't.

have tutored students who are casualty cases of this program. Many are profoundly confused about how to multiply or divide. Teachers stuck with teaching this program bear an unfair burden. So do the students from low income families who don't have access to tutors or learning centers or parents who can teach them what they're ot being taught. Shame on the Mayor and the school board for ignoring parents' concerns, for dismissing expert opinions, and for buying into faddish non-proven programs that are short on content, and long on deception.

Barry Garelick McLean, VA

October 17, 2006

Thank you for printing Elizabeth's Carson excellent article, "Put Two and Two Together." Sadly, she echoes concerns of mathematicians and parents across the country whose school districts have bought into the snake oil of Everyday Math.

I was introduced to Everyday Math when my daughter was in 4th grade and my son in 1st. By the time my son was in third grade, I was writing to the school telling them I didn't want him practicing, or tested on, the lattice method of multiplication (the ancient Egyptian method referred to by your writer). My point was that I wanted him learning the standard algorithm well, not four ways "kind-of." By 4th grade, having seen the program from top to bottom, I pulled him out and schooled him at home for two years with a traditional, "real-math" book. He started middle school this August with the highest score on the math placement test for 6th graders.

Let's hope Ms. Carson's article serves as a wake-up call to parents who have been concerned over their children's failure to master what most of us agree are the basics. Time is wasting.

Sincerely, Carla Albers
Colorado Springs, CO

Oct 17, 2006

Congratulations to Elizabeth Carson for stating the case so clearly, directly, and convincingly.

Some would argue that curriculum is not a root cause (if not the major cause) because reading scores have shown similar patterns of decline. However, the reading/language arts K-12 curriculum is often as "fuzzy" as the math curriculum.

Fuzzy reading/language arts curricula tend to reject phonics as a teaching device. More tellingly, they tend to reject content knowledge and understanding, inferential reading, analysis of linguistic devices, etc. as important teaching goals. The constructivists control math curricula; the deconstructionists control English instruction. And we wonder why children can't compute, read, or write?

Carolyn Prager
APRPE Advocates for Public Representation in Public Education New York, NY

October 17, 2006

To the Editor:

It is uncanny how Elizabeth Carson's excellent Op-Ed of October 16, identifying why New York City's public school students do so poorly at math, equally explains the stubborn mediocrity of their reading scores and subsequent overall schooling. Yes, our schools do "use a far-too-fuzzy curriculum that fails to give kids rigorous instruction in the basics."

Exactly the same is true of reading. Even though the disastrous Whole Language movement that devastated reading scores nationwide in the '80s and '90s has been discredited by both science and disastrous results, its practices live on in the Balanced Literacy programs imposed by Chancellor Klein and his pro-WL advisors. During the learning-to-read phase, whole language practices such as encouraging students to guess at words from context or pictures, still persist, even though explicitly condemned by rigorous research as weakening crucial automaticity and accuracy of comprehension, leaving too many children lacking facility at reading and hence disliking to do it. What's more, once second-graders can read on their own, however easily or not, the content and quality of currently supplied texts is often boring, adds little to their vocabularies and meaningful knowledge, crucial to learning more substance, in turn more understanding, and so on. This, of course, is especially devastating to poor children who start off with a fraction of the vocabulary and general knowledge middle class children soak up at home.

Can we not at least test another approach?

What about designating twenty elementary schools city-wide, ten of them predominantly middle class and the other ten low-income, for introduction of BOTH Singapore Math or a comparable math program, AND a strongly phonics-based reading program, integrated with a lively knowledge-based program such as the Core Knowledge Sequence. To be tried in good faith for five years and the results compared at the end of that time.

Mayor Bloomberg, before you leave us, can you make this happen? It could change the world.

Louisa C. Spencer
New York Trustee, Core Knowledge Foundation

October 17, 2006

To the Editors:

Thank you for the fine editorial, "Put Two and Two Together" written by Elizabeth Carson, October 16, 2006, about Everyday Math. I have been an elementary classroom teacher for more than 30 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was a member of the California Curriculum Commission from November 1997 to December 31, 2001. Everyday Math was reviewed extensively by the Commission and the CA State Board of Education for possible state adoption in 2000. As a commissioner, I very closely studied the program, and I found it to be lacking in many areas of our state criteria. Furthermore, as a classroom teacher, I knew that this fuzzy, constructivist, game-driven program was not what my students needed. My students have thrived using Harcourt Math and Saxon Math, both systematic, explicit curricula based on the California state content standards. New York City students, parents, and teachers would also benefit from, as Ms. Carson states "rigorous instruction in the basics" of mathematics that does not include the use of calculators beginning in kindergarten.

Finally, please continue to feature editorials that expose the disaster that has been fuzzy math.


Patrice Abarca
Classroom Teacher Los Angeles Unified School District

October 18, 2006

Dear Editor:

Your October 16th Opinions piece "Put two and two together" by Elizabeth Carson was an eye-opener. We can listen to all the explanations of why "fuzzy math" is good for our children, and we can try to believe that family income,funding levels or class size are to blame for the generally abysmal math scores on standardized tests taken by New York City children. But what we can never do is to allow any excuses to make the facts "fuzzy". Facts are facts. And the ultimate fact cited by Ms. Carson's thoughtful assessment is worrisome: New York City children lag behind children in other states and other countries in their math achievement.

A solid basis in core math skills is what every child deserves to have from his education. Is our children's potential for learning different from children in California, or anywhere else? Not likely. But the way in which they are taught is different. If our kids are performing less well than others, it's time to provide them with the curriculum that is proven to help them achieve what others have achieved. Facts are facts; excuses don't count.

Cheryl Kantor-Goldenberg, DDS
New York, NY

October 18, 2006

To the Editor:

Thank you for publishing Elizabeth Carson's article (10.16.06) on math entitled "Put Two and Two Together." Parents all over this country have been waiting for just such an article because they know instinctively that their children's math skills are suffering under programs such as Everyday Math. The problem for most parents, however, is that they don't know exactly how to articulate their concerns to school authorities. Carson's article crystalizes what is wrong with Everyday Math, and now parents can take the article to their school districts as a means of explaining why it is that their children are not progressing in their math skills. You have done a great service by publishing the article.

Donna Garner
Hewitt, TX

October 18 2006

NY DAILY NEWS guest columnist Elizabeth Carson is 100% correct regarding the decades old excuses for the under performance of NYC children on standardized math tests. While we all can speculate about the weight to be attributed to the extent to which income and class size contributes to poor performance, the special interest groups blaming large class size, funding levels, and family income, are all wrong when they omit two major factors: "fuzzy or new math" curricula in lieu of traditional ciphering or algorithms replete with rote, and the failure to place sufficient qualified teachers of math and science in classrooms where they can professionally and freely implement a differentiated approach to effectively educate students with diverse learning styles, aptitudes, prior learning histories, and, yes family incomes, rather than adhering to one, centrally enforced curriculum for all.

District 2, under Superintendent Anthony Alvarado introduced and vigorously enforced these fuzzy, constructivist math concepts under the guise of "research" in order to adeptly secure additional funding from the National Science Foundation. The experiment in deviating from the "basics" in math [and English], has failed and it is time that parents spoke up, particularly during this election season.

Granville Leo Stevens
Independent Parents Organizations New York, NY

October 18, 2006

To The Editor:

Elizabeth Carson hit the nail on the head with her piece on Everyday Math in your October 16th issue. I live in an Everyday Math district in Pennsylvania. Six years ago, when our district first adopted this program, my third grade daughter came home with a typical Everyday Math assignment. She was to bring in an advertisement with a "percent off" sale. When she returned from school I asked her how it was used in class. "Did you calculate the money you would save by multiplying the percent off by the original price and subtracting it to get the sale price?" "No, Mom, first we rounded off, then we estimated, then we used our calculators." "Did you figure out what the sale price was?" "No, we weren't supposed to."

Lessons like this led to a significant drop in her school's state math test score two years later.

Today we are considered an Everyday Math success story. I will share some of our secrets:

1) Have teachers accept the use of traditional algorithms rather than Everyday Math methods. Better yet, have a teacher ask a class for a moment of silence because, "The lattice method just died."

2) Send notes home to parents begging them to work with their children on memorizing basic math facts.

3) Have teachers who supplement Everyday Math with traditional exercises and/or worksheets.

4) Replace Everyday Math in your top 6th grade math group with a Pre-Algebra textbook.

5) Use Everyday Math in a generally affluent area where educated parents either teach their children additional math at home or write large checks for tutoring services.

6) Continue to use traditional math programs in 7th through 12th grade.

7) Send the bill for the expensive Everyday Math program to taxpayers through increased property taxes.


Sharon Collopy
Doylestown, PA

October 18, 2006

Elizabeth Carson's letter of 16 October correctly identified the main culprit in the continuing deterioration of mathematics learning in the schools.

She was writing about New York City, but you can be assured that everything she said applies in Rochester, including some of its more affluent suburbs.

Good plumbing is nice, and orderly classrooms are of course a necessity, but no amount of money put into buildings and security will teach children mathematics if they are afflicted, as New York and Rochester are, with books and programs that avoid even arithmetic. These programs are, unfortunately, encouraged by federal money designed to have education professors coach the teachers in their use. What a waste -- both of money and of children.

Replacing these programs is the first necessity. If there is an iron law of mathematics instruction it is that children tend not to learn what they are not taught. The ideology behind the "reform" math programs is, exactly, to *not* teach, but to present problems for cooperative groups of children to solve by methods of their own devising. Such lessons take forever, and in the meanwhile such things as how to multiply three-digit numbers, or divide one fraction by another, are left out. In fact, all the standard algorithms are downright discouraged. We who teach more advanced mathematics observe these deficiencies just as fast as standardized state test scores do, probably faster, since the tests are themselves pretty primitive.

If the schools managed to teach even the arithmetic of a hundred years ago they would accomplish a major part of the comeback. But they are against it. I wish someone could talk them out of that.

Ralph A. Raimi
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics
University of Rochester

October 19, 2006

To the editors:

A hearty thank you to Elizabeth Carson for writing the Op. Ed. on Monday, October 16, 2006 "Put Two and Two Together"

I recall the time six years ago when I naively sent my oldest off to kindergarten in public school on the upper eastside thinking that he would get a good solid education. Boy, was I mistaken. In a classic case of "the Emperor Has No Clothes" the administration and teachers assured the parents that their children were gaining a "great math sense," even though by fourth grade they didn't know their times tables or have any facility in adding columns of numbers.

My favorite assignment that my son received in those early years: write a story about 112 minus 13! This might be o.k. if the curriculum included a grounding in the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, but it doesn't. The parents "in the know" work hard to get tutors or supplement their children. However, the children of New York City will continue to suffer unless there are changes to the curriculum.

Kudos also to the Daily News for writing about this issue. Many parents remain as naive as I once was and assume their children are learning what most reasonable people assume they need to learn in mathematics.

I would love to see more in depth coverage on curricular choices, across all the disciplines, in New York City and how poor the Klein administration's choices have been. (Hey, if you do that, I'll be happy to even bring you a piece of!)

Betsy Scherl (former District 2 parent)

October 21, 2006

Dear Editor,

In 1984, Uniondale High School's AP Calculus class was a diverse bunch. Led by the late Frank Toner, the program was tough. Mr. Toner set the bar high, and didn't mince words when he thought we were slacking. We were black. We were white. We were male. We were female. We graduated and went to Harvard, MIT, and an assortment of excellent colleges.

What made us successful? A well-executed, traditional, demanding program. Not one of us took supplementary classes; there was no need. How offensive for reform math advocates to suggest that women and minorities can't excel in traditional mathematics programs!

To achieve success and equality in mathematics education, we must provide equal access to well-executed, traditional rigor starting in the earliest grades. Reform math programs, like Everyday Math and Investigations, tether a child's success to their parents' willingness and ability to supplement and are doomed to widen achievement gaps, not narrow them. Reform math programs propagate the very inequities they strive to eliminate.

Mr. Toner, Mr. Silverman, Mr. Roberti, thank you! Thank you for setting high standards. You were appreciated then, you are appreciated even more now!

Holly Tsakiris Horrigan
Uniondale High School 1984
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1988

October 23, 2006

Re "Put two and two together" (Oct. 16): Why do educated men like Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein act contrarian in the face of compelling evidence? It goes like this: Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Belgium, and the Czech Republic represent some of the top performing countries in math as determined by the TIMSS (Trends in International Math and Science Study). What these countries have in common, other than their performance, is the remarkable similarity in their national math standards. The textbooks they use correlate to those standards.

A few very noble and brilliant professors of mathematics persuaded California to do the same. With their help, California developed standards that emulated those of the top performing TIMSS nations. Most California schools purchased the state adopted textbooks that correlated well to the new standards. Their scores took off. No surprise.

As obvious as this rational approach to implementing mathematics curricula sounds, the management of New York City schools has decided they know better. They have implemented the very same type of curriculum that took the California scores into the tank in the first place. New York City schools not doing so well in math? No surprise.

My daughters had the same program, Everyday Math, which NYC has been implementing. I spent summers remediating and filling in the gaps so they would be ready for algebra. Not all kids have a mom who was a math major and an engineer. That is why we must demand that experimentation on our children stop. That is why we must demand those acting in this contrarian manner be held accountable. Someone needs to call these guys on the carpet. And for the sake of the children, it needs to be done sooner rather than later.

Karen Budd
Oakton, VA

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