New York teacher preparation and "deep understanding"

By Ralph A. Raimi

26 April 2001

To the Editor
New York Post

Carl Campanile's article on New York teacher preparation, citing a report prepared for Schools Chancellor Harold Levy's office, notes that "college teacher-education programs haven't required challenging math courses... There is no substitute for deep understanding of mathematics..."

All this is quite true, but if you ask the officials of District 2 if anything is being done about it, you will get the explanation that their 3.5 million dollar National Science Foundation grant, a five year effort with two years yet to run, is the way to go. Their project is called Reconceptualizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning Through Professional Development. I think that means "starting again".

But a well-informed group of NYU and CUNY mathematics and computer science professors believes this is the wrong place to start again. In particular, the text materials being used in the District 2 classrooms are a miserable excuse for a math program, as many mathematicians -- and District 2 parents -- have recognized from the start. To "reconceptualize" teaching with such materials not only deprives today's children of the introduction to real mathematics they all need if they are to avoid mathematical illiteracy, it is certainly as bad an influence on the teachers as well, who are being coached by their NSF-sponsored mentors (none of them mathematicians or computer scientists) for a long future of exactly the "substitute for deep understanding of mathematics" condemned by the Chancellor's advisors.

How many generations shall it take before sense is restored?

Ralph A. Raimi
Department of Mathematics
University of Rochester

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