Somerset Elementary School Parents Concerned about TERC Curriculum

January 22, 2003

To: Dr. Mike Riley, Superintendent of Bellevue School District

From: Somerset Elementary Parents Concerned about TERC

We have followed our children's experience and progress with the Somerset Elementary math curriculum, TERC, and have grown increasingly concerned. Some of us have researched the program and its use in other regions and found that we are not alone in our concerns, rather, our experiences and worries are shared by parents across the country. Additionally, 200 mathematics professors from such prestigious institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford and CalTech, seven of which were Nobel laureates or Fields medal winners, sent an open letter to the US Secretary of Education opposing the type of math program currently employed at Somerset Elementary[1]. Moreover, an independent review of elementary school math programs[2] gave our program their lowest ranking, a grade of "F." In their report they stated, "There is nothing to recommend about this program. The use of this program in our public schools is a strong argument for vouchers."

This concern has prompted us to send this request for a new math program for the start of the next school year and to schedule a meeting with you to directly relate our experiences.[3]

While aspects of the review are highly technical, the following substantial and notable omissions from the TERC program include:

Certainly part of the premise upon which this TERC program is sold has merit: an emphasis on teaching conceptual math. However, they offer up their program as the solution to a straw-man, and equally unappealing, prospect of unending drill. TERC is not the only program that emphasizes concepts. Elementary math experts suggest that the best programs emphasize both concepts and techniques[4]. Some highly regarded programs include Singapore math, SRA Math, Sadlier Math and Saxon math.

Is this the first time that a well-intentioned school administration has adopted a new, and well packaged, curriculum that ill served the students? Recall that the state of California adopted a progressive reading system, Whole Language, that similarly went against common sense. Statewide test scores plummeted for a decade. This led Bill Honig, the chief advocate of the program, to call for its complete repeal, but not until after millions of students were adversely affected.

In response to parental inquiries, members of the school district, including teachers, principals and specialists, have in fact recognized that the TERC program has fundamental flaws. However, their initial suggestions have been to simply supplement the TERC program. Given the depth and breadth of the faults of the TERC program, supplementation would either constitute a massive restructuring or would represent a token effort. Moreover, any such supplemental material would be contrary to, and incompatible with, the TERC system thus creating confusion for teachers and students. "In the Investigations (TERC) curriculum, standard algorithms are not taught because they interfere with a child's growing number sense and fluency with the number system."[5]

We ask that you as the superintendent of the Bellevue School District address this serious issue now and have a quality, comprehensive and balanced math curriculum in place September 1, 2003.

Thank you for your time and interest.

Jodi Gable and Erin Johnson

For more information on this topic, please look at the following web sites:


[2] Review by Mathematically Correct for the Education Connection of Texas.

[3] Please contact Jodi Gable for scheduling this meeting.

[4] Wu, H., "Basic Skills Versus Conceptual Understanding: A Bogus Dichotomy in Mathematics Education", American Educator, Fall 1999

Askey, R. "Knowing and Teaching Elementary Mathematics", American Educator, Fall 1999

[5] Beyond Arithmetic: Changing Mathematics in the Elementary Classroom, pg.74

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