Give schools some local freedom

Town and Village
April 5, 2001


To the Editor:

Peter Gale, a "former mathematician and parent of former PS 234 students," recently wrote concerning the School District 2 math curriculum and teaching. His letter ended with a renewed call for "a forum on the mathematics curriculum in District 2."

Elizabeth Carson, a current District 2 parent, has been leading a group in opposition to the current math program, and at one time had the agreement of the District to hold such a forum.

She invited me to be a speaker for her side, along with a mathematician from NYU.

District 2 was scheduled to present two experts of their own, with the public invited to listen, question or object.

That was perhaps a year ago. The forum got postponed, then it got uncertain, and finally District 2 informed us that no forum was needed.

Indeed, they are right: They have the answers already, and no Forum would or can change their minds about the math curriculum.

But they didn't explain this, we discovered it for ourselves, on the evidence on the web site of the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Lucy West, Director of Mathematics for District 2, is Principal Investigator for a five-year award from the NSF, amounting to an estimated $3,596,4000, for a project entitled, Reconceptualizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning Through Professional Development.

In applying for this grant three years ago, Ms West proposed to use exactly the programs that are now in use, ie the TERC program, called Investigations, and the Connected Mathematics middle school program, as part of a teacher education program, or perhaps research, with the children of District 2 and their teachers as subjects.

The project is scheduled to come to an end on May 31, 2003.

Since the District has over two more years to enjoy reconceptualizing at $600,000 per year, I think the best we can do now is to hope that, by 2003, the NSF can be induced to change its mind on what constitutes a good mathematics curriculum, stop funding the ghastly programs it has been commissioning in recent years, and to permit the schools to enjoy a bit of local freedom instead.

The current project does not require the aid of any real mathematicians let alone anyone as distinguished as my friends at NYU, or welcomes their scrutiny.

"School mathematics education" these days is a specialty having very little to do with mathematicians - or mathematics.

Ralph A Raimi
Prof Emeritus of Mathematics
University of Rochester

Reproduced with permission from Town and Village.

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