NYC Honest Open Logical Debate (NYC HOLD)

On Math Reform

                        Contact: Elizabeth Carson  212.529.1302  917.208.715




November 27, 2000






New York, NY. NYU mathematicians  speak out against controversial new math programs being taught in NYC’s premiere School District 2 in Manhattan.

Community School Board 2 will hear the professors’ preliminary report at the calendar meeting on Tuesday, November 28, 6:30 pm  at 333 7th Ave, Seventh Floor.


A groundswell of parent concern over how math is being taught in District 2 schools led to a front page New York Times article last spring, “The New, Flexible Math Meets Parent Rebellion.” CBS Weekend News brought national attention to the local struggle last May in the segment, “New, New Math = Controversy.”


District 2 parents have now gained the support of mathematicians at NYU and the University of Rochester in grieving their concerns to District officials. The professors

are scheduled to take part in a Math Forum sponsored by Community School Board 2 scheduled for March 1, 2001.


The controversy in District 2 has gained the attention of Schools Chancellor Harold O. Levy and members of his recently established Commission on Mathematics Education charged with investigating how math is being taught in schools across the city.


District 2 pilots the latest wave of experimental math programs, called the “new, new math,” echoing an earlier failed reform in the 60’s called “new math.”

Memorization of math facts is no longer emphasized. Children are encouraged to use language to describe solutions and the way they feel about math.


Community response in NYC and across the country has erupted in what have become known as the “math wars.” Critical parents, joined by mathematicians and scientists advocate clarity and balance in math reform: urging the inclusion of grade by grade goals, explicit teaching of standard procedures, basic skill building and rigor along with the inclusion of some of the creative exercises in the new programs. The pendulum has swung too far and must be corrected.



One parent, Mark Schwartz, in testimony last year before the House Education and Workforce Committee stated: “If medical doctors experimented with our kids in the same fashion school districts do they would be in jail.” The hearings were held to review the US Department of Education’s endorsement of 10 of the experimental programs.


Over 200 of the nation’s top mathematicians, including seven Nobel Laureates and winners of the Fields Medal, the highest award in mathematics; among them the department heads at more than a dozen universities including Caltech, Stanford and Yale, responded to the federal endorsements with an open letter of protest to Secretary of Education Richard Riley, published in the Washington Post in November, 1999.


“These programs are among the worst in existence,” said David Klein, a Cal

State Northridge professor who was one of the letter’s authors. “To recommend these books as exemplary and promising would be joke if it weren’t so damaging.”


Several of the cited programs, Interactive Mathematics Project (IMP),Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) and Everyday Mathematics are now being used in NYC schools.


The new wave of math reform is based on a “constructivist” teaching philosophy; emphasizing creative exercises, hands-on projects and group work, with far less attention given to basic skills. Students are asked to ‘construct’ their own solutions. The use of calculators is encouraged. Teachers are instructed to serve as “facilitators” and are discouraged from explaining to students the standard solutions of basic arithmetic. Practice and drill have been eliminated. In higher grades algebra is de-emphasized. Many of the programs have no textbooks.


Members of Chancellor Levy’s Math Commission will consider the new programs, which are being used in over 60% of NYC schools, including roughly 50 of the city’s weakest, which comprise the Chancellor’s District . Plans are set to expand implementation into more schools. One of the most controversial programs,  the Interactive Mathematics Project (IMP), will be mandated in Bronx High Schools beginning next year.


Professor Richard Askey, who holds an endowed chair in math at the University of Wisconsin, explained his motives in co-authoring the protest letter to Secretary Riley, “I’m hoping to provide ammunition for teachers who are under pressure to adopt some of these programs.”


High math scores remained stable in some of the privileged District 2 schools, last year; though some schools’ scores dropped significantly. Across the rest of the city, 75% of eighth grade students failed the state math test ; 66% failed the city math tests. Answers are critical at a time when graduation requires students pass a new math Regents exam.




It was the introduction of Connected Mathematics Project (CMP) and Investigations  in Number Data and Space (TERC), two of the District 2 programs, that sparked the initial parent revolt that led to the California Math Wars. Six parents in Plano, Texas have filed suit in federal court against their local school district after parent requests for an alternative to CMP were denied. A nuclear physicist in Okemos Michigan led the local campaign against CMP. The use of TERC in one school system in Massachusetts prompted members of the Harvard Mathematics Department to issue a public protest. Parents in Reading Massachusetts fought the adoption of Everyday Math.


The “new, new math” programs are based on the 1989 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Standards. Frank Allen, past president of the NCTM and Emeritus professor of Mathematics at Elmhurst College comments: “NCTM leaders must admit that they have urged the application, on a national scale of highly controversial methods of teaching before they have been adequately debated or understood and before researchers have verified them by well-controlled and replicated studies.”