NYC HOLD announces launch of seminal Web site on NYC math education

NYC HOLD Press Release
October 28, 2002

NYC HOLD Honest Open Logical Debate on math reform: A coalition of concerned parents, teachers, mathematicians and scientists working to improve mathematics education in NYC schools

Elizabeth Carson, Co-Founder
212.529.1302, 917.208.7153

NYC HOLD Honest Open Logical Debate on Mathematics Education Reform proudly announces the launch of our new Web site at (for a period of time, visitors will be automatically redirected to our interim NYU address)

NYC HOLD (Honest Open Logical Debate on Mathematics Education Reform) was formed in order to address issues and controversies in mathematics education reform in New York City schools. We are a nonpartisan advocacy organization that provides parents, educators, mathematicians and other concerned citizens information and opportunities to work together to improve the quality of mathematics education in the New York City schools.

NYC HOLD's original mission was address of parents' developing concerns with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards-based reform programs piloted in Manhattan Community School District 2.

The new 'constructivist' math programs, with popular names such as "new-new math" or "fuzzy math" have inspired parental concerns and debate since their implementation over the latter half of the 90's. The experimental programs are now being tried in over 60% of NYC schools. Local resistance to 'fuzzy math' mirrors similar conflicts in regions across the country, which have come to be known as the "Math Wars."

NYC HOLD statement of positions and goals:

Many of us owe our current success to the magnificent education we obtained in New York public schools. Many of us have entrusted our children to the public school system. We want our children to receive, as we did, a love of learning, preparation for life, and the foundation for success in college and careers.

WE ARE PARENTS. We have followed our children's experience and progress in NCTM Standards-based mathematics programs and have grown increasingly concerned. We have studied the materials and teaching approaches in our children's schools. Some of us have researched the programs and their 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.

We have been dismayed and frustrated by teachers' reports that their hands are tied, that they're not free to teach with the materials and methods they believe best suited for our children. We have learned that mathematicians and scientists have confirmed our suspicions that the programs lack adequate skills development, important topics, and the rigor necessary to prepare our children for advanced high school math and science courses and pursuit of college math-based courses and majors.

While we value strategies to engage students, that promote understanding and help make the study of mathematics accessible to the broadest number of students, we reject a constructivist approach that (1) de-emphasizes and devalues basic skills mastery (2) denigrates the importance of memorization and practice (3) lacks prescription for regular assessment of skills mastery, conceptual understanding and problem solving (4) promotes literacy skills to a greater degree than mathematical competency (5) is dismissive of the fundamental value of a textbook to provide coherence, and bridge classroom instruction with parent support at home (6) that leaves our children poorly prepared for standardized assessments and entrance examinations for competitive middle school admissions and the specialized math and science high schools (7) that leaves our children bored or hopelessly frustrated.

We believe our children are victims of curriculum experimentation that is imposed without parent choice, without independent review, and without regard for even the most evident near- and long-term damage to our children's education. Our children, many with good grades and praised by their teachers, are left confused and unable to perform the most routine calculations.

Those of us who can afford it, and some who cannot, have spent enormous sums on outside tutoring while achieving only partial success.

We have sought assistance from college mathematics professors, who have without exception or reservation validated our concerns.

We have many times appealed, individually and in group, to district and central board administrators, and have been met with arrogance and hostility.

We want an alternative to the NCTM Standards-based math programs, the choice to enroll our children in coherent, rigorous, college preparatory K-12 mathematics programs.

WE ARE MATHEMATICIANS. We are professors at New York University, at the seventeen constituent colleges of the City University of New York, and throughout the country. We have examined closely new curricula being implemented in New York City and nationwide, and believe firmly that K-12 students subjected to these curricula, including TERC Investigations, CMP, IMP, and ARISE, will have little if any chance to succeed in even basic mathematics and science courses when they get to college. The Board of Education has insisted on implementing these curricula, based on what is called "constructivist" educational philosophy, despite the fact that they have been denounced by mathematicians locally and nationwide.

The percentage of high school students for whom solid mathematics preparation is a prerequisite for success in college and careers is large and is increasing. We firmly believe that every student is capable of mastering the pre-college mathematics needed for success in college math courses. We contend that the New York City Board of Education has the absolute obligation to provide all of its students with that degree of mastery. For at least thirty years, it has not done so.

During that time, the Board sought little if any input from college mathematics professors responsible for working with graduates of the school system. Particularly troubling are events of the last decade, during which the New York City Board of Education co-operated fully with constructivist educators, whose vision for mathematics education reform threatens to abolish all aspects of traditional mathematics education.

This vision, supported and promulgated to the exclusion of all others by the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics), claims that all students, but especially minorities and women, need a new approach. Their solution, regrettably in our view, is curricula that replace explicit instruction and practice by reliance on calculators, pictures, and models, all to the detriment of traditional skills development. Students are thereby deprived of facility with the algebraic language of mathematics, without which it is impossible to obtain later a true understanding of, or to succeed, in college mathematics. These curricula, all imposed without outside evaluation or consultation with college mathematics departments, are profoundly deficient programs built on a wrongheaded and content-poor ideology of mathematics education.

WE ARE K-12 EDUCATORS. We are teachers who know and love real mathematics and want nothing more than to teach real mathematics, understand that mathematics does not come naturally. It is a skill which must be taught, developed and practiced.

The constructivist curricula rely on students' discovery of their own solutions and algorithms. In the best of circumstances this only delays learning, and most often it denies students access to the important standard algorithms used over the past hundreds of years.

To downplay the teaching of traditional algorithms is a terrible disservice to all students. The standard methods generalize and scale. In other words, they can be used to solve all problems, small and large, of a particular type. Most of the various methods that the students are taught in the "reform" curricula either don't generalize or are so cumbersome that they put the students at an extreme disadvantage, compared to those students who have been taught the standard algorithms properly and with inclusion of clear explanations as to why they work. Mastery of the standard algorithms provides a basis for the learning of algebra and higher mathematics. Without mastery and understanding, students face an extremely difficult time advancing.

We know that District 2, while claiming marginal improvements in test scores, omits acknowledgement of the oftentimes heroic clandestine contributions of classroom teachers who have chosen, at some professional risk, to defy district constructivist directives, quietly close their doors, and teach their students real math. We know the District 2 test scores also reflect to a large degree the huge investment in outside tutoring by those parents who can afford it. We are aware of the unacceptably low level of achievement and precipitous decline in the scores of students in some heavily poor and minority District 2 schools where supplementation and outside tutoring is far less pervasive.

We are concerned with the modification of city and state testing instruments, which exclude a proper battery of grade-appropriate questions involving basic procedural skills.

We know that in New York City, despite proponents' attempts to claim success, even the elite New York City high schools have seen a decline in the mathematical competence of incoming students from Manhattan District 2, Brooklyn District 15, and other districts that have been using the constructivist curricula for a period of years.

We believe that students should not be forced into inferior constructivist programs in their foundation elementary and middle school training, that leave them unprepared and at a distinct disadvantage in high school math and science classes, and in subsequent college math and science courses and careers. We believe that our capacity to teach mathematics is being severely compromised by inferior "reform" curricula.

In conclusion, we who know, appreciate and teach mathematics are appalled by the disservice being done to a whole generation of our students.

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