'Constructivist' Method Supposedly Simple. Critics: 'Pernicious And Confusing'

New York-WCBS April 17, 2001

[Based in part on a conversation between Mr. David Diaz and NYC HOLD at the Courant Institute, NYU. The transcript was once at www.cbs2ny.com . --nychold]

Fuzzy Math In The Classroom

'Constructivist' Method Supposedly Simple
Students Learning New Numerical Approach
Critics: 'Pernicious And Confusing'

The New York City board of education has started teaching a new method of doing math that's supposed to be easier for students but critics say the "constructivist" method is just making things more difficult, arguing it is a confusing and pernicious way of teaching math, CBS 2's David Diaz reports.

Take the basic problem of multiplying 18 times 9, which equals 162.

Under the new fuzzy math, you might start with 10 times 9, which equals 90, then multiply 8 times 9 to get 72 and then add 90 and 72 to get 162.

Or you start by multiplying 9 times 9 to get 81 and since 18 is double 9, you double 81 to get 162.

Still another approach is to first multiply 18 times 10 to get 180, then subtract 18 to get 162.

This movement comes at a time when almost 80 percent of eighth graders and over 50 percent of fourth graders in New York City schools are failing standardized math tests.

"My son is now 13 and as late as seventh grade, he was still stumbling with multiplication facts, division facts," says Elizabeth Carson, a parent. "They don't come quickly to him."

The approach to math teaching is being supported by millions in federal dollars and is being pushed in the New York City schools but any evidence that it works is being questioned.

"Much to my surprise, there seems to be no substantive research whatsoever," says Bas Braams, a research professor at New York University.

And the critics say while the poorest students suffer the consequences the most, math tutors are the ones benefiting.

"They tell us for the first time they are getting kids who are smart, interested in math, capable and still don't know it," says Prof. Sylvain Cappell.

"If you have the money and can afford to tutor your kid, you can make up for the deficiencies in these programs," says Prof. Fred Greenleaf. "If you don't have the money, you're stiffed."

Return to the NYC HOLD main page or the NYC HOLD News page.