To Chancellor Klein
From Susan Erlanger, former CSD #2 parent
December 29, 2002
Dear Chancellor Klein:
I consider myself a 6-year veteran of the public school system. My son entered school proficient in math and reading above grade level. In first grade his school became a site school for TERC math. By third grade his math skills were seriously deteriorating as his frustration level grew. A child who could calculate complex addition and subtraction at the age of 5 was suddenly struggling. Homework through third grade involved virtually no computation, was all "word based" and so poorly written that his father and I (both math/computer professionals) could make no sense of it.
By 4th grade, despite assurances that my son was one of the school's top math students, I found his multiplication and subtraction skills were lacking and he had no sense of place value. Although he scored a Level 4 on the city-wide 4th grade test, his ISEE math score (a test used for private school admission) was mid-range with a Stanine of 7. This was after I took a look at the ISEE test prep material and helped him catch up as much as possible, otherwise he would have scored even lower. The discrepancy between the city test and the SAT-tracked ISEE scores was certainly troubling.
We applied to both private and public middle schools. At the public middle school orientation (a test and interview-in school) we were told that class size would "only" be 36 and that we wouldn't be able to see the French classroom as the ceiling had fallen in a few days earlier. The prior year a 6th grade math assignment at this school had been to "write about your favorite number." We moved Sam to private school.
It proved to be a rough adjustment. September 11th was his first day at the new school, we live downtown and he had some post-traumatic stress symptoms. In December we were also dealing with the death of a beloved pet, so as the testing period approached I expected to see lower scores.
And yet, despite all the turmoil, after 3 months in a substantive math program, my son scored over 94% on an SAT-tracked math test, a first since the Kindergarten ERB's. This was the first time after five years with TERC math that his test scores in math reflected what IQ tests had indicated was his potential math level.
I do not believe that test success is everything however, our personal experience with constructivist math programs is telling. My son is lucky that his natural aptitude for math allowed him to catch up quickly. However, if this is my child's experience what about those who have average math aptitude, let alone children who struggle with basics? Where have years of a math curriculum that is just plain goofy left these children and how will they ever catch up?
During the years in public school I sat through numerous mind-numbing "programs" for parents where this curriculum was explained to us again and again. Parents who were math professors at prestigious schools and professionals in math-oriented fields and troubled about the lack of substance in the math program were brushed off. The district developers seemed to think that if they just kept explaining what they were trying to do, parents would suddenly not care that their kids weren't learning to do basic computation.
Expertise was strangely lacking at the district development level. Lucy West, at that time the head of District 2 math programs, had a degree in theater arts, little classroom experience and was receiving enormous sums of grant money to research the success of the programs she was being paid to implement in the district. This was a scandalous conflict of interest and should never happen again. I will always wonder whether the reluctance of the district to look seriously at the concerns of parents was clouded by the awarding of these grants.
A friend of mine recently asked me, "Why do you care, you got out?" What a sad thing for a public school parent to say. Yes, we got out but there are thousands of children who can't and lose ground every day that these programs remain.
As a taxpayer, as someone who comes from a family of public school teachers, and as a former public school parent, I urge you to abandon these constructivist math programs and ensure that a substantive replacement that provides children with strong building blocks is implemented as soon as possible.
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