From: Ralph A. Raimi
Sent: Saturday, March 26, 2005 1:33 PM
To: Hedrick Smith Productions
Subject: Successful District 2 in NYC?
My friends in New York City tell me that your organization is producing a documentary film on education of some sort, and that one of your examples of educational success is New York City's District 2. I know that documentary films cannot help but present a point of view, i.e., that facts do not speak for themselves, but the distortion of the facts by the educational establishment in New York City in this case goes beyond "point of view". I do not know what part of that distortion has made its way into your film, but any part of it is too much.
I'd like to warn you that the District 2 story as given -- not only to you but to the public as a whole -- is quite false, in mathematics education at least. I have been closely associated with a group of mathematicians of the City University of NY, and of NYU as well, a group led and organized, however, by a District 2 parent named Elizabeth Carson.
In years of studying the facts we have found that the curriculum District 2 imposed, with money from the National Science Foundation's Education and Human Resources division, was mischievous, to say the least. That program is still in place, though District 2 is now renamed.
The stone-age mathematics they have been forcing on a defenseless generation of students (it is called "real-life", "problem-centered", "discovery" and so on by its mathematically ignorant proponents) has in fact destroyed the matheamatical progress of innumerable students there, and of their teachers as well. By removing real mathematics from the curriculum *called* math they are forcing the children to abjure what the world has developed as mathematics over the past few thousand years, in favor of silly "real-life" exercises in making posters and measuring school yards.
The apparent success of District 2 -- whose average students are in truth above city and state averages and have been for generations -- derives merely from its unusual demographic structure. That district includes the academics and intellectuals of Greenwich Village and its NYU and New School neighbors, the well-disciplined and eager children of Chinatown, and the upscale populations of affluent districts such as Tribeca and the upper East Side.
In previous generations such people already did well by their children, by sending them to school and taking an interest in their progress. They had books in the house, and they were often professionals themselves. Under the recent regime of "new-new math", the kids are no longer *permitted* to learn math in school. Their teachers are punished if they depart from the anti-math programs they are given. Fortunately for many District 2 children, the parents teach them if they can, or send them to private tutors, or to after-school math classes such as Kumon (a Japanese system that is entirely opposite to the theories of the present educational establishment).
The test scores that make for the apparent success I spoke of above are themselves suspect. What, exactly, do they test? Trivialities, mainly; I have seen them. I can assure you that any judgment made on the basis of present day testing is already shaky. They may serve to compare one district with another, but a simple vocabulary test will show the same difference, given the population of District 2.
I tell you this: Give a test asking questions having *nothing at all* to do with what is taught in school, and you will also find that the District 2 chidren do better than in other districts. Would that show good value in their math program? What the tests don't show is whether this superiority -- comparative superiority -- represents anything that has been taught in the schools. In mathematics I can assure you it does not.
The parents and matheamaticians of District 2, along with me and a few other "outsiders", have for years been trying to get District 2 to change its math program. (Actually, my daughter lives in District 2, and *her* daughter went to Stuyvesant High School down there, a school that was fortunately exempt from the Stone-age programs District 2 has been paid to adopt.) District 2 officials, led by directors and superintendents and project leaders and all that swarm of officials who know nothing of mathematics, have stone-walled the parents as long as they held their NSF-EHR grants, and will continue to do so without fail as long as those grants hold out.
I believe this will be for only a few years more. Then, watch for it, the minute the money runs out the District and the City -- for the whole City of New York is now plagued with these math programs -- will revert to something the parents know is better even without having to ask the mathematicians. Meanwhile the District 2 success has been the destruction of a generation of school children. Well, of part of them. The rest of them got tutoring or home-schooling assistance. They paid double for math eduction, in time or in money, while their poorer neighbors, paying only once, got nothing.
In completing your documentary I suggest you take your cameramen to NYC and interview Elizabeth Carson, the leader of the parents opposed to the math programs there, and ask her to introduce you to some of the conveniently nearby math professors at NYU, or to any of the CUNY math department chairmen. You can find her in the phone book. Even if you still include the "success story" you are said to have filmed, these interviews will provide a salutary balance. It could, for that matter, become that way a quite exciting film.
(By the way, I am of the generation of Dave Brubeck, and have been a fan of his along with you. Now, music you can hear with your own ears, and judge. Beware of Education, the story of which you get at second hand. The truth there is not easily visible; it is hidden behind seven or eight veils.)
Ralph A. Raimi
Dept. of Mathematics
University of Rochester
Rochester, NY 14627-0138
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