Teaching mathematics has been my profession in New York City public schools since 1969, first at I.S. 201 in District 5, then at J.H.S. 17 in District 2, and since 1983, at Stuyvesant High School. I’m also the father of a 10-year-old daughter who attends District 2 schools and a member of an organization, Nychold (nychold.com), dedicated to bringing sanity to math education.
I’m a firm believer in public education, the great equalizer. Sadly, over the past 10 years, I’ve witnessed how badly things can go wrong. I am referring specifically to the constructivist math curricula that abound in our city public schools in general and more specifically in District 2, where I live, teach, and raise my daughter.
Constructivist curricula, such as TERC and CMP, forsake algorithms, postulates, and theorems (the foundation of math) as well as teacher-centered learning. Instead, they have students working among themselves in groups, loosely guided by the teacher in a drawn out attempt to “discover” math truths.
In my Upper East Side neighborhood, an incredible number of intelligent young students from the fourth grade and up are seeing private math tutors. Many of these are not the type of children who would normally struggle in arithmetic or elementary algebra. As a result of the way they’re taught elementary math, they find themselves unable to do real math. When they’re taught math in a more traditional way by their tutors, they invariably find themselves relieved and highly critical of the way they’ve been taught mathematics.
At Stuyvesant, we have a disproportionate number of freshmen from District 2 taking our introductory algebra course. Most Stuyvesant students have already completed that course before they enter our school. The ratio of District 2 students to non-District 2 students in those classes is close to twice that same ratio in the freshman class as a whole.