Stories & Grievances
Bruce WinoKur, New York City Math Teacher, Fights Against the Fuzzy Math Folk, the Mayor and Chancellor
June 2, 2005
Dear Chancellor Klein,
My name is Bruce Winokur. I began teaching mathematics at IS 201M during the contentious late 60's because I wanted to make a difference and I thought that that would be a great way to do so. I became disillusioned with the policies there and moved on to JHS 17M where I spent an exciting 12 years. I finally decided to get back to my roots, a love of higher mathematics, and began teaching at Stuyvesant High School, where I've been happily ensconced since 1983. Presently, I'm teaching both AB and BC Calculus as well as our Mathematics Research class from which all of Stuyvesant's Intel finalists and many of our semifinalists over the past 8 years have come.
I'm also the father of a wonderful 10 year old girl who is graduating from The Manhattan New School this month and will be moving on to East Side Middle School. I'm enamored with the loving and nurturing education Michelle has received at MNS, but I've felt that her math education has been woefully inadequate. This is not because the teachers are not good. They're wonderful. Rather, it's because of the dreaded TERC curriculum and pedagogy that they employ. When Michelle was in the first grade, I donated 2 entire more traditional K-5 curricula to MNS after speaking with both the principal and the math coach. I also spoke at a School Board 2 meeting about the harm that their curricula were doing. No changes were made, even though I was far from the only dissatisfied parent in the District. In fact, the District , through their math coordinator at the time, Lucy West, forced their principals and teachers to teach these curricula and solely these curricula. Teachers who knew better had no choice. Either do it or leave. I know that that happened in many junior high schools and elementary schools at the very least. Today, the situation is not much better. I work regularly with a significant number of Michelle's friends teaching them the basic arithmetic that TERC fails to do. I also work with middle school students who have to suffer through the equally horrible CMP. These are the type of intelligent young kids who would never have needed tutoring in the past. The only reason they do is the curriculum that is being used.
I have dedicated my professional life to the mathematics education of the youngsters of New York City. It is heartbreaking to me that both my daughter and countless others are being denied what should be a basic right. At least I'm able to help out some kids, but as you might suspect, my daughter won't listen to me.
When you began your leadership, you appointed Diana Lam, a known constructivist, as your curriculum person. She reached out to many people in a supposedly unbiased attempt to come up with the best possible mathematics curricula for the kids of our city. I was one of those people as were some colleagues of mine at Courant Institute of NYU and CCNY. In a number of meetings, we advised her quite strongly to steer clear of these highly controversial constructivist curricula and, in fact, recommended some good , more traditional mathematics curricula. Unfortunately, when I saw who was on the committee she formed to make the decision, I knew we had no chance and that the kids of this city would suffer. This has come to pass.
The people who adopted these curricula for our great city, beginning with Anthony Alvarado, ignored the failures of these curricula that were well-documented in both California and Texas. People who rose to power were ones who were in line with them. It wasn't the mathematicians or the math teachers who spearheaded this movement. In fact, one of the biggest supporters was Lucy West, the theater major who was appointed math coordinator of District 2. She, as many others did, built her career on this support, to the great detriment of our kids.
I urge you to visit www.nychold.com. We are a coalition of mathematicians, scientists, teachers and parents who have been fighting these curricula for 6 years. We modeled our organization after www.mathematicallycorrect.com, a similar organization formed in California a number of years ago. We are not extremists or crackpots. We're some of the most respected mathematics researchers, professors and teachers in the profession, as well as many intelligent, caring and frustrated parents. In addition, I recently posted a position paper on our website which was picked up by the New York Sun and published in their Tuesday, June 1 edition. You owe it to yourself and the children of New York City to educate yourself on this issue via these resources.
I was present last night, June 1, at a District 2 Parents' Council meeting at which District officials appeared to be backing away from their previous position supporting constructivist curricula as the sole curricula they use. However, this is only at the high school level and even at that level, they seem to be saying that they would use their constructivist curricula as a base and supplement it with it with other materials. I'm afraid they have it backwards.
These curricula just plain don't work. They were adopted for primarily political reasons and many of the people who did so are no longer with the system. Now is the time to make things right. The problem is systemic. It is not only in District 2. We need to distance ourselves from these curricula, including Everyday Math as quickly as possible.
I haven't included reasons for the failure of these curricula as well as documentation. This information is readily available at the resources mentioned. Please read the material personally so you can make a truly informed decision.
Bruce J. Winokur
To Chancellor Joel Klein about K-12 Mathematics Curricula in New York City