Education Opinion


October 29, 2003 6 min read
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N.Y.C. Math Curricula: Busywork Over Rigor

To the Editor:

As a New York City parent and a mathematics professor, I found your article “N.Y.C. Hangs Tough Over Maverick Curriculum,” (Oct. 15, 2003) disturbing.

The “fuzzy” math curricula, TERC and Everyday Mathematics, far from “highlighting concepts and real-world applications,” as you write, have replaced concepts with pointless busywork. New York City mathematicians involved in local math debates have started to wonder whether the TERC developers or the New York City school administrators are qualified to decide what is a “mathematical concept.”

We certainly do not worry, with Deputy Chancellor Diana Lam, that TERC and Everyday Mathematics are “too rigorous.” Rather, we fear that New York City kids will get to college never having been challenged and unable to compete.

If New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein wished to pursue rigor, he could imitate the state of California, which has a board of internationally known mathematicians that sets standards and reviews curricula. In the years since the new California standards went into effect, text publishers have produced curricula that are kid-friendly while promoting skills and the conceptual understanding that goes with them.

Mr. Klein might also want some expert help in polishing the New York City math standards, which are almost identical to the New York state standards. A recent state panel found that they are too vague and too full of mistakes to be a useful guide for teachers.

Jonathan Goodman
Professor of Mathematics
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University
New York, N.Y.

Obesity Is Just One Item In Vending-Sales Debate

To the Editor:

Re: “States Target School Vending Machines to Curb Child Obesity,” (Oct. 1, 2003):

The problem of vending-machine sales in schools is a lot more vast than one of improper eating habits. Consider the following:

  • Prohibited 20-ounce drinks secreted to class in students’ overstuffed bookbags; tardiness as a result of students’ “refueling” at nosh-stops during their five-minute breaks; clatter from vending machines and chatter from crowds disturbing nearby classrooms.
  • Messy floors, sticky desks, and grimy tables; sugary liquids seeping out of lockers.
  • The “three-study-hall” student who “self-serves” and kills time by quenching his craving; the non-involved, “quiet” kid who never gets an “educational rebate” because he or she is not a participant in a “receiving” activity; special education students stand to be big losers in this scenario also.
  • The “hush fund” where profits are stored, but teachers dare not ask where the money is finally spent; the health teacher (or school nurse), sponsor of a “subsidized” ancillary agenda, who must show her gratitude and feel in a bind to suggest that vending be eliminated.
  • Assuming “boosters” who look out for their offspring by lobbying for extracurricular vending funds. (George Bernard Shaw once said, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul.”)

A district enterprise that thrives on bad habits owes more than just fizz to a soda-guzzling adolescent, one who empties his wallet daily at its sanctioned slot machines.

Gerald R. Eberle
Pocahontas, Iowa

Homework Problems, As Seen by a Student

To the Editor:

Students are given too much homework. The problem with the Brookings Institution study (“Homework Not on Rise, Studies Find,” Oct. 8, 2003) is that it doesn’t measure the quantity of homework assigned; it measures the amount of hours students actually spend doing homework—there’s a big difference.

I know I did about four hours of homework a day in high school (when I was assigned five or six hours), and now that I am in college, I study at least two to three hours more each night. Honestly, I don’t do all my homework because there is too much of it.

The problem with homework isn’t that students are getting too little, it’s that students who are on a college- preparatory track and are in more difficult classes are given much more homework than students who don’t value continuing their education. We need to have those students who aren’t doing their homework shift their values, so that education is more important to them than hanging out.

Christina Morales
Washington, D.C.

‘Myth’ Distorts Issues In Detroit Charter Story

To the Editor:

In your article “Proposal for Charter Schools Roils Detroit” (Oct. 8, 2003), representatives of the teachers’ union and Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick repeat like a mantra the myth that the public schools lose when a child chooses a charter option.

In Michigan and in most states, funds are appropriated to educate children, not to support unneeded overhead and district administrative costs that are of no use in the classrooms. Money following a child to a charter school funds classroom educational support to a far greater degree than money paid first to a district, such as Detroit’s.

The “we lose money” myth is too rarely challenged by the media and others who pay attention to public schooling. The traditional district system loses “control” over how the money is used, for sure—and the district also no longer bears the cost of that child’s education.

Is that not what is intended by state policymakers—that public funds go to support the education of children, not the costs of a district bureaucracy? More and more, the policymakers understand that sending funds to a school district usually means that more money will stay in a central bureaucracy than is spent supporting classroom instruction for a child.

Shouldn’t all who believe in public education be encouraged that there are public school options where a much higher percentage of public money is used directly to support what goes on in the classroom? Where the link between public money appropriated and improvements made in education can be seen clearly?

John Cairns
Minneapolis, Minn.

Accreditors in Teaching Now Have ‘Equal Footing’

To the Editor:

The fact that the U.S. Department of Education has recognized the Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or TEAC, as an accreditor on equal footing with the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and other accreditors should help dispel the frequent misconception about TEAC, also reported in your article “Alternative Accrediting Body Gets Recognition,” (Oct. 8, 2003), that it “allows colleges to set their own professional standards.” TEAC sets its own standards, and recognition by the U.S. Department of Education means that its standards conform to federal requirements. (TEAC’s standards can be seen on its Web site, www.teac.org.)

The differences between TEAC and NCATE are not so much in their respective standards, which cover the same ground with similar wording, but in the manner in which each conducts the accreditation process itself and in what each accepts as evidence that its standards have been met. TEAC requires, for example, that the accreditation “self study” report meet the higher standard of a research monograph of publishable quality. It is very hard to see how TEAC’s critics could be right that programs that have scholarly evidence of their graduates’ competence could weaken the teaching profession.

After 1992, when federal regulations changed to encourage multiple accreditors in the same field, people feared there would be accreditation-shopping for lower standards. The view of the Department of Education’s external National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which unanimously recommended TEAC’s recognition to the U.S. secretary of education last June, was just the opposite. Its conclusion was that standards in fact have risen where there has been competition among accreditors.

Frank B. Murray
Teacher Education Accreditation Council
Washington, D.C.


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