Shelley Harwayne and Mathematics

Dr. Shelley Harwayne is Superintendent of New York City Community School District 2 (CSD2) and, in the new governance structure that takes effect in 2003, of NYC Instructional Division 9. Earlier Ms. Harwayne was the founding principal of the Manhattan New School. Shelley Harwayne is a nationally recognized personality in the area of language and literacy teaching. In Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School (Heinemann, 1999) Ms. Harwayne also wrote some words about mathematics education. The CSD2 superintendency has mandated use of the Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (TERC) mathematics curriculum for grades K-5, the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) for grades 6-8, and the Mathematics, Modeling Our World (MMOW/ARISE/COMAP) curriculum for High School. All three are among the worst of the available curricula for their respective grades. Ms. Harwayne's writings on curriculum help to understand the roots of these choices.

This contribution is from July 31, 2002. For related matter please see my Web page Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education, and the NYC HOLD page. I touched upon District 2, Shelley Harwayne, and mathematics curricula also in a Letter to the Editor, Our Town (Manhattan), published Nov 28, 2002. See also my Web article Chancellor Joel Klein's "Children First" New Standard Curriculum for NYC Public Schools of Dec 2002 / Jan 2003, and references cited there. For more about the curricula mentioned here, see Reviews of TERC: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and Reviews of CMP: Connected Mathematics Project. A link Reviews of COMAP's Mathematics: Modeling Our World is in progress.

New York's Community School District 2 covers Manhattan below Central Park (except for a small area near the Williamsburg bridge), as well as the East Side up to a boundary varying between 96th and 100th street. This area encompasses the downtown and midtown financial and business districts: Wall Street, once the World Trade Center, the Rockefeller Center complex, and pretty much everything that one thinks of as the Manhattan skyline. It is home to the New York publishing and fashion industry; to the Broadway theater district and the SoHo and midtown galleries; to the "Silicon Alley" software district; to Greenwich Village, Little Italy, and Chinatown; and to the prestigeous Upper East Side neighborhood. It is also home to several universities, including New York University and branches of CUNY. I don't doubt that it encompasses the strongest concentration of financial - economic power that one finds anywhere in the world, and it has to be a candidate for the top spot in the arts as well.

One may expect to find among the parents in Community School District 2 a certain amount of talent and ambition, and one might expect to find a public school system to match the vibrant climate of the area, with a superintendent who is dedicated to a top-notch quality in education. The superintendent of this District is Dr. Shelley Harwayne.

Shelley Harwayne has national name recognition as a multiple author, founding principal of the Manhattan New School, and authority on literacy teaching, with special interest in literature and poetry in school. On the web I find her in recent national events as a keynote speaker at the NCTE Whole Language Umbrella Conference in Nashville (2000) and at the National Conference of the Reading Recovery Council of North America (2002), and giving the opening talk at the NCTE Whole Language Umbrella Conference in Bethesda (2002). As for more local events: in 2001 she is found as a conference highlight at the New Jersey Reading Association Spring Conference, a featured speaker at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention, and the keynote speaker at the Ohio Council Teachers English Language Arts Fall Conference. In 2002 she is found as organizer of an Institute at the 2002 Washington State Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), and as a keynote speaker at the 2002 Literacy Leaders Institute of Scholastics, Inc., and at the Illinois ASCD Fall Conference.

Ms. Harwayne's published work includes Lasting Impressions: Weaving Literature into the Writing Workshop; Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School; Lifetime Guarantees: Towards Ambitious Literacy Teaching; and Writing through Childhood: Rethinking Process and Product in the Elementary Writing Workshop. She collaborated on Living Between the Lines and the production of a video and accompanying staff development guidebook called The Writing Workshop: A World of Difference. She has also published two children's books: Jewels, a poetry anthology and What's Cooking?, a picture book.

I have studied two of her recent books. The first one, Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School (Heinemann, NH, 1999), reflects her years as founding principal of the New School. The second one, Lifetime Guarantees: Towards Ambitious Literacy Teaching (Heinemann, NH, 2000), presents her views on literacy teaching. About the second book I will say only that her focus is very much on literature and poetry, not so much on the mechanics of learning to read and write. The first book is more relevant for my mathematics and science education interests.

The Manhattan New School opened in the 1991/92 school year with Shelley Harwayne as founding principal. It is now a K-5 school with about 600 students (data for 2000-2001). In May of 2001 the school was honored with a visit by Senator Clinton "to highlight planned cuts in federal spending for education". Ms. Harwayne's 1999 book is mainly a long celebration of success and happiness of all concerned, most especially the beloved children. There is, however, one chapter where one may look for academic ambitions of the school: Chapter 6, Talking Curriculum and Assessment. The issue of mathematics education covers about half a page in that chapter, and I will describe the content here in full.

Ms. Harwayne explains that her district has been rethinking mathematics instruction, and her teachers have the benefit of interaction with top mathematics educators. District support includes summer institutes, professional materials and resources, staff developers and workshop series. At each workshop demonstration, Ms. Harwayne is awed by what she does not know. She explains that her teachers have learned to think through the big ideas in mathematics, and that they have learned to help students verbalize their quantitative reasoning.

Ms. Harwayne describes how she marvels at what her children are able to do, such as renaming numbers, seeing patterns in hundreds charts, and performing great amounts of mental math. With little attention to algorithms her students understand how knowing that 6 x 7 = 42 helps you to know what 60 x 70 is, what 12 x 7 is, what 3 x 7 is, and so on. Ms. Harwayne relates that she has had very little personal experience in performing mental mathematics, cooperatively solving mathematical problems, and appreciating other people's strategies for solving problems. She has had no experience in creating math menus, teaching replacement units, or providing manipulatives. Observing the teaching of mathematics she realizes how little she knows and how much there is to learn.

Ms. Harwayne quotes with approval a list of recommendation from her district's coordinator of mathematics instruction about how principals can support teachers' efforts to change their mathematics instruction. Principals can attend district workshops, buy necessary materials, encourage workshop attendance, schedule big blocks of time, communicate with staff developers, arrange time for teachers to talk, read related curriculum materials, inform parents, remove pressure of instant success, and try teaching a few lessons.

That was the grand total of Ms. Harwayne's description of mathematics in her school. Now here follows the grand total of her description of science in the curriculum.

That was it. Not a single mention of science.

The reader may think it unfair to Ms. Harwayne to stress here her self-proclaimed limitations in mathematics. I think it fair and proper in view of the very active and very damaging interest that the CSD2 superintendency has taken in mathematics instruction, removing curricular choices from the schools and teachers and imposing a sequence of reform mathematics curricula throughout the District that are roundly rejected by mathematics professionals.

New York Community School District 2 is home to several major contracts to implement District-wide reform in mathematics education. Here is the abstract of one such grant, NSF award number 9731424: "Reconceptualizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning Through Professional Development". This is a public record, found through the NSF's "Fastlane" system.

The Reconceptualizing Mathematics Teaching and Learning through Professional Development Local Systemic Change project involves Community School District Two of New York City and the following higher education partners: City University of New York, Bank Street College, and New York University. The project also involves Marilyn Burns' Education Associates, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the 14th Street Business Improvement District as private sector partners. The project focuses on the implementation of mathematics education reform initiatives at the K-8 levels. It is the capacity of all 1,200 teachers of K-8 mathematics by focusing on their mathematics content knowledge, challenging their instructional beliefs, and building their ability to utilize constructivist-based instructional strategies. The project plans to implement the NSF-funded Investigations (elementary) and Connected Mathematics (middle) curriculum materials. It will also link up with the NSF-funded Mathematics in the City Projec and New York's Urban Systemic Initiative. A very thorough evaluation of the project will be completed, via a subcontract with New York University. District Two is the only one of New York City's 32 school districts to work with Lauren Resnick and Marc Tucker's New Standards Project. The district is now implementing the New Standards and this project will expand District Two's efforts in professional development and the use of exemplary curriculum. An interesting aspect of this project is the use of a variety of partners and prior and current projects in extending professional development efforts to include the implementation of a standards-based K-8 mathematics curriculum.
With encouragement from grants such as this, the District superintendency imposes a sequence of disastrous curricular choices upon its schools and teachers. The sequence of curricula imposed district-wide starts with Investigations in Number, Data, and Space (TERC) for grades K-5, followed by the Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) for grades 6-8, and the Mathematics, Modeling Our World (MMOW/ARISE/COMAP) curriculum for High School.

I have written a bit about these curricula elsewhere, notably in a letter to the NYC Board of Education of January, 2002, and will not repeat that criticism here. Rather I refer the reader to a few other commentaries. For TERC, see a review by Dr. Bill Quirk [here] and a review by Mathematically Correct [here]. For CMP see another Mathematically Correct program review [here].

It would be wonderful if District 2 would have a superintendent with a solid grasp of mathematical content and mathematics curriculum at least at the grade school and middle school level. As the opposite is the case, let the Superintendency keep its hands off mathematics curriculum and leave it to the better judgment of schools and teachers!

Bas Braams
Bastiaan J. Braams -
Courant Institute, New York University
251 Mercer Street, New York, NY 10012-1185

The opinions expressed in this page are strictly those of the page author. The contents of this page have not been reviewed or approved by New York University.