To Ms. Eva Moskowitz, Chair of NYC Council Education Committee
Suggested Questions for Chancellor Klein at a Committee Hearing

By Bas Braams, March 2, 2003
(and follow-up of March 25, 2003)

On this Web page are two emails to Ms. Eva Moskowitz. The first email was sent late Sunday evening, March 2 (as I had just returned from travel) on the occasion of a hearing the following day of the New York City Council Education Committee at which Chancellor Klein was to testify on the progress of the Children First initiative. The second email is my response to a request by Ms. Moskowitz for my views on the mandated K-5 mathematics program, Everyday Mathematics.

Related pages: Chancellor Joel Klein's "Children First" New Standard Curriculum for NYC Public Schools # Composition of Chancellor Klein's "Children First" Working Groups # Predictions for Chancellor Joel Klein's Children First Initiative # Reviews of UCSMP Everyday Mathematics # New York City HOLD # BJB Essays and Opinions.

Dear Eva,

We may not have met, but I know of your work on the education committee and you will know the Courant Institute and the NYC HOLD group; I belong to both. I see that there is a hearing with Chancellor Klein tomorrow [Mon Mar 3, 2003], and want to offer you some suggestions for questions.

QUESTION 1. Children First had (or has) ten working groups, of which the ones most of interest for curriculum issues were the Literacy working group, the Numeracy working group, and the Special Populations working group. For each of these three groups we ask: What was the formal charge to the group, what was the group's report, and when and in what form will the group's charge and report be made available to the public?

Clarification: Acting for NYC HOLD I asked for the composition and charge to the working groups in a FOIL request of Dec 15, and for the working group reports in one of Dec 27, 2002. The incomplete response that I have received to date suggests to me that perhaps these working groups have operated without a formal charge and that they have not produced a report. I would find it quite fascinating if true. See here for the reference to the FOIL requests and response. [Addendum, March 13: We have now learned (see our FOIL requests) that the working groups operated without formal charge and did not produce reports.]

QUESTION 2. In the Literacy and Numeracy working groups, which curricula were "co-finalists" (considered seriously, but ultimately rejected in favor of the chosen ones)?

QUESTION 3. In the Literacy and Numeracy working groups, how were the evaluations performed. What were the principal criteria? (Examples: match to New York City and State Standards; expert evaluations; cost; availability of professional development; match to "world-class" standards; adoption in similar City environments.) [Addendum, March 13: As there was no charge and no reports there may be no written record to answer questions 2 and 3, not even a record for future internal DOE reference.]

QUESTION 4. Which members of the Numeracy working group, if any, have at least a Bachelors degree with major in mathematics or in one of the natural sciences or engineering? Which members, if any, would be qualified to teach high school mathematics?

Clarification: I expect the number will be zero or one. See here.

QUESTION 5. With respect to the Literacy working group: How did the recent (past 4-8 years approx) research, evaluations and recommendations of the National Institute for Literacy, the National Reading Panel, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NAS/NRC (Snow) Panel report and the earlier Adams report enter into the working group's considerations? Did the working group accept as a starting point the detailed NICHD findings concerning instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and reading comprehension?

Clarification: A very short reference is here.

QUESTION 6. A document "New York City Curriculum Choices", released in connection with Children First, states: "New York City is adopting [Month by Month Phonics] as a supplement to other planned instruction in reading and writing using classroom libraries". At the time that this was written, was there some other literacy program slated for adoption but not yet announced? What is or was the intended meaning of that phrase "other planned instruction"?

Clarification: I speculate that "other planned instruction using classroom libraries" meant something quite definite that was just not yet being announced in detail. On the other hand, it might just mean "do as you like Whole Language". Clarification would be desirable. Reference here.

QUESTION 7. The Everyday Mathematics mandate is delayed until the 2004-2005 school year in order to allow additional time for teacher training. The program is being supplemented by Math Steps. Are these not indicators to the Chancellor that the EM program is seriously flawed? Why has he chosen a program that requires massive fixes at the most basic level?

Clarification: See my Op-Ed in the New York Sun of Feb 6, 2003.

Everyday Mathematics requires massive fixes at the most basic level. The program does not teach the standard procedures at all for subtraction and division, and offers a hopelessly confusing potpourri of methods for all the four elementary operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). The program has pedagogical features (notably, rapidly jumping around over different topics without staying focused long enough for pupils to achieve mastery) that appear to make it all but unworkable as intended. It introduces calculators as early as kindergarten, and this will contribute to the failure of many pupils to acquire proper facility with numbers and operations.

The administration has responded to these failures by selecting also the Math Steps basic skills supplementation program and by allowing an additional year for teacher training before the new program must be used in the schools. But this is an absurd strategy. Mr. Klein is under no obligation to suffer the defects of Everyday Mathematics.

QUESTION 8. Chairs and Administrators of NYC mathematics departments wrote to the Chancellor on Dec 17, 2002, to express their concern about issues of K-12 mathematics education in New York City and to offer their help. Will the Chancellor now accept their offer and ask for the help of this group to re-evaluate his choice of a mandated curriculum for mathematics? Reference here.

QUESTION 9. Prominent New York area reading researchers wrote to Chancellor Klein on Feb 4, 2003, to express severe criticism of the Month by Month Phonics program and to offer their help in whatever way the Chancellor might find useful. Will the Chancellor accept this offer of this group and use it to re-evaluate his choice of a mandated curriculum for reading instruction?

Additional questions.

QUESTION. What kind of professional development is envisaged for use with Everyday Mathematics? Which are the potential suppliers? Who will select the suppliers?

QUESTION. A single curriculum has been selected for middle school and for the basic mathematics instruction in high school. How much differentiation does the Chancellor expect within schools in order to accommodate different achievement levels among pupils in the same grade?

Clarification: Years of curricular neglect will have exacerbated these differences.

QUESTION. What is the present role of the various Standards documents with respect to literacy and mathematics in New York City instruction? We are thinking of the New York Edition of the (NCEE) America's Choice Performance Standards, of the New York City Scope and Sequence, and of the New York State Standards and Curriculum Guides.

QUESTION. Is the Chancellor concerned that the relentless focus on mathematics and literacy will crowd out any teaching in science, history, and other subjects? Is there anything to ameliorate that concern?

Bas Braams

Bastiaan J. Braams (Research Associate Professor)
Dept. of Mathematics - Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University - 251 Mercer Street - New York, NY 10012-1185

In email of March 25 Ms. Moskowitz wrote that she would be interested in specific criticism that I have of Everyday Mathematics. I obliged with the following email, sent also to her staffer Mr. Jason Spitalnick.

Dear Ms. Moskowitz, Mr. Spitalnick,

My specific criticisms of Everyday Mathematics are summarized in an op-ed in the New York Sun of Feb 6, 2003. My two central criticisms are the poor treatment of basic arithmetic and the rapid spiraling nature of the program. I have documented those concerns further in two Web articles: The Many Ways of Arithmetic in UCSMP Everyday Mathematics; and Spiraling Through UCSMP Everyday Mathematics.

As a result of my own study of the Everyday Mathematics program I believe that I am also well placed to evaluate other reviews of the program. I find Matthew Clavel's recent article about his experience as a Teach for America volunteer highly persuasive and I recommend it to you. How Not to Teach Math, New York's chancellor Klein's plan doesn't compute (City Journal, March 7, 2003).

The Everyday Mathematics program was evaluated and rejected in the California textbook adoptions process. They evaluated the first edition, and then in 2001 also, I believe, a pre-release of the grades K-3 second edition materials. I find Professor David Klein's conclusion of his review of the 5th grade materials, in 2000, very apt. David Klein writes:

"The program comes across with the flavor of a survey of some rather sophisticated areas of mathematics for fifth-grade students without support for the development of topics or student mastery of content. This unusual combination of features makes it difficult to imagine a fifth-grade circumstance where such a program could be recommended."

I have not myself studied the grades K-2 material (only grades 3-6), but I have confidence in the reviews of the earlier grades done in connection with California textbook adoptions. Of particular interest would be the review of David Klein of the K-3 materials: Weaknesses of Everyday Mathematics K-3

For a large collection of reviews of Everyday Mathematics I point to this Web page.

So much for specific criticism of Everyday Mathematics. I know, however, the boilerplate response of Ms. Lam to this criticism, which reads as follows.

Thank you for writing.

As you know, to be successful on New York State math exams, in college mathematics courses, and in the future job market, New York City public school students must be equipped with computational fluency and the ability to apply mathematical concepts to solve problems. The DOE must teach both "basic" procedural skills and "higher-order" problem-solving skills. For that reason, we chose Everyday Math, supplemented by a traditional skills-based text (Math Steps), based on extensive analysis and advice, Everyday Math's positive results across the country, and, more importantly, on the success we are having with students in high-need schools using Everyday Mathematics.

In CSD 11, the percentage of students scoring in levels 3 and 4 on the city math exams in Everyday Math schools has been higher than the CSD 11 average and the City average for the past 3 years. In CSD 19, the Everyday Math schools' cumulative 3-year gains (for grades 3-5) are twice as high as the City average and higher than District 19 as a whole. Everyday Math has had great success in other states as well, including California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Prior to making decisions about math curriculum and instruction, the NYC DOE consulted with and received feedback from:

A new advisory committee, chaired by Uri Treisman, will support our implementation efforts.

We very much appreciate your input, willingness to share your concerns, and genuine commitment to improving mathematics instruction in our public schools. We encourage you to continue to voice your opinions as we move forward in the implementation process.

Diana Lam

You will note that this defence of EM is focussed on process. That is why I consider it so important to insist on seeing the specific documentation of the fruits of this process. Already several weeks before the announcement of the new curricular mandates I knew that, whatever the DOE would announce, I would want to see the working group reports. So (for NYC HOLD) I filed Freedom of Information Law requests for those reports.

The NYC DOE responded with the information that the relevant Children First working groups operated without formal charge and did not produce reports. I am truly amazed at the audacity of Mr. Klein and Ms. Lam to make such an important decision in such a cavalier manner, and I wonder if this lack of documentation is not itself a matter of appropriate concern for you and your committee. I don't know how the City Council and the Committe on Education can oversee these major curricular decisions if the DOE offers no substantial documentation to support its decisions. There appears to be no clear record of the Department's priorities, no record of any comparative evaluation of candidate curricula, and no record of any expert testimony or opinion.

I and my colleagues of New York City HOLD and of the Courant Institute will be pleased to discuss K-12 mathematics education matters further with you if you are interested.

Yours Cordially,
Bas Braams

Bastiaan J. Braams (Research Associate Professor)
Dept. of Mathematics - Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences
New York University - 251 Mercer Street - New York, NY 10012-1185

(Return to Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education or to the New York City HOLD Web site or to BJB Essays and Opinions.)

The views and 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.