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My Enemy’s Enemies

Yesterday, NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences hosted a forum with Diane Ravitch of the Brookings Institution, Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute, a reading expert from Boston, and three math professors from the city to examine DOE curricula and practices.

This is part of an initiative spearheaded by Elizabeth Carson and NYC HOLD to involve the university community more critically in public education, and they came out swinging.

Ravitch, who originally defended mayoral control of the schools, set the political stage with a sharp critique of the utter lack of accountability the mayor now enjoys, and a slam of Children First’s structural and administrative “reforms.” Stern trashed the DOE’s reading curriculum and its micromanagement of pedagogy and told the audience (of about 100) there is a “teacher revolt” going on against the chancellor’s mandates. He went on to say that the UFT is “on the side of the angels” when it comes to reading instruction(!)

The math profs, two from NYU and one from City College, went after “constructivist” math and the DOE’s math curriculum, Everyday Mathematics, saying students were coming into higher ed from the NYC public schools seriously underprepared. The recent 8th grade math scores bear them out. However, evidence on Everyday Math is slim. The curriculum has only been in place two years, and no students currently in high school ever had this Children First math curriculum.

“Constructivist” curriculum at this point is such a loaded term that it can hardly be rationally debated, but the reality reflected in this conference was amazing. The UFT and its implacable critics on the right have found a lot of common ground. Left and right have reached around the big belly of the DOE to shake hands on the foolishness of mandated instruction emanating from a department whose leader knows nothing about education. If Sol Stern finds the UFT is on the side of the angels, and Diane Ravitch publicly belittles Klein and Bloomberg, maybe the DOE should worry. Now the normally arm’s length universities are obviously wading in. I sense a shift in the current…



  • 1 redhog
    · Oct 3, 2005 at 8:14 pm

    Diane Ravitch is the greatest personality in American education today. Studying it without ample and deferential reference to her is like studying the Renaissance without DaVinci, Elizabethan literature without Shakespeare, Victorian novels without Dickens, Irish literature without Joyce, classical music without Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc. Got the point? Oh by the way: Diane Ravitch testified on behalf of the UFT at the fact-finding, and recommended that teachers in NYC get raises to make them equivalent to teachers in the highest paid suburbs. She has been a powerful and constant friend to the UFT for more than 30 years.
    Sol Stern is a brilliant and complex man who is NOT an implacable enemy of ours. He is a man of flexibility, reason, and many nuances, and as a staunch UFT member and chapter leader, I proclaim that there is no sound excuse not to get along just fine.

  • 2 jd2718
    · Oct 3, 2005 at 9:13 pm

    I too attended the NYC Hold organized event. I was curious about the content, and about the audience.

    The speakers attacked the mayor and his chancellor, and Everyday Math and “Balanced Literacy.” Most teachers would have applauded. We don’t need more evidence to know that Everyday Math is bad.

    They attacked “the schools of education,” but never got specfic about which they meant. I got the feeling that Columbia’s Teachers College was on their list. And one speaker specifically excluded Hunter.

    At various times the speakers also touched on incompetent teachers, merit pay, higher pay for math teachers thn for gym teachers, charter schools. Teachers would not have applauded.

    Alan Siegel, a Computer Scienc professor from Courant spent his time attacking the NCTM and “fuzzy math.” He singled out the “Interactive Mathematics Project” (IMP), and showed several worksheets from one of its texts.

    Now, I am quite proud that I took part in an Article 24 Professional Conciliation that helped remove IMP from all but one high school in the Bronx. But this was done pre-Bloomberg. OK, so he spent his time attacking a program that barely exists in NYC. But how did he attack it? He projected worksheets which had lots of reading and very little math. And what was the reading? It was related to the proportion of North America taken from Native Americans as a function of time. He played on the audience’s anti-liberal bias.

    And the audience loved it. They also applauded for the phrase “fuzzy math.” They laughed at incompetent teachers, cheered for charter schools. This audience was hard-core anti-liberal, anti-union, and, for the moment, disappointed in Mayor Bloomberg.

    I was repulsed by most of what I saw. This group advocates against teachers. We temporarily agree about Klein and Children First. But they are not our friends, not now and not in the future.

    J Halabi

    (The other two talks, by the Fred Greenleaf, a Math professor from Courant, and especially by Stanley Ocken, the Math Chair from CCNY, were more interesting. They advocated for more math professor input into K – 12 curricula – I agree, to a point.)

  • 3 NYC Educator
    · Oct 10, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    I love Diane Ravitch. I have a little stutue of her on my dashboard.

    Stern I’m not so crazy about, but he has his moments.