July 26, 2003

Shelley Harwayne retires

The New York Times and other NYC newspapers report the retirement of Shelley Harwayne. As superintendent of New York City's community school district 2 Shelley Harwayne was among the most visible proponents nationwide of the educational reform movement associated with whole language reading instruction and constructivist mathematics teaching. In the new governance structure that took effect just the start of this month Shelley Harwayne held the position of superintendent for Region 9: the largest region by number of schools in the system and encompassing most of Manhattan including the old CSD2. Ms. Harwayne is retiring to deal with health and family issues.

Shelley Harwayne has written at least 6 books and is a frequent speaker at national events; for example, 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). Before becoming superintendent of community school district 2 Ms. Harwayne was the founding principal of the Manhattan New School. One of her books, Going Public: Priorities and Practice at the Manhattan New School (Heinemann, 1999) is based on that experience, and offers insight into the educational philosophy that guided District 2 and that has been influential throughout the NYC school system.

My own interest is mathematics and science education. Last year I read Going Public with that perspective and used it for a Web article, Shelley Harwayne and Mathematics. The present contribution is based on that longer article.

Ms. Harwayne's book has 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 there is nothing at all about science education. In the half page about mathematics Shelley 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. Observing the teaching of mathematics she realizes how little she knows and how much there is to learn.

Ms. Harwayne's limitations in mathematics did not prevent the CSD2 superintendency from taking a very active and damaging interest 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. These curricula include TERC: Investigations in Number, Data, and Space in grade school, Connected Mathematics Program (CMP) in middle school, and Mathematics: Modelling Our World (COMAP) in high school.

The educational reform in district 2 gave rise to an opposition, and especially to New York City HOLD: an advocacy organization for parents, educators, mathematicians and others focussed on improving the quality of mathematics education in New York City schools. In spite of the efforts of NYC HOLD and others, at present the District 2 philosophy holds sway throughout the New York City school system.

Posted by Bas Braams at July 26, 2003 12:07 PM


I've said it a thousand times at school, and I'll say it again: The math concepts and skills you spend the most time on in class are the ones at which your students are going be most proficient. If you spend two weeks with intelligent third graders looking at the hundreds chart, they're going to come up with some pretty neat observations. Look at number patterns all day for a month and that's bound to be a strong skill for your students. But at what cost? What part of the curriculum won't get covered because the kids were moving at too slow a pace?

If I read one more breathless article by Constance Kamii, Shelley Harwayne or any other constructivist marvelling at this simple pedagogical truism, I think I'm going to hold a symbolic bonfire with every NCTM yearbook I can get my hands on.

Keep up the good fight, Bas.

Posted by J.P. Laurier at July 27, 2003 05:16 PM